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Trials of the Tiger

Budget gap leads to employee layoffs at the University of Memphis.



The University of Memphis laid off at least 20 administrative employees earlier this month as the school tries to close a $20 million gap in its $478 million operating budget for the 2014-15 school year.

At least 18 of those employees were from the school's physical plant, which handles landscaping and maintenance. Employees are being told they can reapply for new positions that are being created.

Linda Bonnin, spokesperson for the University of Memphis, said the university is "currently evaluating its budget model, but recent cuts are not tied to this model."

"Implementation of a new budget model is more than a year away, after a committee has made recommendations and following a year-long process of review," Bonnin said.

University officials say there will be a "net loss of 20 jobs" after all is said and done but would not give exact numbers. The "net loss" comes from those new positions the university is creating, and according to the university, previous employees will have priority when applying for those positions.

Tom Smith, lead organizer in the United Campus Workers organization, says the new positions might not be enough when it comes to skilled workers who have been utilizing skills that might no longer be necessary.

"[For] an employee in the grounds department, a position that was comparable to the one she previously had paid $12,000 less," Smith said. "Maybe there's going to be opportunity ... but nevertheless, it's still a substantial pay reduction."

He also believes the number of employees laid off by the university is actually higher than 20.

"I'm not convinced it's 20 people," Smith said. "I noticed there were 18 folks who received notices in the physical plant a few weeks back. I know additional people have received notices since then within this fiscal year."

As to whether more layoffs are coming, the university would not specify.

"We can't predict what may occur in the future as we continue our work to realign priorities and eliminate duplication," Bonnin said. "Our goal is to be as efficient and effective as we can be with the student tuition, state allocations, and other resources we are given."

Smith says he's also concerned that, because of the layoffs, some faculty or employees will be asked to do more work to make up for the loss. Smith said there are administrative assistant positions that have remained unfilled at the U of M for some time, and he claims that has led to employees in other positions doing the tasks the administrative assistants would have been doing.

"We have directors trying to figure out how to process payroll forms," Smith said. "Please tell me what's efficient about having a director struggle with Banner [the online administrative software for colleges] or entering hours."

In response to the layoffs, the United Campus Workers have been submitting open-records requests to the university to "give the university some sort of transparency," Smith said. The organization also plans to gather at a "speak-out" for staff and faculty this week to support members who were affected by the recent round of layoffs.

"We're continuing to support our members," Smith said. "We are seeing repeated failures in administrative leadership. They're failing to meet expectations."

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