Fallout from the buyout: campus grapples with imminent departures

Significant changes are on the campus horizon as long-time faculty and staff members will be leaving the college with voluntary separation packages (VSPs), beginning June 1.

Ninety staff members and 74 faculty members were offered packages in December, and they had to decide mid-January whether they were going to leave or continue their employment at St. Michael’s, according to Mike New, vice president of human resources.

Of the 164 VSPs offered, a total of 41 faculty and staff members have accepted. Twelve staff employees and nine faculty members will be leaving St. Michael’s in June – at the conclusion of this spring semester – while 14 staff and six faculty members will be departing in June of 2018, New said.

“We call the program ‘The Combo 70’, and what that meant is that your age and your service with the College had to add up to at least 70,” New said. “For example, if you’re 50 years old and you’ve been here for 20 years you’re eligible for the program.”

The VSPs, a common type of buyout, serve as one of St. Michael’s solutions to the budget deficit that the college is currently dealing with. According to New, the packages will be saving the college approximately $3 million, which will go a long way in addressing the deficit.

“We certainly had to reduce expenses and our biggest expense as a college is the people,” New said.

Psychology Professor Jeff Adams, who has worked at St. Michael’s for 33 years, is accepting the package and retiring at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 school year. Adams initially planned on retiring after next year, but decided to retire a year early. “I will miss the thoughtful and insightful questions from my classes,” Adams said.

This is the first time that St. Michael’s has offered packages during a time that the school has been in midst of a deficit. However, President Neuhauser has been thinking about the VSP process for the past couple of years, Dean of the College Jeffrey Ayres said.

“It’s been a process of getting the message across that we should anticipate that there are going to be somewhat fewer students here,” said Ayres. “So, we were going to have to have the right number of faculty to match with that. I think the budget deficit is a contributing factor, but it wasn’t the sole. This was being thought about years earlier.”

St. Michael’s is expected to see smaller incoming freshmen classes within the next couple of years, beginning in the fall 2017 semester, Ayres said.

“Everybody is really sad to see certain professors go. It’s definitely going to be difficult to imagine different departments affected by it,” said Sophie Adams, ’18, president of the Student Association. “With that being said, St. Michael’s has a history and after this year will have a continued history of bouncing back when difficult situations arise.”

As staff and faculty begin to leave at year’s end, departments across campus are strategizing how they will cope.

Director of the Library John Payne said he envisions the library having to adapt new ways of business in the fall to accommodate the departure of three staff members who have a combined 60-plus years of service to the college.

“We’re trying to expand the responsibilities of some of our student workers to see if there are some jobs that a regular staff person has done before that students who have been here two to three years and have had the right training could take on,” Payne said.

Biology Professor Denise Martin is another one of the 15 professors who has accepted the VSP. Having been at St. Michael’s for 35 years, Martin said that she had planned on retiring at the end of the year and that being offered the package made the decision easy. Martin’s replacement, Professor Brian Swisher, has already been working in the department this year filling in for another professor who is currently on sabbatical. Ken Kretzer, who has worked as the school plumber for the past 26 years, is taking the buyout and is planning on still doing some part time work in the future. Kretzer had a daughter graduate from St. Michael’s, and said the school has been a big part of his life.

There was a smaller, less-generous VSP offered to faculty and staff a couple years ago, but the one offered in December garnered a lot of attention and interest. VSPs are being offered at colleges and universities all around the country, specifically at private tuition-driven, liberal arts colleges, according to Ayres.

There were clear incentives to accepting the VSP for faculty and staff members who are either at retirement age, considering retiring, or wanting to move on to another job. Those offered the package had the option of picking between two dates for their departure–June of ’17 or June of ’18. New said.

The incentive was different – they’d receive 75 percent of their base salary if they left in June of ’17 and 60 percent in ’18. There was a little bit of an incentive to leave early.”

The psychology department will be seeing three professors leave the department with packages. Joining Professor Adams are Professors Susan Kuntz and David Landers. Kuntz said she will be the only one of the three who will be teaching this fall.

“[I’m] mostly going to miss the interaction with the students,” Kuntz said. “[I] can’t imagine a better job than talking about important things with young people. They are my inspiration; hopefully I inspire them a little. [They] make me think of things in different ways.”

Kuntz said when her time at St. Michael’s ends, she will be writing a book on development and aging, and the aging process.

An additional incentive to accepting the VSP is the Emeritus College, which was set up to make those who accepted feel that they are still integral to the St. Michael’s community. It will allow professors to come back to campus, give presentations, and have office space, Ayres said.

“It’s a nice way of saying that we recognize how much you’ve given to the college, and we still want you to be a part of the college when you retire,” Ayres said. “I think that was very well received.”

It will be a wait-and-see process for specific departments to consider whether or not they will have to hire full-time replacements, Ayres said.

Not every professor leaving at the close of the year is taking a separation package. At least two faculty members, David Mindich of the MJD department, and Phil Yates of the math department, are leaving for positions at other universities.

“Once we see what the enrollment size is going to be like in May and what the first-year class is when we’ll really be able to assess where our greatest need is for the new hires” Ayres said.

Bill Grover, who taught in the political science department for 30 years, was the only professor to end his career at St. Michael’s before the spring semester when he was offered the VSP in December.

His replacement? Dean Ayres.

Ayres will be concluding his 3-year tenure as Dean of the College as of July 1 and will go back to teaching in the political science department full-time beginning of the fall 2017 semester, Ayres said.

To help fill the void of the absences of the staff workers who will be leaving, St. Michael’s has formed a consortium with Champlain College and Middlebury College to work together on various responsibilities, New said.

“We try to do these programs. I think it’s a humane thing to do,” New said. “I think most of people who are taking it are happy about taking it. Many of them were ready to make a change or to retire.”

With additional reporting from
Sarah Iandoli.