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10/14/2009: A Memo from the President on Voluntary Separation & Retirement Programs

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

As most of you know, we have been engaged for several months in the process of assessing the College’s staffing levels and staffing needs, with a view towards reducing the size of our staff by at least 10 percent from 2008 levels. This reduction is necessary to balance the budget in fiscal year 2011 as well as to address a deficit of approximately $5 million in FY 2012. Although we have made great strides in addressing the impact of the economic downturn, we still need to consider the long-term viability of our current staffing structure. The purpose of this memo is to announce that, as stated in my September 16 update on college finances, we will be offering new staff reduction plans that we hope will help us to meet our attrition goals, as well as a faculty retirement incentive program. As I have stressed throughout the past year, we are doing everything we can to meet our staff attrition goals without resorting to layoffs.

The Early Retirement Program that we offered last February was a good first start in this direction. But while we were successful in reducing the number of staff FTEs (full time equivalents) from 1015 in October 2008 to 922 this October, we need to continue our attrition efforts. The staffing analysis conducted by the Staff Resources Committee (SRC) has resulted in a recommendation that we strive for a baseline of 850 FTEs, or 15 percent fewer staff FTEs than 2008 levels. Staff will have the opportunity to discuss this goal and the SRC analysis at open staff meetings that will be held on Thursday, October 29, at 4 p.m. and Friday, October 30, at 9 a.m., both in McCullough social space. Faculty will be able to discuss the faculty retirement plan, the staffing analysis, and related matters during the Q & A portion of the faculty meeting scheduled for Monday, November 2, at 4:15 p.m., in Kirk Alumni Center.

The new plans, which are designed to achieve further staff reductions, differ from last February’s program in several respects. First, they include a Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) as well as an Early Retirement Program (or ERP2). The VSP is a direct result of the staffing review conducted by the SRC, which was based on the departmental staffing analyses that many colleagues worked hard to complete last summer. It includes area-specific goals that reflect the SRC staffing review. Second, while ERP2 will be available to all eligible staff members regardless of departmental affiliation, the terms will be slightly less generous than they were in the first ERP, due to legal constraints related to that plan. Finally, this year’s program includes a retirement option for faculty—the Faculty Retirement Incentive Program (FRIP)—which is also described below. Please note that these are brief overviews, not full explanations of the programs and their associated terms and benefits.

1. Early Retirement Program (ERP2)
Staff members eligible for this program must have worked in a benefits-eligible position for at least ten consecutive years after the age of 45. Employees who apply for this program will receive a payment based on their current base pay rate, their authorized hours, and total years of service (calculated as of their projected termination date). The payment will equate to one and three quarters (1.75) weeks of pay for every year of eligible service. With regard to health insurance, the College will also pay seventy-five percent (75 percent) of the cost of medical and/or dental coverage for the retiree and the retiree’s currently-covered dependents (if any) until the retiree reaches age 65. Retirees will be required to pay the remaining one quarter (25 percent) of the premium cost if they would like to remain in the plan. It's worth noting that a few faculty with staff jobs are eligible for this program.

2. Voluntary Separation Program (VSP)
Staff members eligible for this program must work in a benefits-eligible position and have a current hire date prior to July 1, 2008. Because the VSP program is keyed to reduction goals that vary from one area to another, not all staff members will be eligible for this program. Employees working in hosted programs (NITLE, Vermont Campus Compact, and Davis UWC), or who are, as of January 1, 2010, assigned full-time to the Monterey Institute of International Studies, are excluded from this program. Otherwise, employees who apply to this program will be selected on the basis of seniority, up to the targets given below. Here, too, it's worth noting that a few faculty with staff jobs are eligible for this program.

  • Academic Administration: includes support staff for academic departments, science services support staff, and other academic offices reporting to the Provost’s office, such as Admissions, the Registrar’s Office, Environmental Affairs, International Programs and Off-Campus Study, Rohatyn Center for International Affairs, Center for Race and Ethnicity, Center for Teaching, Learning, and Research: 10 FTEs
  • Athletics: 3.5 FTEs
  • College Advancement: 2 FTEs
  • Dining: 4 FTEs
  • Facilities Services: 2 FTEs
  • Graduate and Other Special Programs: includes Bread Loaf School of English, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Language Schools administration, Language Schools at Mills, Middlebury Monterey Language Academy: 2 FTEs
  • Library and Information Services: 5 FTEs
  • Office of the Dean of the College: includes all student-life offices, plus Communications, the Mahaney Center for the Arts, the Museum: 12.5 FTEs
  • Office of the VP for Administration and Treasurer: includes all financial offices, Business Services, Human Resources, Reprographics, Mailing Services, Student Financial Services, and all auxiliary operations: 11.5 FTEs

Successful applicants to this program will be eligible for a payment based on their current base pay rate, their authorized hours, and total years of service (calculated as of their projected termination date). The payment will equate to one and one half (1.5) weeks of pay for every year of benefits-eligible service with the College, or 17 weeks of pay, whichever is greater. Successful applicants will receive this payout through a continuation of salary payouts, rather than as a lump sum. Assuming the applicant is under the age of 65, the College will pay the full cost of COBRA medical and/or dental coverage for the applicant and any dependents that are covered as of the applicant’s termination date, for six months.

3. Faculty Retirement Incentive Program (FRIP)
While the College is not aiming to reduce the overall number of faculty positions, encouraging faculty retirements does offer the prospect of conserving faculty salary resources while at the same time creating additional flexibility in the allocation of teaching resources across the academic program. We are therefore offering a retirement incentive program for faculty as well. Faculty eligible for the FRIP include those colleagues who are at least age 62 as of December 31, 2010, have had at least ten consecutive years in a half-time or greater appointment since the age of 45, are in a regular (tenured) appointment or a term position with a termination date of July 1, 2011 or later, and are currently in a benefits-eligible employment category. Faculty who avail themselves of this program will retire on December 31, 2010, and receive a lump sum payment equal to one and one-half times his or her stated annual salary. Faculty who are under 65 will continue to receive medical and dental benefits until the age of 65; those who are over 65 will receive six months of coverage at College expense.

More detailed information about these programs will soon be sent to eligible colleagues. Staff members who are eligible for the ERP or the VSP will receive the application materials via email later this week. Hard copies will also be available in the Human Resources office. The Provost’s Office will send information about the FRIP to eligible faculty colleagues within the next week.

Questions about the ERP or VSP should be directed to Human Resources, while questions about the FRIP should be directed to the Provost’s Office. All applications will be treated with the strictest confidence.

We hope that this second Early Retirement Program and the Voluntary Separation Program offered to staff colleagues will help us meet our attrition goals and reach a sustainable baseline staffing level. When we know how many positions have been vacated through these programs, we will be able to determine whether further reductions are necessary, or whether we can use the staffing analysis to guide us in aligning staff resources with the College’s mission. The SRC has already worked with managers to reassign several staff member to new jobs, and it will continue to play this role as we seek to fill vacant—and essential—positions with existing staff.

Once again, I want to thank everyone at the College for their good efforts and understanding as we navigate through these difficult economic times. We clearly have more to do. We must continue to work together to reduce the list of things we do so that our workload matches our staff resources. As the number of staff positions at the College decreases further, this task will become increasingly important. And as we address the implications of having a smaller staff, we will also need to think creatively about how best to consolidate responsibilities, positions, and departments.

All that said, I am heartened by the progress we have made in the past year, and look forward to working together to tackle the challenges that remain.

Ronald D. Liebowitz
President, Middlebury College


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