Keene State College sent an email to faculty and staff this week notifying them that some campus positions could be eliminated over the next two years “to align [the college’s] finances and staff with enrollment and to ensure Keene State’s financial health going forward.”
But according to President Melinda D. Treadwell, the college has no concrete plans to phase out specific positions at this point. The announcement was sent to fulfill a contractual obligation with Keene State’s faculty and staff unions and pave the way for restructuring should it be necessary as the campus undergoes a strategic redesign, she said.
Under the unions’ collective bargaining agreements, Keene State is required to notify leadership of potential layoffs 120 days before implementation for staff positions and one year in advance for faculty positions, she told The Sentinel.
“I have determined, and communicated verbally many times, that we may need to exercise our right to eliminate positions through a Reduction in Force,” Treadwell wrote in the email. “Therefore, I am providing you with a 120-day notice that Keene State College may eliminate positions as we redesign our work practices and organizational structures over the next two years.”
A series of committees have begun looking at positions across campus to determine staffing needs to better serve students, she said in an interview with The Sentinel. Treadwell noted that some areas may require additional staff, and should positions be eliminated, her hope is that employees would stay on campus through voluntary transfers.
“There is nothing in plan right now except the fact that we’ve started our redesign work, and I need every tool available so that we can allow people to move, we can talk about if we have redundancies,” she said.
Treadwell said that any potential position changes would not be motivated by the college’s finances but rather improving student experience.
Since taking the helm as interim president in July 2017, Treadwell has worked to help stabilize the college in the midst of financial and enrollment challenges, including a budget deficit and subsequent buyout program.
About 50 college employees — approximately 10 percent of Keene State’s full-time faculty and staff — accepted buyouts.
“For the past 24 months on this campus, I’ve been discussing that we need to think about our people, our processes and our tools and how we meet the needs of the students and think about this organization and how it works,” Treadwell said of the nascent redesign. “This is not about budget; this is about rethinking our work.”
Keene State is on track to finish out the fiscal year with a roughly $1.5 million deficit, she said, which is well within the $2.3 million deficit approved by the University System of New Hampshire Board of Trustees.
When Treadwell took over, she made about $7.5 million in cuts to meet the college’s fiscal year 2018 target of a $2.4 million deficit.
Though Treadwell announced last February that the college was projecting a balanced budget for fiscal year 2019, she said Wednesday that Keene State enrolled more students who required financial aid than the college had originally budgeted for, requiring additional financial aid funds.
The budget for next fiscal year has not yet been approved, she said.
Kim Schmidl-Gagne, president of the Keene State College Administrative Staff Association, a staff union, said several union members reached out to her Wednesday with concerns about the announcement. Though administration has communicated with union leadership about the potential changes, she said the email did not provide context about the redesign process.
“I think it was a scary moment for folks when they received the email, and I’m hoping that we can quickly do some framing of it a little bit better to lessen some of the worries that folks have,” she said.
Schmidl-Gagne said the situation demonstrates the importance of the campus’ unions.
“The [collective bargaining agreements] provide a road map for managing challenging situations and provide important protections to staff,” Schmidl-Gagne said. “I think that we forget how important those agreements are when everything is going well.”
Niall Moran, president of the Keene State College Education Association, a faculty union, said in an email Wednesday night that he had just returned from Europe and was not yet up to speed on the announcement.
In accordance with the unions’ collective bargaining agreements, Treadwell said she will be available to meet with leadership next week to answer questions and listen to concerns.
“This community matters; it’s more than the work, it’s about the people. So those are the commitments I’m going to continue to hold,” Treadwell said. “I will do everything in my power to make sure whatever we do going forward is done in a compassionate, caring way, and that we observe our procedures.”