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June 28, 2012

Hundreds of staff ending careers here

Tomorrow could be called Staff Exodus Day. Friday, June 29, will be the last day of work for hundreds of retiring staff who are participants in the voluntary early retirement program (VERP) announced in April. (See May 3 University Times.)

At the time of the program’s April announcement, Pitt officials said the decision to offer VERP was driven by serious budget challenges resulting from deep decreases in commonwealth support. Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said, “This loss of jobs not only is unfortunate for Pitt but bad news for the people of this region. However, we had no choice but to take this step.”

Ron Frisch, associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, added that an unknown but significant number of VERP retirees will not be replaced. “Unit heads will have to request through their appropriate reporting chain to see if they are eligible to replace the position,” Frisch said. “Our hope is that current staff will be able to accept new responsibilities, not necessarily new positions. … We also want to be more cost-efficient and that’s one of the driving forces behind an early retirement program.”

The deadline for applying for VERP was June 15, with a seven-day window for employees to reverse their stated decisions.

Pitt officials said that of the 674 classified staff who were eligible, 352 (52 percent) accepted the VERP option. Classified employees are defined as non-union, non-faculty, non-executive, non-temporary staff members.

The amount of savings to the University resulting from the retirements is being calculated and job vacancies are being evaluated on a case-by-case basis, said John Fedele, associate director of News.

“Final cost-savings information is not yet available at this time,” Fedele said this week.

“It was the intention of VERP to contain costs and to continue managing efficiently into the future. The responsibility centers are still evaluating how they will address the vacant positions: re-distribution of responsibilities among remaining staff; elimination of some duties, and re-assessment of the vacant position’s responsibilities are all factors that each responsibility center must address on its own,” he said.

To be eligible for VERP, staff at any of the Pitt campuses had to be at least 59 years of age as of April 1 and have at least 10 years of full- or part-time continuous service.

The early retirement program offered incentives not included in Pitt’s standard retirement options. Among them are:

• A transition payment equal to six months of base pay minus tax withholdings will be paid in a lump sum by July 31.

• Retiree medical coverage for both the retiring employee and the spouse/domestic partner, as well as eligible children, begins immediately (rather than at age 62).

• No contributions are required for University and spouse/domestic partner medical coverage up to age 65; children are covered up to age 26.

• Retiree life insurance at no cost starts immediately (rather than at age 62).

• Dental, vision and long-term coverage is available for purchase immediately (rather than at age 62).

• Retiree education benefits are available immediately (rather than at age 62).

A small and unscientific sampling of staff who said they had accepted the VERP option showed that some of the new retirees have mixed feelings about their decision.

The fact that the administration has said a significant number of retirees will not be replaced worried some of the new retirees, who expressed concern about the workload in the units they’re leaving. Others, however, said they were confident that their units would be able to compensate for their absence.

Retiree Janet Thomas said she was concerned about the effect of VERP on the University as a whole. “So much knowledge will be walking out the door on 6/29. However, those not retiring are a resilient, intelligent group who will make Pitt a better place for students,” she said.

Several of the respondents said they already had been considering retirement, and that the incentives offered as part of VERP tipped the scales in favor of retiring this June 30.

Some of those who are leaving explained why they had accepted the University’s early retirement offer:

Joanne M. Rosol, director of enrollment management at the College of General Studies (CGS), 42 years of service.

“My plans were to retire within the next year or two. This presented the perfect opportunity to do it sooner,” Rosol said.

Carol Neuner, administrator in the Department of Administrative and Policy Studies, School of Education, 42 years of service.

“This was an opportunity too good to pass up,” Neuner said.

•  Jim Burke, senior photographer, Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education (CIDDE).

“The set of emotional baggage that comes with this decision is definitely mixed. Pitt has been my professional home for the last 23 years, and it will be very hard to leave on the last day,” Burke said.

“After 23 years I found it difficult to bring the same level of enthusiasm to the routine assignments my job requires. One more evening shooting a reception — well, it would have been challenging,” he acknowledged.

Donna Close, assistant business manager in the Division of Student Affairs, 43 years of Pitt service.

Close said she accepted the VERP particularly because of the health benefits coverage.

Juli Gasperi, director of recruitment, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, 33 years of Pitt service.

“I am ready to retire. I planned on retiring early next year and, after a recent health issue, this came at a good time for me,” Gasperi said.

Barbara L. Porter, assistant dean and director of student services, Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, 42 years of service.

“Last summer I decided and made preliminary plans to retire on my birthday, Dec. 31, 2012,” Porter said. “When I received the email blast to deans, directors and department chairs about VERP, it was a ‘no brainer.’ It is time for me to go on to wondrously different adventures.”

She added, “I am not concerned that my unit will be affected by VERP because I have made every effort over the past couple of years to make the transition as seamless as possible for the people with whom I have enjoyed working.”

Kathleen Plyler, student accounts manager at the Titusville campus, 12 years of service.

“I had been thinking of retiring next spring and this offer was so good that I just couldn’t pass it up,” Plyler said.

“I have enjoyed my years here at the Titusville campus. I will miss my colleagues here as well as those people I have met and worked with from the other campuses and through SAC (Staff Association Council). However, I am really looking forward to all the things I can do with my free time.”

Leonard R. Jendrey Jr., media producer, CIDDE, 36 years of service.

“I was planning to retire at 62 and this lets me retire 10 months earlier. The severance was excellent but medical coverage for my wife until she is 65 was the benefit that put us over the top,” Jendrey explained.

Mary Jane Alm, administrator I in the School of Education, 40 years of service.

“The benefits are comparable to what we currently have. It was too good to pass up,” she said of the VERP option.

Andrea G. Loughner, parking office administrator, Parking, Transportation and Services, 25 years of University service.

“My husband is two years younger than me and otherwise I would have had to work until 64 to keep him covered,” Loughner said.

Barb Juliussen, assistant director of the Office of Career Development and Placement Assistance, 18 years of service.

“It is an opportunity to explore some new challenges,” Juliussen said of her VERP decision.

Gus Tytke, assistant director for Mail Services, 40 years of service at Pitt.

“I was planning on retiring April 2013 at the age of 62. The VERP program was a plus for me because it offered benefits above and beyond what I normally would have received,” Tytke noted.

Janet D. Thomas, assistant director of parking and commuting alternatives in Parking, Transportation and Services, 43 years of service at Pitt.

“It was time for me to go. I was planning to retire at the end of August, so the timing was perfect,” Thomas said.

Linda Murphy, administrative assistant in Computing Services and Systems Development, 15 years of service.

“I was planning on retiring in January 2013, so I felt this was the best thing for me to do,” Murphy said. She noted that two of the five administrative assistants in her area accepted the VERP offer.

—Peter Hart

Editor’s note: University Times reporter Peter Hart, who joined the Pitt staff in 1983, is among those whose last working day at the University will be June 29. He has accepted the early retirement plan offer.

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