Letters to the Editor

Letter: Money matters

Friday, September 9, 2016

To the Editor:

The comment by University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi in the article on the SciLi refurbishment regarding a “guarantee” not to reduce staff number or salaries in the transition of the SciLi to a digital-age library and office complex is very troubling to me as an alumnus, who attended with loan aid, and as a regular recent donor to annual Brown giving. This comment suggests a poor commitment on the part of Brown management to restraining operating costs by making use of the increased productivity that the transition to online libraries has brought about. Even if the longer-term plan is to reduce staffing by attrition, as current staff retire, this represents an overly sluggish management response.

This style of management and associated wasteful personnel policy may undermine the willingness of alumni to donate to the Brown organization, which has thereby raised questions about whether it can be trusted to efficiently utilize donated monies to the benefit of students. Students and their families will end up paying for part of this “guarantee” through their tuition payments and through their education loans. The University should operate as a rational business. It must act as a good steward of donations and student tuition payments. This duty should not include guarantees of lifetime employment to staff or faculty members whose roles are made obsolete by technological improvements in productivity. Placement services and encouragement of lifetime vocational learning activities among staff would be a more effective use of moneys being committed to guarantee current salaries and positions for displaced workers.

Preston C. Calvert ’76 MD’79

One Comment

  1. Jefferson Ledbetter says:

    Oh, give me a break. It wasn’t a lifetime guarantee of employment she was promising– it was a guarantee to maintain current staff levels through this particular transition. If anything, that is a responsible move, as it guards against the loss of institutional memory during a period of significant change.

    Advocating “encouragement of lifetime vocational learning activities”– this is a great way for management to wash their hands of responsibility when laying people off. We also call this “blaming the victim” and it’s such hogwash. There was a time when it was expected that companies would take care of their own– if someone’s job was replaced by automation, the company would train them internally for another job for equal or better pay. Incidentally, this seems to be what has happened here, and Brown is to be commended for it.

    Mass employment in an automated world is going to be the challenge of our time. To keep on laying off people in the name of “efficiency” is the worst kind of economic selfishness. If the majority of employers do this, society at large will pay the price with all the ills that come with mass unemployment. (Look at Zimbabwe right now, for example.)
    What Hemmasi was describing is called “social responsibility”– as in, “responsibility to society.” And since society literally keeps us from descending into violent anarchy, I’d say that it represents good management.

    (Plus, you know, there is the whole matter of Brown admirably choosing not to callously cast putatively useless people aside with no regard for their livelihood or families. But who cares about that? Our donations and tuition are at stake.)

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