01/08/09: A note on finances and staffing from the acting provost

To the College Community:

I write on behalf of the Staff Resources Committee (SRC) to provide an update on our work and to explain how the SRC will be collaborating with vice presidents, managers and supervisors, the Human Resources Office, and the Budget Oversight Committee (BOC) to reduce the College budget this fiscal year and beyond.

As President Liebowitz and Patrick Norton, chief financial officer, have explained in their recent campus presentations, the administration is working toward at least a 10% reduction in staff by the end of fiscal year 2011, a decrease of at least 100 positions. We expect to eliminate many of these positions through attrition—by not filling jobs that become vacant when employees leave the College. To that end, the SRC has been very careful about approving requests for positions. Since the hiring freeze went into effect in October, it has approved requests for only the most essential positions—four positions in all, and some at reduced levels. In this economic environment, the “most essential” positions are those that uphold the academic mission of the College, and ensure the health and safety of the campus. Between October and December, 22 positions were frozen. Since several of these positions were upper-level administrative jobs, the savings realized by not filling them is significant.

As it goes about its work, the SRC also pays close attention to how staff positions are funded and whether a particular position will help the College generate revenue. For instance, a few staff positions are supported by funds from the endowment that can only be used for that purpose. Other staff positions support areas that directly generate income for the College and therefore receive special consideration (e.g., some positions connected to our Schools Abroad or Language Schools). Therefore, some positions have a greater chance of continuation based on their restricted funding, or because they generate revenue, without which, the College’s financial situation would be even more challenging.

In addition to the role it plays in approving or rejecting replacement positions, the SRC has recently added several steps to the hiring process to help the College meet its overall attrition goals in a more deliberate way. The following bullets describe the process that will unfold after the SRC receives a request for a new position.

  • If the SRC concludes that a requested position is not essential, which will be determined after considering the impact of not filling the position, the position will be eliminated. It will then be the responsibility of the supervisor or manager, working with the vice president in his/her area, to determine how to reallocate the duties associated with the position so that staff responsibilities are realistic and workloads are equitable.
  • If the SRC concludes that a positionand the functions associated with itare essential, then the requesting manager, working with the vice president in his/her area, will strive to reassign another staff member in his/her area to fill the position. In the event of a successful reassignment, the SRC will assume that the moving staff member’s vacated position will be eliminated.
  • If it appears that the functions associated with the approved position cannot be covered through reassignment from within the vice president’s area, then the position will be posted within the College community for a period of 30 days. By encouraging the redeployment process that already takes place naturally at the College, we believe we can advance the College’s attrition goals while also generating more professional opportunities for current staff.
  • If the search to find a qualified internal candidate to fill the approved position is unsuccessful, then the position will be posted for external applicants.

We believe these revisions will help the College reallocate important staff resources and improve the hiring process. The SRC also realizes that in order for this process to be successful, managers and supervisors will need to communicate honestly and comprehensively about the staffing needs in their areas. And vice presidents will need to share information—and resources—across divisions. We must all work together to identify the responsibilities and programs that are vital to our mission, and be prepared to give up some of what we currently do. Indeed, senior administrators have begun discussions within their areas about how we can scale back on services and functions without compromising the academic mission of the College. In the current economic climate, we need to recognize that sacrifices will be made at all levels of the institution, so some of the services to which we have become accustomed will need to be reduced.

Another way the SRC’s responsibilities may intersect with the College’s cost-saving efforts is through the work of the Budget Oversight Committee. Charged with recommending potential budget cuts to the President, the BOC could propose to eliminate or reduce in scope a program or service that relies significantly on staff resources. If the President accepted such a recommendation, the College’s Reduction in Force (RIF) policy would go into effect, since the staff required to support the program would no longer be necessary. In that event, the administration would follow the procedures mandated in the College Handbook.

It is important to note that while the RIF policy was written to ensure that Middlebury employees are treated fairly when the possibility of layoffs arises, the RIF process does not inevitably lead to layoffs. In fact, the policy outlines several alternatives to layoffs, including voluntary severance packages and redeployment opportunities. These alternatives could be important tools in the current environment. Should the deliberations now taking place in the BOC and the administration result in the elimination of programs and, as a consequence, the loss of staff positions, the affected employees would be offered voluntary separation agreements, including severance pay. If a staff member declines the separation agreement, then he or she would be considered for other employment opportunities at the College. Only if the staff member declines the separation agreement, and redeployment efforts fail, will the College consider an involuntary reduction in force. As President Liebowitz has stressed, layoffs remain a last resort, to be utilized only after all other options have been exhausted.

The budget shortfalls we face are significant. Efforts by members of the community—particularly efforts by members of the staff—have been exceptional and have made a noticeable impact already. It is our hope that by continuing to work together we will meet the financial challenges that lie ahead with minimum disruption, and emerge a stronger community.


Tim Spears
Acting Provost & Chair of SRC

Office of the President

Old Chapel
9 Old Chapel Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753