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Brandeis offers buyouts to 150 staff to help address $6.5m budget deficit

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  February 4, 2014 03:22 PM

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Brandeis University is offering voluntary early retirement buyout packages to about 150 employees, or about 13 percent of its total 1,155-member staff, to address a projected $6.5 million budget deficit.

The buyouts – offered to staff 60 years or older with 10 or more years of service at Brandeis as of April 1. 2014 – do not apply to faculty members, university spokeswoman Ellen de Graffenreid said.

“Administrative staffing needs change over time, which can lead to some areas that are overstaffed and -- frankly -- some areas that are understaffed,” she said in an email to the Globe. “The voluntary early retirement program is intended to help balance out staffing and workloads to make our operations more efficient and effective.”

When asked how many employees the university hopes will take the buyout offer, how much money the university hopes to save through the program, and whether layoffs might follow if the goals of the buyout are not reached, de Graffenreid said the university has not set a “target savings, and the actual savings will depend on a large number of factors.”

“This is part of an overall effort to streamline administration through procurement savings and a number of other efforts to make Brandeis more operationally efficient and effective,” added de Graffenreid. “Brandeis is offering a voluntary early retirement incentive program in an effort to streamline business processes, facilitate more consistent workloads, and address the university's current budget deficit.”

She said there are no current layoffs at the university, but there were some in the prior fiscal year, which ended on June 30. Those layoffs "were the result of organizational changes in our facilities operation," said de Graffenreid.

She said that “depending on which staff choose the voluntary program” some programs and offices may choose to replace those staff.

“Brandeis is an equal opportunity employer and any applications will be evaluated on that basis,” she added.

Brandeis provost Steve A.N. Goldstein and COO Steve Manos notified staff of the voluntary buyout program in an email last week.

Employees who accept a buyout will receive a year’s severance at their regular base pay plus a $15,000 “transition allowance,” according to a copy of the Jan. 27 email obtained by the Globe.

The email said employees must notify the university of their decision by April 1 and that, if they opt to accept the buyout, their retirement date must be no later May 30.

The email said staff members eligible for the buyout will receive “details specific to their situation, including their options for continuing health care coverage” within 10 working days after Jan. 27.

“We are providing as much notification to eligible employees as possible so that they can consult with their families and advisors to determine whether this might be an option they wish to pursue,” the email said.

Brandeis has been sharply criticized in recent months by students, faculty, alumni and others with ties to the university after a Globe report in November revealed that the school’s former president Jehuda Reinharz has received millions from the school for part-time work since stepping down three years ago.

In response to the controversy, the university announced two weeks ago a series of policy changes designed to set a more open and fair process for determining executive compensation.

The university spokeswoman said in an email Tuesday that the payments to Reinharz were not a factor in the decision to offer voluntary buyouts.

“The funds paid to President Emeritus Reinharz were previously reported on Brandeis University's tax returns and have been set aside over the course of many years,” de Graffenreid said. “These payments have no impact on the current or future university budget,” which she said school officials project will have a deficit of about $6.5 million this year.

Gordon Fellman, a sociology professor and a member of Brandeis' faculty for the past 50 years, told the Globe on Tuesday night that he and others at the university were upset to learn about the buyout plan.

"I think universities have increasingly modeled themselves after corporations. Their bottom line question is how much money can you save, not what is important to the community," he said.

Fellman, who first voiced his displeasure about the buyouts to Brandeis' student newspaper The Justice, said that he believes most of the staff who will fit the criteria of the buyout offer will be women.

"It's sex and age discrimination," he said.

He said many staff worry that "either the people remaining will be loaded up with work from the people who leave or they'll replace them with lower-paid employees."

He said employees worry that if they take the buyout, they will have trouble finding another job with similar pay.

Alternatively, "If they don't take the buyout, they may get fired the next day," Fellman said. "That's a horrible position to put employees in."

He said the news of the buyouts was particularly offensive in light of the revelations of Reinharz controversial pay.

"People here are being asked to be bought out at a year's salary and he got bought out at about 100 years salary," he said. "It's something that rankles a lot of faculty and staff. That's been a real insult and it's made people very angry."

"Brandeis is a school that's proud of its commitment to social justice. Where does this fit in to social justice?."

He said the university should consider other ways to save money, including cutting back salaries for the highest-paid administrators and working harder to improve fundraising.

At the very least, he said, "Instead of this top-down approach, it would make a lot more sense to call everyone in the community together and try to figure this out. People can be inventive when they're up against it."

Matt Rocheleau can be reached at matthew.rocheleau@globe.com. Looking for more coverage of area colleges and universities? Go to our Your Campus pages.

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