As Wesleyan’s endowment continues to decline and its budget deficit worsens, the administration is devising new strategies to strengthen its finances. In an effort to avoid layoffs, the University is now offering the option of a Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) to administrative staff employees with at least 15 years of service. The VSP allows eligible employees to retire with a generous financial package, beginning at the end of this academic year. The positions of those employees who choose to retire will not be refilled.
“This is way to avoid layoffs, by offering people a package that will allow them to start retirement earlier than they would,” said President Roth, in an interview with The Argus.
Only employees of Academic Affairs, Diversity and Strategic Partnerships, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, and University Relations are eligible to participate in the program. Other employees, including faculty, cabinet members, temporary employees, employees with a fixed term appointment and employees covered by collective bargaining agreements are not eligible.
According to Roth, addressing the University’s growing budget deficit is imperative because the University will face a budget gap of nearly $19 million in 10 years. Since the University is not planning any systematic layoffs, Roth sees the VSP as a means of eliminating less important staff positions and reducing the long-term budget deficit.
“There was an agreement in advance that some departments would not replace those people or positions [who accept the VSP],” Roth said. “So the University will have that savings. But we don’t know who will take up this offer…those who are eligible have received this offer in the mail. They can stop work in June and will receive compensation.”
As Roth noted, eligibility for the VSP is based on several factors, including the number of years that an individual has worked at the University, and whether an individual works in an area of the University where the administration thought reductions could be made without compromising basic operations.
“It’s a way of reducing the size of the staff without doing layoffs,” Roth said. “Some departments cannot afford to lose anyone, but other departments are bigger and can. So not every department is eligible.”
According to John Meerts, Vice President of Finance and Administration, multiple employees have expressed interest in the plan. However, depending on the needs of the department or University, the number of employees accepted into the VSP may be limited.
“[The plan] allows us to trim staffing in a voluntary manner where both the University and the staff are benefiting,” he said. “The plan is structured in such a way that it protects the University from staff changes in certain departments where the loss of even a single staff member could have dramatic business consequences.”
Since the VSP applies to staff members who have been employed by the University for at least 15 years, these employees do not necessarily have to be close to retirement age to be eligible.
“The program is geared to people who have 15 years of service,” Roth said. “Some people started working when they were 25, so technically they could do this [VSP] at 40.”
As Julia Hicks and Pat Melley, Co-Directors of Human Resources, wrote in an e-mail to staff, the VSP offers benefits for both employees and the University.
“It is our intention to provide an attractive opportunity for many of our valued employees that also reduces our overall staffing level and thereby helps Wesleyan ensure that its budget and resources are aligned in coming years,” Hicks and Melley wrote. “Although the program is intended to accomplish important institutional goals, it is our hope that it will be a genuine benefit to our employees as they consider their future plans.”
While the VSP may serve as a means for lessening the University’s financial woes, the program alone does not act as a solution.
“Although we are hoping for a positive response, we realize that this program alone is not going to solve the fiscal problems we are currently facing,” Meerts said. “But we are optimistic that the plan will realize personnel savings.”
Staff Eligible for Voluntary Separation Program (VSP):
Academic Affairs (Art & Art History, Art Library, Center for the Arts, Chemistry, East Asian Studies, Music, Olin Library, Scientific Support Services, Physical Education and Project to Increase Mastery in Mathematics and Science “PIMMS”)
Diversity & Strategic Partnerships
Finance & Administration (Facilities, Information Technology Services, Public Safety and Wesleyan Station)
Student Affairs (Health Services)
University Relations (All departments)