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Staff offered buyouts to decrease $6.5m deficit

Published: February 14, 2014
Section: News, Top Stories

An email sent out to the Brandeis University staff on Jan. 27 announced that the school is offering “voluntary early retirement buyout packages” to 150 staff members who are 60 years or older with 10 or more years of service at Brandeis by Apr. 1, 2014. This plan, which is entirely optional, would require those who decide to opt in to leave the school by May 30, 2014.

The buyouts, which are addressing a projected $6.5 billion deficit, are solely for the staff and not for the faculty, according to Ellen de Graffenreid, senior vice president for communications.

“Maintaining our student to faculty ratio is critical to the success of the university. However, Brandeis does welcome inquiries about retirement from faculty members on an individual basis. As with the staff program, this decision is entirely voluntary and up to the individual,” de Graffenreid said.

The university aims to align the school’s organizational structures and business practices with the best institutions within the higher education community and to facilitate more consistent workloads. The voluntary program is aimed to design generous incentives to qualifying employees who may wish to retire and help the university make progress in reducing overall compensation costs.

“The primary advantage is flexibility—administrative staffing needs change over time, and where people choose to leave their positions, it may provide some ability for managers to look at how best to structure their organizations to serve the university better,” de Graffenreid said.

In the email sent to the staff, signed by Provost Steven Goldstein ’78 and Chief Operating Officer Steven Manos, those who accept the buyout will receive a year’s severance at their regular base pay, in addition to a $15,000 of “transition allowance.”

David Bunis, senior vice president and chief legal officer, said the school does not have a target savings for this program. When asked about the university’s endowment, Bunis said it is near its all-time record high level.

“We are very fortunate to have the support of alumni and friends. At the same time, we are trying to update our administrative practices in ways that make sense and are consistent with our mission and our values,” Bunis said.

Professor Gordon Fellman (SOC), who was quoted in last week’s Boston Globe article, told The Hoot that he has a few concerns about the plan.

“Some of my colleagues wonder if they don’t take the plan then they will get fired,” Fellman said. “Jobs out there right now are scarce, so this seems like kind of a gamble. ”

In an email to The Hoot, Bunis wrote, “No one is being asked to step down.”

Over the last three months, the school has been criticized for the continuous compensation of former Brandeis President Jehuda Reinharz for his part-time work since leaving three years ago. Reinharz was paid a total of $4.1 million of deferred compensation on Jan. 2, in addition to the $600,000 reported on by The Globe in November. An additional $811,000 was paid to Reinharz for his untaken sabbatical time during his 17 years as president.

De Graffenreid said that these payments were not a factor in the decision to offer this program.

“The funds paid to Dr. Reinharz as part of his contract have been set aside over many years and have no influence on the current or future operating budget of the university,” de Graffenreid said.

As the school looks to balance the budget in the long term, de Graffenreid said that there are many other efforts in progress to cut down costs to serve the university better. Some of these changes include implementing an electronic procurement system to save money on items purchased every day and looking at ways to upgrade buildings to make them more energy efficient and meet sustainability goals.

“We are generally trying to be as efficient as possible with our resources so that we can provide a great education for Brandeis students,” de Graffenreid said.