SSU Faculty Retrenchment Plan Accidentally ReleasedBreaking News
tags: higher education, austerity, Public Universities, academic labor, COVID-19
Already tense relations between faculty and administrators at Salem State University have only further deteriorated after an unfinished planning document was accidentally released in a records request — a document that contained multiple scenarios to significantly reduce or eliminate staff that could save the university millions of dollars.
On Friday, university faculty received an internal planning spreadsheet that outlined three scenarios under which specifically named faculty members would be retrenched. The scenarios, if acted upon, would have saved the university between $1.8 and $3.3 million, according to Tiffany Chenault, president of Salem State's chapter of the Massachusetts State College Association, which represents university professors and librarians at Massachusetts' nine state universities.
"It was a detailed document that had three different scenarios. It had people's names, departments that would be retrenched, moved," Chenault said. "It was in-depth."
The document was accidentally released by the university as part of a public records request from a member of Salem State's faculty, according to Rita Colucci, Salem State's general counsel. The request, which was unrelated to retrenchment, turned up about 6,000 documents, of which about 1,000 were turned over after duplicates and privileged information was removed.
The spreadsheet, which was mistakenly included with those documents, was then shared by the faculty member in an unofficial online group that faculty are part of.
"The spreadsheet came about because it was an unfinished exercise. We were figuring out retrenchments and what they look like in real life. We looked at some scenarios but never finished the document," Colucci said. "It was an unfinished exercise — never meant to be shared, never meant to be distributed in any way."
This latest twist comes after close to a year of tense relations between administrators and faculty. With a multimillion-dollar budget deficit expected last year, administrators unveiled a plan for all university employees to take unpaid furlough time, a move that is expected to save $3.3 million once all employees take their two weeks by the end of the current academic year.
The local MSCA chapter, following a legal dispute that resolved in the university's favor, took its first week of furloughs during spring break, March 14-20, with the second week set for May 23-29, the week after commencement.
"It wasn't meant to be shared, but they got it nonetheless. It was put out there," Chenault said. "So how do you regain trust after that? How do you rebuild trust in faculty, and how do faculty know if this is an exercise? Is there going to be one that will be finalized?"
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