Layoffs and restructuring target administrative staff as officials look to mend budget crunch

Updated: April 14, 2015 at 1:53 a.m.

Dozens of layoffs and a restructuring of hierarchical ladders mark some of the most prominent steps that departments have taken this year to remedy University-wide budget cuts.

GW announced Wednesday that 46 staffers had been laid off, just a week after revealing a plan to clarify employees’ understanding of how to rise in the ranks of their departments. Both top-down decisions come as officials are cutting departments across the University by 5 percent after two years of missed revenue projection.

At a Staff Association meeting Wednesday, more than 20 staffers asked about who would lose their jobs, saying they had not heard about the staff eliminations until the public release earlier that day.

Brandon Brown, a staff member in the Graduate School of Education and Human Development and a founding member of the Staff Association, said cuts were made without any “official body” speaking to them first.

“Now more than ever, a strong, united staff voice is needed,” Brown said at the meeting.

The Staff Association formed in November to protest proposed tuition benefit rollbacks. Now the group is airing its members’ concerns about staff layoffs and asking the University for transparency about pay level changes.

Petra Salazar de Gallegos, who is the executive coordinator at the GW Institute of Public Policy, said at the meeting that the cuts are to administrative positions.

She added that the current system does not let employees see where they fall in terms of pay grade.

Vice President for Human Resources Sabrina Ellis said in a release that the decisions on which staffers to cut “were made by units carefully with much forethought.”

“We want the best for all our employees, and we will work to help those in transition as well those in newly restructured units,” she said.

Changes to staff titles will also make GW more attractive to potential employees and help the University keep them after they’re hired, Ellis said in an email.

Ellis declined to sit for an interview but said in an email that the current job classification structure “does not meet the needs of our employee population.” In addition, the said the system required updates in staff pay grades, and that officials started working on the restructuring three years ago.

“Employee job duties, responsibilities and task assignments will remain the same,” Ellis said in the email. “With the new classification structure, the university will be able to more effectively recruit and retain employees by providing clear pathways for advancement.”

Each employee position will be categorized to fit one of four roles: executive, management, individual contributor or support. Job titles will also change to give positions within the same category similar names. The categories that employees’ positions fall under depend on their skill sets and how they will be most efficient, according to a University release.

Experts say restructuring generally occurs during budget crunches when certain jobs need to be consolidated with fewer people.

Elizabeth Berman, an associate professor and expert in higher education at the State University of New York at Albany, said in general restructuring can save universities from having to lay off more employees when budgets are cut.

“You get everybody to add some task they didn’t used to have to do, and overall you’re able to squeeze some savings out that way,” she said.

GW saw administrative hiring increase almost 45 percent from 2004 to 2012, more than many of its peer schools, including New York and Tufts universities. Faculty leaders have criticized the amount of administrative bloat over the past several years.

The University spent more than $500 million for the second time last year on salary expenses, a 43 percent increase in staff, faculty and administrative pay since 2004, according to financial reports. Spending in that area has increased gradually over the past decade.

John Aubrey Douglass, a senior research fellow at University of California, Berkeley studying the evolution of higher education, said universities across the nation like UC Berkeley and Cornell University have gone through similar administrative restructuring changes to reduce overall costs.

Douglass added that labor costs are routinely the largest operating costs at universities.

He said centralized services can minimize the number of departments at universities, which in turn would cut down on the number of necessary jobs.

“It’s a pretty common effort to try to reduce overall costs,” Douglass said. “The current trend is toward centralized services in an attempt to restrain labor costs or lower labor costs.”

This post was updated to reflect the following corrections:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the Staff Association formed in January. It actually formed in November. Due to an editing error, The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Petra Salazar de Gallegos said GW had not cut faculty positions. The Hatchet also incorrectly reported that the Office of Human Resources implemented the restructuring and the staff layoffs. It was the decision of individual units within the University. The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Vice President for Human Resources Sabrina Ellis said the new job classification structure does not meet employees’ needs. She actually said the current structure does not meet their needs. We regret these errors.

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