Buyout program excludes student voices

This past July, Vassar College began the first phase of the Voluntary Retirement Program, an initiative which provided certain non-faculty employees with the opportunity to take a buyout that would allow them to retire early.

In a statement from the office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration Robert Walton, “[The program] was designed to offer eligible non-faculty employees a financial incentive to voluntarily choose to retire (or resign) from the College during the summer break or the Fall 2014 semester.” The statement further notes that the program’s purpose is partly to maintain the financial health of the College, to create open positions to facilitate the re-engineering of some service and staff roles and to more closely resemble the staffing sizes and structures of Vassar’s peer institutions. The program is also geared toward offering promotional opportunities to early- and mid-career employees and to fill the resulting open positions with staff in an earlier stage of their career so the College is not paying a high number of tenure salaries.

In total, 68 employees in the senior officer area accepted the voluntary buyout, with the distribution as follows: seven from the Dean of Faculty Office, 21 from the Dean of the College Office, two from the Communications Office, four from the Development & Alumnae/i Office, 11 from the Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources Office and 23 from the Finance & Administration Office. In addition to these employees, many staff members in the library, mailroom and International Studies Office, to name a few, have opted for early retirement. All of these positions will be officially vacated by the end of December.

Walton’s statement reads, “In some cases, the work performed by the departing employee is now being performed in a new structure by merging service functions together and allowing for cross training of staff. In other cases, work is simply being eliminated and some services may be reduced to reflect the smaller employee resource. Some tasks are to be accomplished more efficiently by the use of technology.” Of these open positions, more than 30 of them will be permanently eliminated, while the Administration works to fill the others. The complete re-staffing of these remaining positions will take until Fall 2015 to complete. Until then, the affected departments will need to function at the same level as they were before the vacancies despite now being understaffed.

We at The Miscellany News have recently been approached by a number of staff members affected by this program as well as a number of concerned students. We believe that this phenomenon is indicative of a clear lack of communication and transparency among Vassar administration, faculty, staff and students. While it is noted that the College’s senior officers attended a “mini-retreat” in early August to discuss the logistics and strategies for this program, no information about this initiative was disseminated to the student body at large.

While we do not doubt that these decisions were taken extremely seriously and considered carefully, we at The Miscellany News question why student voices were not included in these conversations, especially as members of the Vassar Student Association (VSA) Executive Board historically sit on committees for hiring. Though students may not be able to speak for what is best for the College’s finances, they can provide helpful insights concerning how their peers will be impacted by these dramatic staffing changes.

For example, an anonymous source disclosed that Director of International Programs and Associate Dean of Studies Susan Correll Kennet is one of the employees accepting the buyout. We believe this represents one instance in which students’ perspectives could have proven valuable. On Vassar’s Admissions website, it is touted that roughly 45 percent of students will spend at least one semester at another institution in the U.S. or abroad. Though we at The Miscellany News feel it was Kennett’s prerogative to accept the buyout, with 45 percent of the student body interacting with this office at some point during their time at Vassar, we believe the decision to institute this program in this office will prove stressful to the other faculty in this office as well as students.

Similarly, many other crucial positions—most notably that of the library director and the SAVP coordinator—have yet to have their vacancies filled. We at The Miscellany News question the Administration’s decision to create more vacancies through this program seemingly without ensuring that the vacancies could feasibly be filled. According to Walton’s statement, the program will be over by the end of December. This makes the program seem very rushed and ill-timed, as so many positions are being opened up in the middle of an academic year. Additionally, the speed with which the program has been implemented and the lack of information circulated to students has made it impossible for dialogue and discussion with those members of the greater Vassar community who are impacted by these vacancies.

With the retirement of so many workers across so many departments, we at The Miscellany News believe that the staff who remain will be put under great strain to accomplish their vital roles on campus, until such a time as the vacancies can be filled by new staff members. We also believe that the student body will be directly affected by the nearly 30 positions that are being eliminated which, according to Walton, will not be filled for up to 12 to 18 months. Without these positions, other staff members, who already feel that they are understaffed, will be unable to maintain the same level of service. This may result in the closing down or elimination of other services.

We at The Miscellany News believe that the staff and administration should have publicized the program, as its implications affect not only the staff and the students, but the campus as a whole. Unfortunately, we do not have any proposed solution to this issue, as the program is already well underway and the results are inevitable.

However, we hope that the College will do its utmost to fill these new vacancies as well as outstanding open positions so that the campus can continue to function at its best.

 

—The Staff Editorial represents the opinions of at least 2/3 of the Editorial Board.

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