Study abroad layoffs announced via e-mail

Kristin Frey

A week before Thanksgiving break, an e-mail dashed 22-year-old Stephanie Erickson’s hopes for a relaxing break.

Erickson, a resource center assistant at the Learning Abroad Center, and her co-workers received an e-mail from the program director telling them they might not have a job when they returned.

And for Erickson and nine of her co-workers in the 45-person office, the warning was merited; program directors told them the Monday they returned from break that they were laid off because of budget issues.

Lynn Anderson, associate director at the Learning Abroad Center, said managers used the e-mail to notify staff of the layoffs so everyone was sure to hear the same message.

“We thought very carefully about how to approach this,” she said. “We didn’t have a time where everyone could get together.”

She said the directors decided to send the e-mail before the holiday weekend so staff members making holiday plans and purchases would know they might not have a job when they returned.

“I know that it was an awful weekend for everyone involved,” Anderson said. “There is no question about that.”

The department directors eliminated 10 of 45 positions. Three of them were full time, two were unfilled positions and the other five were temporary contracts – four of which were terminated early.

Anderson said managers did everything to avoid the layoffs, but she said the center would be $457,000 over budget by June if it kept all the staff members.

“We hoped that we wouldn’t have to do it,” Anderson said. “We have made other cuts, not hired as many student staff, made economies in the office supplies.”

Anderson said the budget crunch came from over-hiring staff in anticipation of more students studying abroad, which would have provided the center with more money. Although the University had a 17 percent increase in students studying abroad, it was not enough to support the budget.

The 14 Learning Abroad Center directors made the layoffs – letting go most lower-paid part-time staff but keeping experienced staff – so those still with the office could be cross-trained and easily multitask.

“I think that any time you have layoffs in the office there is always a concern of how all the work will be done,” Anderson said.

Katherine Moss, program associate at the Learning Abroad Center, works with several University study abroad programs. She said the layoffs might cause some changes but does not think the layoffs will have negative effects on students wanting to study abroad.

“I think that the dissemination of information to students might happen differently,” she said.

Moss said students might have to go online more often to find information or programs, and it might take longer to get advising appointments, but students could still get what they needed.

Anderson said staff paychecks and other staff-related costs make up 82 percent of the Learning Abroad Center budget.

Although Anderson said the center held open-talk meetings last spring and in September about the possibility of layoffs, Erickson said, she was surprised because she was hired in August.

“I was hired in August – (offices) have to know that (they) could become a half million dollars in debt,” she said.

Erickson plans to attend graduate school for urban planning next fall, but now she is ineligible for the Regents’ Scholarship Program that allows University staff to take graduate classes for free. She said because of the layoff, she will probably pick up a retail job and get help from her parents.