Faculty voice continuing concern to President Simmons over job losses

by Steffi Lee, Editor in Chief

More than 20 tenured Simpson College faculty members signed a letter to question President Jay Simmons about the process by which the administration decided to cut jobs, professor Nancy St. Clair said.

St. Clair, who teaches in the English department, wrote the letter and met with Simmons on Monday with several other professors to present him with the letter and discuss the matter.

“To have something this drastic occur saddened us, does not reflect well on us as a community and people have told us that some of the ways in which people have been let go recently reflects a corporate model,” she said in an interview with The Simpsonian. “Those who signed the letter thought the tone was very positive and appreciated that it was non-confrontational.”

The letter states although there is a mutual understanding about financial challenges facing Simpson to survive in the future, “(the faculty) are deeply concerned that recent efforts to ensure our well-being seem to have been made on the backs of those least able to afford it.” It stresses deep concerns about the lack of transparency with the rest of the Simpson community and gender problems in job eliminations. According to the letter, positions cut or reduced to part-time affected mostly middle-aged, female staff members.

St. Clair said while faculty members understand the college is a business that needs to survive financially, the way job eliminations were handled was unexpected.

Simmons said the cabinet met in July and worked on budget reductions for the 2014-15 year.

“We thought we had done our work at that point,” he said. “What we realized though, in late August, was that our Continuing and Graduate Program numbers were dropping rapidly, and because of that, we needed to make budget adjustments fairly quickly.”

We reported last week that a lower-than-expected enrollment caused employees to lose their jobs and positions to be eliminated. The Simpsonian asked Simmons for a list of the positions affected, but he cited privacy concerns in declining to do so. Simpson’s former director of Career Services, Jennifer del Pino, told The Simpsonian her position was one eliminated in the layoffs.

“We looked at two primary goals in terms of making the adjustments,” Simmons said.

Their goals were to get Simpson to the point of a balanced budget and to make changes that would impact students the least. Simmons also said he’s making a budget committee to make these processes more transparent. Allison Wolf, associate professor of philosophy, will be the chair. He said he’s also willing to answer questions through the Student Government Association (SGA) for any students who want to know more.

John Epperson, professor of political science, said when he arrived at Simpson more than 30 years ago, the college was running deficits. While the college isn’t in a disastrous state, he said the handling of the job cuts surprised employees.

“I’m worried at least in the short term, morale has been damaged,” he said.

Epperson said even if the changes are justified, when the Simpson community hears about employees facing layoffs or getting their jobs reduced to part-time, there is a personal attachment.

“I think whenever that happens, the people around those people feel badly,” Epperson said.

Simmons said his hope is to overcome the rough patch, but to still provide students with their full experience. While the letter also touches on how a majority of female staff was cut, he said that wasn’t the focus.

“When you look at the college’s demographics, we’re very similar to other institutions of higher education,” he said. “Institutions of higher education tend to have older workforces.”

He said this means minority employees such as females who are more than 40 years old tend to get affected when changes need to be made.

St. Clair said administrators must actively recruit employees to keep balanced demographics. Simmons said there used to be a committee focused on these areas and this might be the right time to bring this back.

Simmons said again that the budget changes would allow current Simpson faculty to get raises.

“We’re recommending to the board of trustees a two percent salary pool for salary increases this year,” he said. “If the board approves that, that will go into effect on Nov. 1.”

For St. Clair, she said she’s been here for nearly 24 years and only makes around $68,000 annually. And the letter the faculty presented Simmons with said, “It is noteworthy that no one who makes over a $100,000 at Simpson seems to be taking a cut in salary or benefits or is at threat of losing his or her job.”

But even with looming questions, all faculty want are answers, she said. While there is a lot of focus on money, St. Clair said there could be a way to include both the inclusiveness matter and finance issues into future actions.

“He’s the president I’ve worked under who I have the most faith in,” St. Clair said. “He’s got a really tough job that other presidents haven’t had to deal with and he seems more willing than other presidents to take it and deal with it face on.”