St. Aug's announces layoffs, furloughs

jstancill@newsobserver.comMay 29, 2014 

— St. Augustine’s University, facing a serious financial struggle, has announced layoffs and one-week furloughs for employees.

Interim President Everett Ward met with employees Thursday to announce the elimination of 12 positions, or about 4 percent of the campus workforce. An additional 10 percent – 31 employees – will move to 10-month employment instead of year-round.

Later, Ward answered questions from reporters. He said the decisions were difficult, but designed to improve efficiency without compromising the needs of students.

“Our financial condition certainly is an emergency situation which requires that we take the necessary steps to bring financial stability to the university,” he said. “But I do believe that all the measures that we’re taking have a managerial foundation.”

The university will furlough most employees for one week July 7-12 after the conclusion of summer school. Some campus departments, such as admissions, will alternate furloughs among employees to remain in operation.

Employees moving to a 10-month schedule are largely those in student affairs and other departments that serve students. Their employment was halted Thursday, and they will return to work Aug. 1 before the fall semester starts.

Other campus facilities will be closed throughout the summer, and 11 summer school classes were dropped from the schedule because of low enrollment. Employees have been told to cut off lights and unplug computers to save energy costs.

Ward said the changes were necessary to shore up the financial picture of St. Aug’s because of falling enrollment, but he expressed hope about an increase in fall. He said the university’s goal is to admit at least 250 incoming freshmen. So far, he said, 198 have committed to coming.

The cuts will result in $1 million in cost savings – $360,000 immediately and $680,000 over the longer term. That will go a long way to addressing the university’s $1.6 million budget shortfall.

‘Cautionary’

Elizabeth Fournier, a political science professor, said most faculty are already on nine- or 10-month contracts and won’t be affected. “I think their reaction was mostly positive but also cautionary,” she said.

Ward, who was just named to the presidency last month, had sought advice from a group of external advisers.

“That increases the legitimacy and credibility of the announcement,” Fournier said.

Ward himself will take a furlough in July and make other cuts to his office. The university will also pare down expenses in athletics and other areas.

“Everything is on the table,” Ward said, “to save the university.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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