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Layoff premature

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March 1, 2010

11:54 PM

The current budget crisis at the College of William and Mary has officially taken its first victim. The College has recently decided to layoff Courtney Dowell, a health educator with Health Outreach Peer Educators, making hers the first faculty position eliminated purely for budgetary reasons. It’s a disturbing step on the part of the College, belying a much more difficult financial situation than was previously projected. We are both troubled and dismayed by this measure, not only for its effects on the state of campus health efforts, but also for its implications for the College as a whole.

The prospect of layoffs is by no means an unexpected result of our current financial state. The Board of Visitors’ efforts to rebalance the College budget last November, in addition to approving a tuition increase, did include 12 planned faculty layoffs (and keeping six positions unfilled), of which Dowell is the first. Dowell is merely the first unfortunate casualty in the current budgetary struggle. As one of three health educators at the College, but by all measures outstanding in her position, we can only assume this was an attempt to correct a perceived redundancy. We are in no position to comment on the College’s policies in this respect, but we are of the strong conviction that the loss of such a dedicated advocate for student health as Dowell can’t be anything other than a significant loss to the College as a whole.

What’s more distressing is the fact the administration has always painted such layoffs as an option of last resort. As College BOV Rector Henry Wolf ’64 J.D. ’66 recently said at a September student forum on the state budget cuts, “It is possible to [react to budget cuts] without resorting to trying to adjust the size of the workforce, and that’s what we’ve been astutely trying to work toward.”

Apparently, this approach is no longer tenable. That we are one of the first Virginia state universities to layoff faculty due to budget cuts makes this even more disconcerting. Several, including the University of Virginia and George Mason University, have instituted a “soft hiring freeze,” through which some recently vacated faculty positions are being left unfilled, but all have expressed a desire to avoid layoffs at every cost. James Madison University President Linwood Rose went as far as assuring staff members at a recent faculty senate meeting that the last measure he’d consider to ease budget deficits would be layoffs.

This implies one of two situations. Either our financial situation is grimmer than that of other Virginia state universities, making faculty layoffs unavoidable, or we are resorting to these measures before absolutely necessary. Neither bodes well for the College’s future, and both imply that we haven’t seen the last of these financial difficulties. The loss of Dowell is one that proves saddening not only in and of itself, but also for the trials it implies the College will soon face.

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