Restructuring -or How to Fire Staff

Faculty Members and Union Protest Staff Layoffs at Temple U. as ‘Cruel’

by Erica Hendry, Chronicle of Higher Education, June 2, 2009 – Read original post

Union leaders, department heads, and faculty members at Temple University are calling the way the administration handled the firing of several staff members on Wednesday “simply cruel.”

The university announced on Monday of last week that it was moving forward with plans to restructure its administrative staff, as part of efforts to save money. According to several faculty members, all positions as they existed were terminated, and the affected staff members had the opportunity to apply for a number of newly created jobs.

The employees were given until 1 p.m. the next day to schedule interviews, until Wednesday of last week to submit their applications, and until Thursday to submit letters of recommendation. This week, they were interviewed. On Wednesday they found out whether they had been rehired — or fired.

According to several faculty eyewitnesses, the dismissed employees were promptly escorted out of their building. The locks on their office doors were also immediately changed, the faculty members said.

The layoffs affected at least 19 staff members who belong to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, a union that represents much of the university’s staff and that has been in talks with the university since October 2007 for a new contract. Many of the staff members were in the College of Liberal Arts. Some had served the university for decades, their faculty colleagues said.

In a letter of protest to the College of Liberal Arts’ dean, Teresa Scott Soufas, after the layoffs, critics — including department chairs, program directors, graduate and undergraduate directors, and members of the college’s executive committee — said the layoffs and rehirings took place without their input, and decisions were made without advance notice.

Members of the executive committee said their questions about the process, including how many jobs would be created, how many jobs would be retained, and how many employees would be lost, were never answered.

Ray Betzner, assistant vice president for university communications, said all layoffs at the university, both academic and nonacademic, were needed to meet reductions in the university’s budget. He said department leaders had been informed of the restructuring and had received the opportunity to offer input.

Members of the college’s technical staff were available to help employees retrieve information from their computers as they left, Mr. Betzner said, and employees can use their university e-mail accounts for the next 90 days.

“Layoffs are never easy, and a lot of care was taken to be as humane as possible,” Mr. Betzner said. “Any layoffs were done in compliance with union rules, including those rules on notice and severance packages.”

But Paul Dannenfelser, president of the university’s chapter of the union, said his organization was filing grievances with the university, including one for an alleged violation of a contract clause that says: “In the event Temple finds it necessary to make major changes … Temple agrees to meet and discuss the changes with the union in advance of the initiation of such changes.”