Baker emotions run ‘gamut’ with layoffs of 23 people
Cutting 23 positions from the Baker University system was the toughest job President Pat Long has had to do in her two-plus years at the helm.
“You bet it was,” Long said at a press conference Tuesday announcing the layoffs. “Without a doubt.”
The layoffs were made last Thursday and Friday. They were the result of a $1 million shortfall in the university’s budget. They should be the last of the job cuts, she said.
“We hope that we are done with layoffs with where we are now,” Long said. “I’m sure we’re done with mass layoffs.”
She declined to say how many people were let go from the Baldwin City campus. Baker also has campuses in Overland Park, Topeka and Wichita.
“It was a fairly even distribution,” she said, adding that the specific numbers will be released later in the week.
Long said that the layoffs, which were a 5.2 percent reduction in the university’s faculty and staff of 439, did not involve any full-time faculty members. She also said it’s a reflection of the harsh economy nationwide.
“It’s impacting us, like everyone else,” said Long.
She pointed specifically to the reduction in students at Baker’s School of Professional and Graduate Studies in Overland Park after the recent layoffs of thousands of workers from Sprint.
“We had 103 students enrolled through Sprint,” said Long. “Those benefits go away. Not just Sprint, but other companies.”
She also said Baker’s endowment had gone down 27 percent because of losses in the stock market. That funds many scholarships to the university, but reductions there won’t be felt until next year. Fundraising efforts have also been hampered by the troubled economy, she said.
Long said the layoffs were the last resort and efforts to stem spending, such as reductions in travel and other expenses, started in November when it became apparent the university would not meet its budget.
“We did everything to protect people,” she said. “We saw people as the last thing we wanted to impact.”
She did not know if there had been layoffs at Baker before.
“You know, I don’t know with 150 years of history, I’d guess we have,” said Long. “I’ve heard stories, legends, of past layoffs.
“I don’t know of times nationally like we’re experiencing, so I don’t know if we’ve had layoffs in the past,” she said.
The Rev. Ira DeSpain, campus minister since 1992 and a 1970 Baker graduate, said the situation is a tough one and reflects the times. He said reaction from faculty, staff and students is varied.
“It runs the gamut,” said DeSpain. “The uncertainty, the deep resolve and commitment. I’ve heard about students wanting to have fundraisers to help. The administration is giving back two weeks’ salary.
“It’s a deep commitment to keeping the university running how it should,” he said. “There’s anger and frustration about the world economy. It’s been a long few months, especially for President Long and lots of people.”
In addition to Long’s press conference, she also made a presentation to faculty, staff and students at a university forum Tuesday afternoon. She also met with the student senate later in the evening.
“There were a lot of questions asked by students and staff,” Steve Rottinghaus, director of public relations, said of the forum. “They’re wondering about scholarships and how it will affect them.”
Long also said there will be discussions with the board of trustees at a Friday meeting. Topics will include possible salary cuts and tuition increases. She said any additional measures taken from that meeting will be communicated with everyone.
“We’re being open and transparent with the university,” she said. “I just want to answer questions.”
She said the layoffs represented $200,000 toward making up the $1 million shortfall. Susan Lindahl, chief communications and strategic planning officer, wanted to make it clear that’s where the shortage is now, but could change.
“That’s if revenues continue where they’re at,” said Lindahl. “We want to be fair and say out loud that there’s a possibility of more.”