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Hiring freeze chilling for a few, unnoticed by others

Unfilled spots, need for efficiency among challenges

The University's recently announced hiring freeze on all nonessential staff may be leaving some departments understaffed. The hold on hiring, implemented in response to the current economic climate, will extend through at least January 2009.

Some groups, such as the Third World Center, say they have no vacancies and have not felt the crunch of the hiring freeze. But others, such as the University Libraries, have unstaffed positions, which University Librarian Harriette Hemmasi says may affect operations.

The Vacancy Review Committee, a newly formed group of administrators, will oversee requests from University departments seeking to hire employees or fill positions with consultants or temporary hires. For positions that the committee determines are critical to the University's functioning, departments may be granted permission to consider candidates for the job.

A committee document on the vacancy review process asks departments to conduct their own thorough evaluations to determine if there is a "demonstrable and critical need" to fill a given position. After this self-evaluation, department officers can request vacancy reviews by the VRC - but "only those positions deemed essential to support the highest priorities in the Plan for Academic Enrichment and mission-critical operations are likely to be approved," according to the document.

President Ruth Simmons announced the hiring pause, among other reviews of expenditures, in a Nov. 4 e-mail to the campus community.

The decisions to pause hiring and review other expenditures "were made so that we can continue to provide the flexibility to meet our highest needs, such as financial aid," said Marisa Quinn, vice president for public affairs and University relations.

Departments are encouraged by the committee to consider whether positions could be filled at a later time or eliminated completely by reassigning responsibilities to other employees. The committee also recommends that departments consider redistributing workloads and tasks across the department on a temporary basis and even discontinuing certain programs and resources.

Positions that are fully funded by outside donations and grants and offers of employment made before the pause took effect on Nov. 5 are exempt, according to the committee document.

Edward Wheeler, director of Health Services, said that while the change has not significantly affected Health Services, it has forced the staff to become more efficient. Currently, there is an opening for a part-time medical assistant, a position that entails putting patients in exam rooms, taking vital signs and performing electrocardiograms. That position will go unfilled for the time being.

"We're having to work a little harder, and work a little quicker, but it hasn't interfered in any great degree with our work," said Wheeler, adding that now, a medical assistant may work with more than one doctor or nurse practitioner in order to compensate for having fewer assistants.

Wheeler said that students should not expect to see Health Services compromised in any way. "We're not hurting the way other departments may be hurting, by luck, really. We did not have a significant number of openings" at the time of the pause was implemented. Health Services will look to fill the assistant position once departments are allowed to hire again, he added.

The University Libraries are also coping with unstaffed positions. Currently, there are seven open positions, including an associate University librarian for access services, an external relations and development officer and an assistant to the University librarian. The positions have been vacant since August.

Hemmasi said the libraries are in the process of completing a vacancy review request for the external relations and development officer position and the associate University librarian for access services - a position that would oversee 80 people and work across four departments.

If the positions are left unstaffed, Hemmasi believes that library operations may be hindered.

"I deem all of the positions essential," Hemmasi said. "We have seven positions open, and in my mind, they are all necessary positions."

Hemmasi said student workers in libraries probably won't be affected. Currently, all shelving and stacking positions are filled, she said.

Library employees who are currently taking on more responsibilities are also being compensated for their extra work, Hemmasi said, noting that Ronald Dunleavy, interim head of Media Services, has received a stipend for his additional duties since the former head left in August.

The committee suggests that "overtime should be authorized only to maintain critical services and operations."

However, not all groups in the University are feeling the staff crunch. Anjali Sridhar, assistant director of the TWC, said the TWC does not have any vacancies right now. "We were pretty much staffed at the beginning of the semester," she said. "It really hasn't affected us."

Steven Derderian, a cook at the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall, also said there are currently no openings in the kitchen.

If the hiring pause lasts past January, Hemmasi said she thinks the University will continue to adapt.

"All around the University, all of us would try to do what we can to make our operations successful and effective to serve Brown students and faculty," Hemmasi said.


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