UT staffers bemoan loss of jobs, lack of discussion

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In early October, Dianne Kline received a short letter saying she would become one of the more than 270 UT employees quietly laid off this year because of budget cuts.

A senior administrative associate for the Center of Teaching and Learning, Kline had worked at UT for nine years. She said when she and a few co-workers were laid off, the management in her department handled the process poorly and should have communicated their decisions in a more timely and efficient manner.

“People were anxious, and they were left wandering for a considerable amount of time,” Kline said, her voice shaking.

During the next Texas legislative session, lawmakers — dealing with a possible budget deficit of $25 billion — will consider deep cuts to UT and every other state agency. In May, state leadership asked each agency to plan for 10-percent budget reductions. For UT, this could mean as many as 600 jobs if the legislature cuts 10 percent of the University’s state funding.

But one Staff Council ad hoc committee is working at full speed to see their job security policy recommendations reach President William Powers Jr. by February, so he can be armed going into the legislative session on behalf of UT.

Erika Frahm, chair of Staff Council’s job security ad hoc committee and a senior administrative associate, said specific policies aren’t formulated yet, but the committee is targeting those surrounding layoffs around campus, merit-based raises and mandated performance evaluations. As the economy turns around, the high-performing employees will be able to leave UT and enter the market, so the doling out of merit-based raises has caused anxiety among staff, Frahm said.

“How is it determined, how is it regulated, is it fair, is it public?” Frahm said. “We are operating from the standpoint that communication helps alleviate some of that anxiety because a lot of that anxiety is based on the lack of actual information.”

Frahm said there are answers to staff members’ questions, but the University needs to disseminate those answers in a clear way.

“It’s dealing with that environmental stress that has been ongoing and will continue to ramp up, and that’s where you’ll see the exit of people as the economy turns around,” Frahm said.

Phillip Hebert, recording secretary for Staff Council and an administrative associate at the Charles A. Dana Center for Science and Mathematics Education, said he couldn’t speak for the council, but from what he has been hearing in his district, he would like hear some plain talk from the administration to the staff so they can be more informed.

“One thing that I would love to see is Tower Talk be used as a way to communicate to staff in a more common sense terminology to help us get the inside view on what’s going on,” Hebert said. “This affects us more than anyone else, and Tower Talk has become nothing more than a repeat of the same information we see everywhere else.”

UT spokesman Don Hale said Powers has tried to keep staff members informed as budget cuts take effect, but the decisions are made at the department level, making it difficult to explain every decision.

“The President’s not making the call on what those decisions are, so part of it is that each unit is making decisions on its own budget,” Hale said. “That doesn’t make it easy, but I understand the concerns about people’s jobs. I know Powers wants to make sure people are informed as best as we can do it.”

UT’s Human Resources Services has seen an increase in the number of staff members who come in for services related to fatigue, stress and anxiety.

Julien Carter, associate vice president for human resources, said most employees have such a connection to UT that they will plow through the pain and uncertainty. Carter said one director shared that many people expressed anxiety about the future.

“There is a lot of tension, uncertainty and fatigue because we’ve been dealing with this [economy] for a number of years,” he said.

Joe Gregory, vice chair of Staff Council, said in this economy, people are glad to have jobs.

“People are scared right now. I hope the administration is looking diligently into ways of keeping staff,” Gregory said. “Morale is shaky, but everyone is hoping and praying that things get better.”