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September 12, 1996

Reported threat of hundreds of layoffs here seems to be exaggerated

University-wide numbers on recent staff and faculty terminations are hard to come by. But almost three months into the new fiscal year, it appears that predictions of hundreds of layoffs in FY 1997 probably won't come to pass.

In July, the Board of Trustees approved a budget calling for a 3.5 percent increase in the pool of funds earmarked for employee raises in FY 1997.

But the budget also cut $6 million from the overall allocation for salaries and benefits, a 4.5 percent reduction in Pitt's payroll.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg vowed that any resulting job cuts would be achieved "to the extent possible" by attrition. He said the administration also hopes to trim Pitt's payroll by instituting a new early retirement incentive plan for faculty, beginning in early 1997.

Robert Pack, vice provost for Academic Planning and Resource Management, is scheduled to report on progress toward the faculty early retirement plan at a Sept. 19 meeting of the University Senate's benefits and welfare committee.

Ron Frisch, interim associate vice chancellor for Human Resources, said he plans to meet next month with leaders of the Staff Association Council to begin discussing a comparable retirement incentive plan for staff.

Despite administration statements about attrition and early retirements, news of Pitt's $6 million compensation cut quickly got translated into reports that the University planned to lay off more than 400 employees.

The process began when a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter divided the total number of Pitt full-time equivalent employees (about 9,700 people) by 4.5 and calculated that the University could eliminate more than 430 jobs this year. Pitt administrators do not dispute that number as a rough estimate, although it assumes that job eliminations will be spread across pay ranges, whereas real-life cuts may be concentrated among lower- or higher-paid employees.

The Post-Gazette noted that the jobs could be cut through attrition as well as layoffs. But other news media, picking up on the story, incorrectly reported that the full $6 million cut would come through layoffs.

In fact, Pitt supervisors are exercising other options to absorb cuts in their personnel budgets. Those options include eliminating vacant positions, deciding not to renew some employees' annual contracts, reducing contract lengths (generally, from 12 months to nine or 10 months) and filling vacant jobs with personnel transferred from positions targeted for elimination.

At any given time, 200-250 Pitt staff jobs are unfilled, according to the Human Resources office. This week, there were 239 such vacancies.

Under a policy that the Provost's office instituted in July, any Provost Area unit that fills a vacant staff position must give first shot at the job to current Pitt employees or those who have recently been laid off because of office reorganizations.

"We've told all Provost Area units that, if they have a vacant staff position, recruitment should initially be restricted to internal candidates," said Vice Provost Pack.

"Inevitably, there will be exceptions," Pack said. "Maybe a particular job is highly technical, or it requires specialized skills, and there are no qualified internal candidates. In those cases, supervisors can request permission to do external searches. Those requests come to my office. I can't give you the exact number of exceptions we've granted, but there have been very few, because people haven't asked for them." Pack said the Provost Area policy is partly intended to lay groundwork for a University-wide policy that will strongly encourage supervisors to hire internal candidates. But in a more immediate sense, he said, this year's policy is aimed at helping staff whose jobs will be eliminated through budget-related reorganizations.

Assistant Chancellor Jerome Cochran said he has instituted a similar policy in the administrative offices he directly supervises: Business Services, Computing and Information Services, Facilities Management and Human Resources. "The heads of those units have been told that if they have vacant positions to be filled, they should give priority to hiring applicants who have lost their jobs, or face losing their jobs, through budget-related reorganizations. And if those applicants [facing layoffs] aren't chosen, I need an explanation why not," Cochran said.

Finding out exactly how many Pitt faculty and staff will lose their jobs this year because of compensation budget cuts is problematic. No Pitt office has been assigned to keep track of all layoffs (or job cuts through attrition), which are being done on a unit-by-unit basis.

Frisch of Human Resources said he knew of fewer than 50 staff layoffs that have been processed through his office since early summer. And that number included 17 College of General Studies staff members who lost their jobs through a CGS downsizing that occurred late in the 1996 fiscal year, prior to the current fiscal year budget cuts, Frisch said.

"I couldn't even give you a guess-timate on the total number of job eliminations, University-wide," he added.

Vice Provost Pack said, "I don't have a number on the total number of layoffs within the Provost's Area," which includes all of Pitt's non-Health Sciences schools, the University Library System and a number of academic centers and offices. "But I have the sense it's been in the dozens rather than the hundreds." Jeffrey Masnick, vice president for Budget and Financial Planning at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said he was unaware of any layoffs in Pitt's six Health Sciences schools. "If there are reductions in staff or faculty, it would be through attrition," he said.

Assistant Chancellor Cochran added, "I can tell you that nowhere within the University has there been any decision made to cut a specific number of people. There is no overall University directive that says, 'Cut workforces.' As a matter of fact, there are no directives to specific units that say, 'Cut your workforces.' Instead, each Pitt school or other responsibility unit received a two-part adjustment in its FY 1997 budget for employee compensation (salaries plus fringe benefits).

First, the senior administration cut, or in a few cases increased, each unit's overall compensation budget by a percentage that varied from unit to unit. According to members of the administration, the reductions and increases reflected the University's academic priorities and long-range goals, as determined by the Board of Trustees and the University Planning and Budgeting System. In general, administrative offices took deeper cuts than schools and other academic units.

Following the initial compensation budget adjustment, each unit received a 3.5 percent increase in its remaining compensation funds. The 3.5 percent was to be used only for salary raises. (For Pitt employees making $35,000 or more, this year's raises will be the first in two years.) The Faculty of Arts and Sciences, for example, received a 3.5 percent increase for salary raises, which in FAS amounted to $2.2 million. But that increase was preceded by a $1.1 million cut in FAS's overall compensation budget.

FAS Dean Peter Koehler said: "It's true that we received a $ 1.1 million net increase in our compensation funds, but you have to recognize that $2.2 million was earmarked for raises. So even though we could give raises to our current faculty and staff, we were also forced to cut $1.1 million from our base compensation budget." (For a look at how other units are dealing with compensation budget cuts, see story on page 4.) This year's University-wide compensation cuts dovetailed with an ongoing reorganization of the FAS administration. Under the reorganization, three deans' offices (FAS, FAS Graduate Studies, and College of Arts and Sciences) were merged under one FAS "super-dean," Koehler. The reorganization created five new FAS jobs, including three associate deans. But 16 existing staff positions were eliminated.

Of the 16, six were vacant at the time of the reorganization, leaving 10 employees faced with losing their jobs.

According to Richard Howe, FAS associate dean for administration, three of the 10 laid-off employees have found jobs at comparable salaries elsewhere in the University. "We're continuing to work with Human Resources to place the remaining seven employees," Howe said.

(One staff member who lost her job through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences reorganization — but found a new position in the political science department — describes her experiences in a story in this issue.)

— Bruce Steele

Filed under: Feature,Volume 29 Issue 2

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