Titusville employees faced with the reality of severance packages


The transition process at the Pitt–Titusville campus is moving forward, but not without a few hiccups and complaints.

Stephen Wisniewski, vice provost for Data and Information, told the University Senate Budget Policies Committee on Nov 16. that Pitt-Titusville would face faculty and staff reductions by 2020.

In that meeting, Wisniewski told members it was too soon to say how many of Pitt–Titusville’s 65 employees — 24 full-time faculty, 10 part-time faculty and 31 staff — would be cut. Of the full-time faculty, five are tenured.

However, earlier that same day, the faculty and staff of Pitt–Titusville met as a group and individually with human resources and learned whether their current position would remain after the transition is completed in August 2020 and the formula for how much severance would be paid, said Mary Ann Caton, an assistant professor of history and political science at Pitt-Titusville.

Larry FeickLarry Feick, interim president of Pitt–Titusville and Pitt–Bradford, said he, campus Dean David Fitz and Richard Esch, vice president for Business Affairs at Titusville and Bradford, also were available for open sessions after the individual meetings to answer questions.

“What I said to people all along was that as soon as we’re sure about the nature of the benefits and also your situation after 2020, we’ll tell you,” Feick said.

That day, Caton learned her position would be eliminated on August 2020. She has taught on the campus as a non-tenure-stream professor since 1986.

“We each had private interviews, private meetings with HR, and we were given sealed envelopes.” Caton said. “And we were to read the content of the envelope in front of the HR person, and we learned our fates that way.”

While overall morale among the faculty is low, she said, there weren’t many complaints about the severance packages, which Caton described as “generous” and “fair.” According to Caton, the package included:

  • Disbursements in the form of two lump sum payments equal to 20 percent of the base salary, provided that the person is still employed on those two distribution dates.
  • If you’ve been employed by the University for more than 12 years, you will receive one additional week of pay for each year of service up to a maximum of 26 weeks.
  • Tuition benefits for faculty who have children born prior to Aug. 31, 2020, which she called a “huge deal” for faculty with young children.

Still many questions

Unlike many job cuts, the situation at Titusville is somewhat fluid, Feick said. The administration is working with those whose positions are being cut to send out resumes to Pitt’s other campuses. Because the transition won’t happen until August 2020, many of the hiring decisions at the other campuses for that school year will not occur until fall of 2019.

Another unknown is which community organizations will be partnering with Pitt for the Titusville campus’s new Hub concept, combining academics and job training.

“The downside is that the partners won't be there for a while, (so) some people didn’t have a clear set of other kinds of options on the campus at that level,” Feick said.

“Our goal is to keep the people … in the University system if we can find them positions. But as a last resort backup … there is a severance for them, and they’ve all been talked to about what they would be entitled to.”

University Senate leadership has been generally supportive of the way the University is proceeding at Titusville. Feick and Senate President Chris Bonneau said all tenured faculty will have the opportunity to stay with the University, if they so choose. Part-time faculty are not being offered severance.

Faculty input

Tyler Bickford, secretary of the Senate Budget Policies Committee, expressed some concerns, particularly for non-tenure-stream faculty.

“Faculty should be able to negotiate any layoffs and severance packages, and not have them unilaterally imposed by HR,” he said. “While some of the planning about the job training hub model has been open, decisions about which programs will be continued do not seem to have involved the faculty who know the curricula and students the best. Respecting tenure is important, but long-term, non-tenure-stream faculty also make important contributions to the university and have earned the same consideration.”

A Facebook post this week by the Pitt Faculty Organizing Committee said offering of severance packages, particularly for non-tenure-stream faculty, “highlights the vulnerability of faculty across all of Pitt’s campuses,” and complained that “faculty members at Titusville were shut out of the process with regards to decision-making about the future of the campus.”

Feick said that many statements in the @PittFaculty post were incorrect, including that tenured faculty would not be offered continued employment at Pitt.

He said former Titusville and Bradford President Livingston Alexander started the process two years ago with a faculty committee looking at alternatives for the Titusville campus. That committee’s report was issued in spring of 2017 and since then, Alexander, Feick and former Provost Patricia Beeson have had open forums with faculty and staff, and they have met with various governance boards, such as the staff association council. There also have been two community-wide forums.

“I’ve not been asked by people on the campus to come more frequently to talk,” Feick said. “I've not had people say to me, that the process didn’t include enough interactions.”

Mary Ann CatonCaton, who has been a vocal critic of Pitt’s plan for the campus, said that “outward appearances would suggest” that the Pitt–Titusville faculty had ample opportunity to provide feedback on the future plans for the campus — citing a public town hall and her own involvement, along with two other Titusville faculty members, on the task force examining the campus’s future.

However, Caton said, appearances can be deceiving.

“The faculty, as a whole, was not given a voice other than being called to meetings periodically at which decisions were announced,” Caton said. “I think Pitt has bent over backwards to make this look like an open process … I don't think it truly was an open process.”

Few faculty were included in the discussions of Titusville’s future beyond the task force, she said, adding that she wasn’t sure that their opinions were fully taken into account.

“I think Pitt has allowed us to fail because we’ve been starved of resources that we needed in order to succeed and that those resources were never forthcoming,” Caton said.  “Now Pitt will argue differently. They will say: ‘You had every chance, and we couldn’t make your enrollment goals.’

“To some extent, that was true here and there. But on the other hand, when you don’t get any help from the mothership that makes it that much tougher.”

Susan Jones and Donovan Harrell are writers for the University Times. Reach them at suejones@pitt.edu or dharrell@pitt.edu.