Mixed: Metaphors & Messages

Epic Fail: President, Upper Administration & Super Deluxe Strategeric Human Resources Executive Office Decide To Sort of Fire Most Of Edison Community College, Just In Case.

Last Tuesday, President Yowell dispatched upper management to explain to the entire classified staff, full time untenured faculty, tenured faculty in roll-over years, and directors of programs that, technically, they would be fired at the end of March. But there was good news: it would be a double-secret, cone-of-silence firing. No one would really know about it, or understand it, and the technical unemployment wouldn't likely even matter. Nothing bad was likely to happen anyhow, and KY really wanted to rehire everyone, or almost everyone, in July. Nevertheless, and needlessly, the entire ECC community descended into uproar, confusion, and anger.

President Yowell's explanation:

That things are in financial turmoil is an understatement. Whether it is the global economy, the national economy, the state economy, large retailers/manufacturers, small retailers/manufacturers, airlines, and other businesses, small and large, too many are in financial trouble and many have or will fail. Thousands of homes are in or will be in foreclosure. Almost no one is immune and everyone seems buffeted financially and emotionally by the downturn. But, we already know all of that.

What we do not know and what we are unable to determine at this time is the impact of the state budget on Edison next year. We do know that funding from the state is now more crucial than ever. Unlike years prior to the current budget biennium, Edison was able to offset some of the limited state funding by way of tuition increases. Now, with the college facing its second biennium with tuition frozen we must rely almost solely on the state to provide us with the money to pay for normal increases in annual costs and for continued operations. Yes, enrollment increases this year will help us, but the additional enrollment revenue this year will not see its more importance partner, additional state subsidy, for another year at least, if not two years, because of OBR’s two-year credit averaging.

We also know that the every-two-year budget process for the state that includes Ohio higher education is a fairly long process, having begun this year in February and not finishing until late June. Edison must have a board-approved operating budget by June 10.

This budgeting process in Columbus is like a four-inning baseball game. The first inning, the governor submits his budget to the House and these elected state representatives (2nd inning) study the proposed budget, listen to testimony and pleas from interest groups; they deliberate, and finally vote on a budget bill, in this case House Bill 1, or HB 1. HB 1 is submitted to the state Senate (3rd inning) and the Senate conducts a similar process to that of the House. When the Senate votes on its budget, or SB 1, the budget bill is very often different from the House bill. Senate districts are much larger than House districts and senators tend to have a different perspective on some issues. Then, the House budget bill and the Senate budget bill are submitted to a conference committee (4th inning) composed of a few appointed state representatives from the House and few appointed representatives from the Senate. This is where things really get decided.

The conference committee is where the differences in the two budget bills are hashed out in a give-and-take manner until a compromise bill is agreed upon. This compromise bill is then voted on by both the House and the Senate and most state representatives and senators feel an obligation to support the compromise. Occasionally a renegade will vote against the compromise, usually out of some misplaced principle. The budget bill is sent to the governor and sometimes the governor vetoes items in the bill on which he disagrees. Things go back and forth and eventually the budget bill is signed by the governor and it goes into effect July 1 for two years, or a biennium. State law requires a balanced budget by the last day of June.

Today we are at the tail end of the 2nd inning, and whatever the score is for higher education at this point can and will change in innings 3 and 4. Presidents of two- and four-year college/university sectors are talking to their elected officials in order to persuade them to support what their institutions need. The two sectors are often not on the same page. There is only 100 percent of the $ pie, and everyone wants a larger piece. There are never enough larger pieces.

Because we are still in the 2nd inning, we at Edison have little or no idea what the result will be after the last inning. I was on the phone yesterday morning with other community college presidents and it is clear that, as currently structured, there are dramatic losers and dramatic winners in this funding battle. What many of you heard in your briefings this morning is a by-product of where the legislature is on its path to a higher education funding resolution and our conformance to Edison board’s employment policies.

Board policy states that administrative employees (those on one-year contracts) not to be reappointed for the next budget year must be accorded a 90-day notice of that appointment status. This notification deadline, essentially April 1, is also true for full-time faculty who are not yet in a continuing contract cycle or for faculty in a curriculum on the viability bubble. Classified employees generally receive a two-week notice of impending dismissal.

If there were no 90-day notification clauses, there probably would not have been any group briefings this morning, and we would have waited until the state budget was finalized to determine the implications for Edison and to determine if any personnel actions were warranted.

I am sorry for the bad news that almost everyone had to listen to this morning about the notification. The good news is that the overriding goal is to maintain full employment once the dust settles in Columbus.

One thing I want you to do is take a deep breath and say to yourself, “This is just a formality the college has to go through because of a policy/contract and the uncertainty in Columbus, and it is unlikely that the other shoe will drop.”

In conclusion, following is a brief synopsis of where we are:

  • Because it is unknown at this time what will be approved in the state budget, which defines our operating budget, and to comply with the 90-day notice policy to administrative employees of intended re-employment or non-continuation of contracts, all administrative employees will be sent official non-continuation notices for FY 2009-10 by April 1. Those full-time faculty members who are currently in a probationary period will also be sent a notice of non-reappointment by April 1.
  • Once Edison’s budget has been finalized, a determination will be made on the following: New contracts for administrative employees and those full-time faculty members who are in their probationary period; the continuing status of individual classified staff members; and, if any career programs are to be eliminated, those faculty not to be reappointed due to program elimination.

This is a difficult time and anxiety and uncertainty can run rampant. Focus your energies on your daily tasks.

As you grapple with this issue, keep in mind that my goal is to maintain full employment. I will do my best to keep you apprised of the four-inning game, a serious game, in Columbus and the ramifications for those of us at Edison. Do not hesitate to share your concerns with your supervisor, the HR executive director, or with me.


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