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Casper defends against statements about low staff morale
STANFORD -- The sensitive issue of how Stanford's budget cuts are affecting staff morale surfaced at the Faculty Senate's April 28 meeting, prompting President Gerhard Casper to strongly defend recent university actions.
The discussion started when law Professor William Simon told Casper that the university's treatment of senior employees who are being laid off and the possibility of contracting out work long done in-house are contributing to low morale.
These actions, Simon said, "have suggested to many that the university feels very little obligation to long-term employees when short-term budget concerns make them expendable."
Focusing on a prominent example, he said there was much community concern over the layoff of Cecilia Burciaga, whose position as associate vice provost for student affairs is being eliminated at the end of August and her fund-raising function taken over by the Development Office.
"Many people have been concerned that despite her 20 years, efforts were not made to find her another post or to accommodate her wish to remain another year as a resident fellow," Simon said.
A second senior employee was laid off with minimal notice, and no effort was made to find her a job, he said, without naming the employee. And, at a meeting with all attorneys present, Simon said, the university's general counsel invited outside contractors to bid for the work they performed and said "he would be willing to abolish the Legal Office entirely."
"The concern is that in the process of cutting the budget," Simon said, "the focus on tangible costs and tangible assets leads to the shortsightedness about intangible costs, particularly human capital costs, in terms of morale of its employees and the reputation of the university as an employer."
In his response, Casper talked about the difficulty of making budget tradeoffs and emphasized that it was not appropriate to discuss individual personnel actions in public. He said that "we worried considerably" about all individual cases.
"It is quite clear," he said, "that after the first $43 million in budget cuts, the next $20 million are much harder to achieve.
"We cannot continue to live in a fantasy world where it is assumed that cuts in administration do not lead to job losses or where it is assumed that there is an endless supply of lateral alternatives." When lateral positions are available, he said, the university would do its best to give those jobs to others who have been laid off.
Difficult choices must be made, he said, to maintain the university's high priorities: commitment to need-blind admissions, reasonable support of graduate students, maintaining junior faculty salaries, and protecting and modernizing the campus.
The Legal Office is being reviewed for "a fairly radical restructuring" to make sure the highest-quality services are obtained at the lowest price, he said.
Casper said the President's and Provost's Office "has been again particularly hard hit by the budget cuts."
"As one who had to take responsibility for them, I must say it is not something I take any pleasure in whatsoever," he said.
Ron Rebholz, chair of English, seconded Simon's concern, saying he was worried that the laid-off employees had been given too little notice.
Then, in an impassioned voice, he told Casper: "I could come up with clearly alternative layoffs of vastly inferior people to the two people who are being laid off. I could have done it just like that," he said, waving his hand.
"When you say there were no lateral positions to which these people could be moved, you weren't thinking of the possibility," he told Capser, "of firing some of the people who might not be as good as the people that you laid off."
Casper dismissed complaints about short notice, saying employees were told in early spring they would be laid off effective Aug. 31. In both cases, he said, "it was not individuals being laid off but positions that were being abolished." The employees were protected through the current fiscal year, he said.
Stephen Krasner, political science, reminded the faculty that tenure "gives us a distorted view about what the situation is in most other work environments."
Roger Noll, economics, offered Casper and the administration "bouquets" for studying the contracting option, which he predicted could save the university tens of millions of dollars.
He criticized university policies as "remarkably inflexible," saying they encourage eliminating positions rather than laying off people who do not perform well. The university acts as though its employees are civil servants, he said.
This leads to "anomalies where people who aren't very good get to stay and people who are excellent leave because we eliminate their position."
"That needs to be rethought," he said, "especially since over the next few years, it may well be the case that we're going to be a much smaller place and we're going to have to do lots of this."
Casper told Noll that his characterization was "perhaps a little overstated, but it is not widely off the mark." Legal constraints and union contracts account for some of the rules. "To the extent that the policies reflect our own choices, they will be reviewed eventually, but not immediately," he said.
Robert Simoni, chair of biological sciences, supported Noll's position, saying "if I were in administration, I'd feel a little hammered right now."
The administration is doing what the faculty asked for, he said.
"I think we all wanted to see administrative cutbacks. I wanted to see a process that did not involve wide, time-consuming consultation. This is far more effective," he said.
"We're all too quick to take what is basically very little information and be critical about it. I'm trying to be more restrained in my criticism."
Simoni's colleague Simon said that he, too, wanted to be restrained in his criticism.
"I'm sure it's the case that contracting out can be good," the law professor said, "although I can't resist saying I think the Legal Office is not a good candidate for it.
"One of the problems seems to be that the motivation for contracting out is to get out from under your own rigid personnel policies to a supplier with less rigid policies," he said.
The cost is huge in terms of morale of the legal staff, who have "been told that their boss is indifferent to whether they stay or not if he gets a cheaper offer," Simon said.
Casper said that contracting decisions are being made only in terms of "overall effectiveness of how we do things," not because it offers a way to avoid personnel policies.
In terms of the legal restructuring, Casper said that Stanford has had one of the largest legal staffs in the country.
"Most other universities rely on a different mix of in- house and contracting out," he said.
The advantage of an in-house group is that it knows the clients. However, highly technical issues often call for expertise that can be obtained better through outside specialists, he said.
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