Profs adjust to smaller staff

To make ends meet over the past year, the 20-member Computer Science Department has given up faculty lunches, some guest speakers and a few graduate students.

This fall, it finds itself short on another front: After an administrative assistant retired last year, the department could only afford to hire a part-time employee as a replacement. The change has meant faculty must spend more time pushing papers and less time teaching and doing research, chair Avi Silberschatz said.

“We tightened our belt and we’re living with it,” Silberschatz said. “It’s not as bad as it could have been, but let’s hope that things will change in the near future.”

The most recent round of University-wide budget cuts forced central departments to cut about 7.5 percent of their expenses or shift their costs from Yale funding to their own funds — often resulting in job cuts. With about 250 fewer positions than before, some departments are sharing staff with others, relying on part-time help and asking faculty to perform more of their own administrative tasks.

Yale laid off almost 100 staff and accepted the voluntary resignations of about 150 more at the beginning of this past summer, Yale spokesman Tom Conroy said, adding that the University expects to eventually hire back about a quarter of those laid off involuntarily.

Departmental staff usually serve as business managers, secretaries or registrars who keep student records and compile course listings, department chairs said.

Some combine all of those duties, such as the administrative manager who served as the only staff member in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations for over 40 years until she retired this past summer. Since she left, the department has divided her functions, giving accounting duties to a business manager and depending on a temporary employee to handle academic records, former chair Benjamin Foster said.

Over the summer, the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology began sharing its business manager with the Geology and Geophysics Department — a change that involved reshuffling staff and cutting hours, but no layoffs, chair Richard Prum said.

Prum said so far, his department’s professors have not noticed the difference.

“For my faculty, we don’t care where the services come from as long as they work, so we’re enthusiastic,” Prum said. “And this will be a money-saver for the University.”

Although it avoided laying off employees, the Astronomy Department is sharing administrative staff as well, with the Physics Department, astronomy chair Jeffrey Kenney said.

While the budget cuts have impacted social events and visiting speakers in Kenney’s department, as in the rest of Yale’s departments, he said the real difficulty was in not having enough support staff to get new researchers settled into their offices and labs.

“But it hasn’t really affected the academic program or … our research seriously,” Kenney said.

Other departments were able to avoid cutting too deeply into either their regular expenses or their personnel by replacing Yale funding with donations and money they had saved from previous years.

The East Asian Languages and Literature Department, for one, was able to hold on to its two full-time administrative staff members, chair Edward Kamens said. The Chemical and Environmental Engineering Department, too, kept its office manager and two secretaries, chair Paul Van Tassel said. These departments were able to pay for some expenses from donations, rainy day funds and savings in other places.

But whether they have had to make do with less help or not, faculty in all departments are completing more of their paperwork and administrative tasks online through business systems set up over the past year or so. The systems reforms are part of a Yale-wide initiative known as YaleNext, which aims to save money for Yale by consolidating business offices, centralizing administrative services and moving many functions online, administrators have said.

So as YaleNext — whose reforms were delayed because of Yale’s budget gap — continues to roll out changes, the University will likely cut even more jobs, former deputy provost Charles Long said over the summer.

But for now, departments are still trying to navigate their new staffing situations.

“I wish we didn’t have this situation, but life goes on,” Silberschatz said.

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