Mercyhurst cuts 14 support positions

On Nov. 20, Mercyhurst University eliminated 14 employee administration and support positions and cut six more positions from part-time to full-time.
The cuts, as part of a program to trim $2.5 million from the budget, which includes pay cuts for the top seven university administrators as well as the cessation of university payments into the employee retirement fund.

The cuts come in the light of declining enrollment and decreased revenue for the university. The position eliminations did not affect faculty positions and no academic programs were cut or reduced on Nov. 20.

More cuts are likely to come in the future as resources are re-distributed across the university. The Erie Times-News has reported that the university is “focusing on academic and athletic programs, and could make cuts of about $1 million in the 2015-2016 school year if enrollment doesn’t improve.”

Cuts were made from departments across campus, with little notice for the employees who were cut or their immediate supervisors. The lack of notice was due to a short timeframe between a Board of Trustees meeting in October, when the administration was informed that it would need to cut $2.5 million from the proposed budget, and the cuts on Nov. 20.

The student body was also given little notice about the cuts, or the financial state which led to them. When asked about why the student body is not better informed about the financial state of the university which led to these personnel cuts, Mercyhurst Student Government President Nick Latta, said in an email, “there is not a lot to be concerned about currently…I see us at an exciting time with change occurring and new leadership (presidential) on the horizon. It’s a good time to be a laker.”

Gary Brown, Ph.D, Vice President of Strategic Finance, said the process of deciding which positions would be cut was focused on selecting positions where “we could re-align some duties.”

The vice-presidents of each administrative area were “challenged to make reductions in their area, and it would have to be in personnel…How they did it was up to them,” based on each department’s ability to re-distribute the responsibilities of each eliminated position.

The need for the position elimination stems from the decreased enrollment in the university, in contrast to the growth of the university. “People don’t realize that we grew for a lot of years,” said Brown, concerning the increase in programs the university has experienced.

However, due to the large increase in staff during the growth period, Brown said that “as the student population decreased, we [had] to cut some positions because that was the area of growth over time.”

The job of cutting positions fell to vice presidents of each administrative area. “The vice-presidents looked at the list of personnel who work for them,” said Philip Belfiore, Ph.D, Vice President of Academic Affairs. “And all the vice-presidents came up with a list of, if we have to lose somebody, here are the people that we could lose. It was a painful thing, but it was done.”

The salaries and benefits of the suggested personnel were taken into account, and the list was edited until a final copy was sent to President Tom Gamble for final approval.

“None of the vice presidents ended up with a final list of everybody” who was eliminated, said Belfiore. “And we also didn’t know the official list until only a few days before the cuts were made.”

The positions which were cut came as a surprise to several staff members and their supervisors and colleagues. One staff member whose position was eliminated was Brittany Prischak, the former head of the Sustainability office. “I had absolutely no idea that my position was being eliminated,” Prischak said.

Prischak, who was co-teaching a class with John Campbell, Ph.D, at the time of her elimination, as well as handling numerous other projects, left a substantial void. Many of the projects she left behind were picked up until “the end of this year and then there’ll have to be a question of what happens next year.”

Similar questions of responsibility have been raised about the Sustainability program. There has been discussion of hiring a faculty member to handle both teaching and advising for the students in the program, although no commitment has been made to such a position.

Currently, students are split between “four different faculty members in four different departments,” according to Prischak.

Professor Chris Magoc, Ph.D, who co-founded the Green Team that became the Sustainability Office and served as Prischak’s immediate supervisor praised her efforts as Sustainability Coordinator, and said that she started as a collaborative partner and really became the leader” of developing the office and the Sustainability program.

Her elimination came as a “shock” to him.

Magoc said that “although this feels like to a real blow to our efforts, many of us remain committed” to maintaining the Mercyhurst commitment to environmental sustainability, and the Sustainability Studies program.

The frustration of losing Prischak partially came from how surprising it was, according to Magoc.

“Two days before this happened,” he said, “she asked me, ‘Could I be on the list?’ because she had heard there were going to be cuts. I said that I hadn’t heard anything and that I would have been shocked if she was on the list. And if she was being considered, that someone would have told me about it. And nobody told me.”