Mood in Parkhurst is subdued in light of cuts

by Emma Fidel | 11/18/09 11:00pm

Parkhurst Hall was unusually quiet last week after the announcement of an impending second round of budget reductions shook up staff and administrators alike, according to acting Dean of the College Sylvia Spears. As might be expected, staff members in Parkhurst are apprehensive about how the target of $100 million in budget cuts will affect both their employment and the College's services and programming, according to David Leenders, associate executive officer of the Dean of the College's fiscal office.

The Board's announcement came less than one year after the College announced a $72-million budget reduction for the combined 2009 and 2010 fiscal years.

One administrative assistant who works in Parkhurst said that staff members' morale has noticeably changed since the announcement. The staff member asked to be unnamed due to the sensitive nature of the subject.

"There's not a lot of talk," she said. "It's quiet. I don't know if that's good or bad. I don't talk because I have no idea what's going on, ultimately."

With one round of layoffs already behind them, office staff members are even more concerned about the upcoming reductions, Leenders said. He said people are particularly nervous given the scope of cuts, as it will be nearly impossible to reduce the budget by $100 million without layoffs.

"We went through this process not too long ago, and we trimmed a lot of things and we thought that was very aggressive," Leenders said. "It's very likely that this go-around is going to make that look not so bad."

Leenders said some staff members attempted to make light of the situation on Monday after the announcement, but that people's seemingly jocular attitude could not mask their apprehensions.

"People were saying they don't know how much longer they're going to be here and trying to make it sound jovial," Leenders said. "But I think what that conveyed was that people are nervous about what this is going to mean to the institution and what this is going to mean to them personally."

Katherine Burke, special assistant to the Dean of the College, said that there is an air of uncertainty, but that "the atmosphere in Parkhurst is positive" as many staff members are determined to develop creative solutions.

Staff members in other College divisions are equally uncertain, said another Parkhurst administrative assistant who wished to remain anonymous. She said she noticed a campus-wide unease in her conversations with colleagues in divisions like Faculty Operations and Management, and academic departments.

"People just don't know," she said. "Will it affect faculty, will it affect the [workers'] union? What does the reorganization mean?"

Staff members are also concerned that budget reductions will detract from the services that Parkhurst offices provide.

"There may be a little fat that we can cut out and not affect the things we provide, but not that much," Leenders said about the Dean of the College's Office.

Staff members appreciate administrators' efforts to listen to and consider as many ideas as possible, Leenders said. Although College officials are handling the situation as well as they can, their efforts can only go so far in a situation of this magnitude, he and both administrative assistants said.

Spears said that the administrators charged with reducing expenses while maintaining the College's "core functions" are equally as nervous as staff.

"I think it's worrisome for the leadership of the institution at all levels because we realize that we hold in our hands the welfare of an entire community, the livelihood of staff and others, and this thing we call the Dartmouth experience,'" Spears said.