Widespread layoffs and workforce restructuring over the last two months have triggered discontent at Coppin State University.
Since the beginning of June, 25 of Coppin’s non-faculty staff members have been let go, with 12 workers at the 52-acre campus laid off, 13 more told that their contracts would not be renewed and 14 vacant positions going unfilled to help meet an annual budget deficit that totals $5.5 million, according to school officials.
The cuts dig deep into the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers bargaining unit at Coppin State in an action that Jeff Pittman, of Local 1356, said violates the terms of the school’s contract with the union.
“They are supposed to contact us and meet when they are considering lay-offs, not after the fact,” Pittman told the AFRO.
According to Pittman, 100 Coppin workers are covered by the AFSCME bargaining unit, 92 of whom are active members of Local 1356. The union, along with some faculty members, staged a demonstration protesting the job cuts ten days ago.
“I feel like I’ve been left out in the cold,” said Kevin A. Carr, who was laid off from his position as customer service coordinator in the Office of Records and Registration.
“A staff member and I were meeting with the human resources director and we asked who would be next on the list. Unfortunately, she had to say it was me,” said Carr.
Carr became a student at Coppin State University in 1999 and began to work for his alma mater in 2004. He has made his living for the past 11 years working in various positions for the university.
Prior to spending five years in the records and registration department, Carr served as assistant director of alumni relations and worked in the school of education as a coordinator and liaison for urban education, all positions that are “important links” for students and the university, he said.
“They’re just rolling dice. There isn’t really any real strategy in mind,” said Dennis Roberts, about the range of positions that have been cut which include Roberts’ job as campus videographer and that of the supervisor of the housekeeping department.
“If they have to balance the budget I want them to stop balancing it on the backs of the faculty and staff. Why not reduce the number of hours and somehow not impact people’s lives in such a negative fashion?”
Coppin State President Reginald S. Avery, who has led the institution since 2008, says the layoffs are a necessary tool to keep the university moving forward through the financial crisis.
“No one wants to go through any layoffs at all,” Avery said to the AFRO. “Certainly, as president, I didn’t want to do this but as I talked to my finance person and others, we just had to do something because we were in a situation where we had to lay off certain people. It’s never a good thing to have to do that.”
William E. Kirwan, chancellor of the University System of Maryland (USM), says the tough financial choices Coppin has made are in no way “unique” to the university.
“The state doesn’t have enough resources to fully meet all the expenditures needed by our institutions,” said Kirwan. “We’ve had to make some budget adjustments and budgets cuts have been needed, not just at Coppin, but at all of our institutions in order to balance our budgets.”
“There are realities that have to be addressed and they appear to have done a very good job in protecting the academic enterprise, and targeting these painful cuts to areas that would have the least impact on students,” said Kirwan.
The explanation doesn’t go down too well with rank-and-file employees at Coppin who have eluded the budget axe. “In the past when people have been let go, they’ve been given some opportunity- maybe like a two-week notice kind of thing, or even a few days,” said James A. Brown, performing arts specialist and supervisor for the campus auditorium. “Now, they’re literally telling people in the morning that it is their last day that day.”
“We just don’t need to be working under these conditions without knowing exactly what the administration’s plans are,” said Brown, who has worked at Coppin for 17 years as a contract worker and as a full and part-time employee. “Coppin, over the last ten years, has not been anywhere near one hundred percent when it comes to staffing, and here we are again, talking about reducing staff. If we haven’t been operating at 100 percent, maybe at 85 percent, where are we headed?”
Director of University Relations Tiffany Jones says the prospect of layoffs has been discussed in town hall meetings on campus and in budget advisory committee forums that included faculty and non-teaching staff members, students, university vice presidents, and other administrators.
“We did discuss the possibility of the kinds of lay-offs that have come to fruition at this point,” said Avery. “I want an open system and I want to make sure that everybody understands why we’re doing things on this campus whether it’s laying off people or making non-personnel changes.”
Sixty-five percent of the budget goes towards wages and benefits, according to documents released by Jones, with the other 35 percent paying for utilities and capital debt payments. Avery says that the budget advisory committee will meet this month to begin working on the 2013 fiscal year budget.
“This is very important because we get a sense what kinds of things we need to correct and what kinds of things we need to address,” said Avery.