Simmons to UCS: Job cuts coming

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Existing jobs will need to be cut for the University to achieve the savings new, tighter budgets require, President Ruth Simmons told the Undergraduate Council of Students at its general body meeting last night.

“Inevitably positions will not be filled and some services and positions will not be continued,” Simmons said during an hour-long discussion with UCS members that focused heavily on the University’s financial situation.

Simmons first indicated job cuts could be on the way in an e-mail to the Brown community following last month’s Corporation meeting, at which the University’s highest governing body told administrators they would need to proceed even more frugally than they had planned in order to cope with economic woes.

“A fair number of administrative positions will be eliminated,” including some “very senior” positions, Simmons told the council.

But Simmons said the University would make preserving academics a priority.

“We don’t have any plans to cut the faculty. In fact, we plan to increase the faculty,” Simmons said. “Our fondest wish is to spend as little as possible on administrative areas and as much as possible on academic programs.”

Some faculty members have said they are willing to take pay cuts or work reduced hours to aid University efforts to preserve jobs, Simmons told UCS.

“We are seeing some truly extraordinary gestures,” she said.

In order to consult more Brown community members about potential cuts, Simmons said the administration would explore “augmenting” certain University committees to include representation for students and staff.

She also raised the possibility of creating ad hoc committees to address certain aspects of the University’s financial problems. But, she said, “we don’t have any committees to announce at this point.”

Simmons did not specify which committees could see expanded representation. But, when asked about the possibility, Simmons said the University might consider adding student representation to the Academic Priorities Committee, which oversees big-picture academic decisions. The logistical challenge of including students on the committee without granting them access to sensitive personnel files, however, could make that difficult, she said.

But despite impending budget cuts, Simmons said, the University has in some ways been lucky. Fortunate timing allowed Brown to pursue some initiatives it might not have pursued after the economic crisis struck, she said.

“If the financial aid increase that came up last year had come up this year, it wouldn’t have been done,” she said.

Simmons also told The Herald after her discussion with UCS that she felt “relieved” about the progress of the Plan for Academic Enrichment – a wide-ranging blueprint for raising the University’s academic profile that Simmons unveiled in 2002. “Had we not started the Plan a few years ago, I shudder to think where we would be today,” she said.

Simmons said having the Plan in place helped the University navigate the economic crisis. “We’d already set our priorities,” she said.

Emphasizing the University’s commitment to making the Brown experience fruitful for students in the midst of the downturn, Simmons told the Council that “you only get four years” at Brown.

“Imagine if your four years was all about the economic crisis,” she said. “We have to – in a sense – insulate you from that, because it’s just not fair.”

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