As a record number of incoming freshmen begin classes this fall, resulting in the hiring of additional adjuncts to meet the students’ needs, the Rochon administration has eliminated some staff positions in the name of “efficiency and effectiveness.”
In addition to eliminating a number of vacant positions, the college has begun terminating employees.
President Tom Rochon said since the middle of the last academic year, 11 occupied positions have been eliminated because of reorganization. Rochon declined to release the areas of the college where those positions were cut.
Rochon said restructuring is not a one-time project.
“This is not simply about cutting back expenses,” Rochon said. “It is in every instance about finding ways to be more excellent and doing work more effectively and more efficiently at the same time.”
Rochon said while some occupied positions have been eliminated, there have been no forced retirements. Rochon stated categorically that all retirements were voluntary.
“I want to be really clear that no one is ever forced to retire,” he said. “It’s not legal to force someone to retire. Retirement is an individual choice.”
Lillian Tavelli worked for the college almost 31 years before she was told on June 8 that her job as manager of Parking and Traffic Services was being eliminated because of office restructuring, she said.
“No one made me retire,” she said. “They eliminated my job, so I wouldn’t be able to stay there. There was no offer of anything else.”
Tavelli said if her job had not been cut she would not have chosen to retire. She said she was planning on considering retirement after she implemented the new online purchasing permits and citation payments at Parking Services. The 70-year-old is now looking for another job and said she is finally becoming OK with the decision she had to make.
Bernie Rhoades, former director of network and communication services at Information Technology Services, and John Hickey, an archives associate at the library, declined to comment on the circumstances of their recent departures, which were announced on Intercom.
Rochon said implying the college has forced anyone to retire is not a fair or accurate presentation of the situation. When asked what choice a person has when faced with losing a job, he said, “I guess I don’t think that the college administration should ever be embarrassed when it has treated people with respect and dignity.”
Rochon said that the college is not offering and will not offer a buyout program for retirees. He said he does not want any staff or faculty to delay the decision to retire in hopes of getting in on something that does not exist.
Carl Sgrecci, vice president of finance and administration, said the college tried offering an early retirement program back in the 1990s during an economic downturn but found the incentive plan to be ineffective.
While the college is also acknowledging that a number of vacant positions will not be filled and some positions that became vacant after retirements were cut, college officials are refusing to divulge the exact numbers involved.
When first asked by The Ithacan if the department of human resources could provide the number of staff members not returning in the fall either because of retirement or job eliminations, Mark Coldren, associate vice president of human resources, stated in an e-mail, “It would not be our practice to ‘add up’ folks who are no longer with the college and provide an overall list.”
In a second interview, Coldren said he did have the requested numbers but was not going to release them.
“There are a lot of staff members, I think, that when we start reporting numbers, they begin to look over their shoulder, and that’s not really a goal for the college,” he said. “That wasn’t the message, that everyone should worry about their job.”
Since last May, Intercom has announced 11 farewell gatherings for staff members who will be leaving the college because of retirement or other unspecified reasons.
Sgrecci said because of operational streamlining, 16 positions have been eliminated in the Division of Finance and Administration. Of the 16 positions, five were occupied and 11 were vacant. Two of the 11 vacancies were created by retirements, Sgrecci said.
“This was tough,” he said. “We had to ask how would we restructure ourselves if we had the opportunity if every position was empty. That’s how we knew which positions we could do without.”
Sgrecci said members of the budget committee decided that all divisions had to cut approximately 4 percent from their 2009-10 budgets.
Sgrecci said each division was given latitude in how the cuts would be made, but decisions had to be reviewed by the president. There were no “guidelines” as to how individual divisions should implement the budget cuts, he said.
“What we did is not going to be forced on anybody,” he said. “Each division vice president will tailor the process to meet their respective needs.”
Coldren said that those whose positions were eliminated were offered severance packages.
In addition to positions being eliminated, some employees have been reassigned to new jobs. Coldren said this could happen to people without a previous consultation.
“Anybody’s job can be changed at a given time,” Coldren said. “Having a job description is a snapshot of where you are right at that point in time, and at any day a supervisor could call us in and say, ‘Look your job is being changed.’ … It could happen to anybody with a job at Ithaca College.”
Rochon said he addressed staff and faculty concerns regarding early retirements and job cuts at the all-college meeting held Aug. 20. He said he made it clear that organizational change will become a routine part of the college’s future in implementing his efficiency and effectiveness plan.
“The one thing I want to avoid is an effort to preserve everything for a long period of time and then find in the midst of a financial crisis that we need to make very deep cuts,” he said. “That should not be necessary.”
Rochon said he will meet with the vice presidents soon to lay out expectations and goals for how each division will need to look at its structure.
“I understand people would like to know everything on day one, but we don’t know everything on day one,” he said.
When asked if the term “efficiency” would create a panic among staff and faculty members, causing them to look over their shoulders and worry whether or not they are being “efficient,” Rochon said, “The kind of staff and faculty that I’d like to have at Ithaca College will be people who will always look around themselves and ask, ‘How can I do my job better? How can I accomplish more to achieve the mission of my office?’ If people look around and ask themselves that question, we’ll be fine. We’ll change organically as we move forward. The only person who needs to worry is the person who wants to be hired into a job and doesn’t want that job to change, literally, for decades.”
Very few employees at the college are protected by unions. Public Safety joined the International Union of United Government Security Officers of America in 2003. Food service employees attempted to unionize in 2001 but failed. Campus electricians voted down the union in 2005.
Employees are represented on campus by Staff Council. Chairperson Sue DuBrava was out of the office this week and unavailable for comment.