Budget cuts concern employees

Nearly six months after the University announced a $39 million deficit, recent budget cuts and layoffs have worn on many of Yale’s faculty and staff.

While some faculty members interviewed said they were not particularly concerned with the latest set of budgetary constraints, others expressed anxiety over the consequences of funding reductions — particularly the elimination of administrative staff positions. The slight increase in staff layoffs this year, several University employees noted, has taken a toll on workplace morale.

“When people see and hear about co-workers that work next to them getting laid off, people get concerned about how that will affect them and their families and their communities,” said Jess Corbett, a clinical technologist at the School of Medicine.

The current round of staff reductions comes several years after a hiring spree grew the ranks of Yale’s workforce. According to Vice President for Human Resources and Administration Michael Peel, the size of the Yale staff grew by more than 10 percent between 2006 and 2008. During this period, the significant growth of the faculty and staff was enabled by the strong investments returns being realized by the Yale endowment, Peel said. But the growth came to a crashing halt in fiscal 2009 when the global financial crisis hit, Peel said, and it became clear that Yale’s significantly higher spending levels were not sustainable.

“It was necessary to reduce expenses, partially scaling back some of the major increases to spending made when future revenue projections were much rosier,” he said.

Despite the University’s previous hiring spikes, several faculty and staff interviewed expressed concerns over current labor shortages.

School of Management professor Fiona Scott Morton ’89 said she knows of serious human resource needs that are negatively impacting student learning.

“A budget situation like this permeates the community,” she said, adding that it affects people’s attitudes towards their abilities, as well as the way they approach their work.

An administrative staff member, who asked to remain anonymous due to restrictions on staff members speaking to the media, said staff often seem to be first in line when it comes to trimming the budget. Layoffs also put a heavier work burden on remaining staff members, she said.

She added that a petition regarding the most recent round of layoffs is circulating within the Local 34 union, which includes 3,500 of Yale’s clerical and technical employees. The petition, Local 34 President Laurie Kennington said, asks the administration to develop a plan for ensuring that student services and patient care — work done by Local 34 members — are not affected by budget cuts.

“Employees that are here are really proud to be working for Yale,” the staff member said. “They just hope that their work is appreciated and not the first place that the University thinks about cutting down or cutting back on.”

In a Local 34 newsletter obtained by the News, the union criticized annual budget cuts being made at the same time that “rebounding endowment returns and record-breaking alumni donations” are funding expansion.

Corbett said the University has not communicated enough with staff members in the current budget crunch.

“When rumors get started and they don’t get addressed immediately … that does have an effect on morale,” Corbett said.

Others, including Kennington, added that there has been little dialogue between union leadership and high-level administrators.

According to Polak, a budget memo distributed in November gave discretion to each of the University’s 40 units in determining how to meet budget targets for the coming fiscal year. Budget cuts could be implemented by reducing both salary and non-salary costs, the memo suggested.

Some of Yale’s staff are immune from the cuts as members of the Local 35 union — which includes roughly 1,200 blue collar workers at the University and has a no-layoff clause in its contract, extending into 2016. Many of the cuts have instead come from staff management, said a senior supervisor in the facilities department. He added that while his group met its reduced budget target last year, the University has asked him to continue trying to cut costs.

Ronald Breaker, chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology Department, said there have been staff layoffs within his department but declined to comment further.

The MCDB department was recently asked to trim $125,000 from its budget, according to MCDB professor Joel Rosenbaum.

Rosenbaum added that over the past two years, the consolidation of administrative positions has caused some faculty discontent.

“[Vice President for Finance and Business Operations Shauna] King, who was imported from Pepsi Cola, was the chief organizer of this,” Rosenbaum said. “It created considerable dissension amongst the faculty about two years ago, and has now quieted down.”

King could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Assyriology professor Benjamin Foster GRD ’75, the director of undergraduate studies in the Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations department, said his department has not thus far been affected by this round of staff cuts — but that it remains very concerned about the future consequences of budget reductions.

English professor Jill Campbell GRD ’88 noted that a high level of turnover in the English department — initially led by King’s office — has posed challenges to the office’s full functioning. She said the department has recently had several part-time temporary staff members in the office filling in for previously full-time positions. Although each member is competent and energetic, she said, a short-term staff member is usually not familiar with either the individual members of a department or its procedures and customs.

But several other professors on campus were unconcerned with personnel cuts and said budgetary constraints do not affect faculty morale.

Chemistry faculty are not concerned about Yale cuts impacting their work, said Chemistry professor William Jorgensen — they are more concerned about the constriction of federal budgets and increased competitiveness for federal grants.

Similarly, both School of Management professor Nathan Novemsky and School of Architecture Assistant Dean Peggy Deamer said the work of faculty in their departments has been unaffected by current budget issues.

The layoff rate is anticipated to be slightly above one to two percent of staff members this year.

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