Facility and Events Manager for the Memorial Chapel and ’92 Theater Ed Chiburis was terminated from his position at Wesleyan on Thursday, Sept. 4. In protest of his sudden dismissal from University employment, around 20 student workers at the Chapel and the ’92 Theater have resigned from their positions.
This movement began with the public resignation of Daniel Storfer ’15 on Tuesday, Sept. 9. Storfer had worked with Chiburis to run the Chapel and the ’92 Theater for two and a half years, and he served as Assistant House Manager in summer 2014.
Storfer was informed of Chiburis’s termination by Usdan University Center staff when he was asked to run an event at the Memorial Chapel that night in place of Chiburis. He spoke about his original impression of the termination and the change that prompted him to resign.
“Originally, when hearing it, I had assumed that Ed [Chiburis] would not want his job back because of some dispute,” Storfer said. “It seemed abrupt, so I assumed there was some form of dispute that seemed unsalvageable and he would be too proud to come back. The point at which I decided to resign was when he told me that if given the chance he would gladly come back.”
Storfer stated that he hopes that with the lack of labor in the Chapel and the ’92 Theater in the coming weeks, the need for Chiburis’s position will become more apparent.
“I feel that if it becomes more difficult to manage the chapel, it reflects poorly on the decision to terminate the person who could have managed it had all the students resigned,” Storfer said. “If we all resigned on Ed [Chiburis], it still would be able to function pretty well.”
Storfer further voiced his disappointment in the way that the University handled the termination of an important campus position.
“I am disappointed that in a position that is so heavily focused on interacting with students, [students] never seem to have been consulted or really in many ways thought about in the decision,” Storfer said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Michael Whaley declined to comment on Chiburis’s termination, stating that all University personnel issues are confidential. He spoke about the process of terminating staff members.
“Generally speaking, all students should know that (except in egregious situations) a progressive coaching/discipline system is in place to address any performance issues with any employee,” Whaley wrote in an email to The Argus. “Only after that system has been exhausted would an employee be terminated.”
However, the Staff Handbook on the University website states that the University may go through this process where applicable, but does not indicate that it is necessary.
“Employees are ‘at will’ employees and their employment may be terminated by the University at anytime with or without cause,” the handbook reads.
Whaley further stated that the University intends to involve students in the transition and will search for a replacement.
“Given [Chiburis’s] departure, the Usdan staff is in the process of working with the students involved in Chapel/’92 to assess their needs and to support them during this transition,” Whaley wrote. “Students will be involved in the process of searching for Ed’s replacement.”
Anthony Dean ’17, a member of Second Stage, stated that, in the meantime, Chapel and ’92 Theater workers and the rest of Second Stage are reporting to alternative sources who are less familiar with the spaces.
“Whenever you are going to fire or let go someone who has an important position and who has a position that is directly related to other people, you have to have something to account for what will happen when that person is gone,” Dean said. “If you just have them leave with no notice, with no preparation, then everything’s just going to fall to hell, and that’s just unacceptable. That just can’t happen.”
Many students who previously worked at the Chapel or the ’92 Theater have resigned over the course of the week, informing Storfer that they support his protest. However, Storfer believes that events scheduled in these spaces in the coming weeks will still occur.
“I recognize that there are some people who have to work because of monetary reasons and I understand that,” Storfer said. “I don’t think that I can guarantee a halt, but at the very least I can guarantee difficulty.”
Dean has previously worked events and plays at the Chapel and the ’92 Theater. He spoke to the necessity of Chiburis’s position, particularly for Second Stage—which is currently planning for its season to open on Friday, Sept. 19.
“I hope to see that people appreciate what [Chiburis] did and that we need someone like [Chiburis] to be running this stuff…” Dean said. “We need someone who knows fire codes for building sets or setting up audio. We need someone who understands the sound systems in these buildings. We need someone who we can go to, to be our point person for the Chapel and the ’92 Theater, because they are really important buildings on campus.”
The outside locks on both the ’92 Theater and the Chapel were changed between Chiburis’s termination on Thursday afternoon and 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 5. As a result, student workers have had to call Public Safety to be let into the building for events, as none have received replacement keys.
“It seems entirely feasible that after a shift of management they would want to change our keys; I just wish they had told us,” Storfer said.
Storfer added that he and his fellow former employees will continue protesting until Chiburis’s former position has been filled.
“Without [Chiburis], it has not been made clear to us who is necessarily filling that position,” Storfer said. “That is something that, at the very least, I would have appreciated: if not advance notice, some better-laid plan for a replacement. I’ve yet to hear anything particularly concrete about a replacement.”