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The Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study has laid off over a quarter of its workforce in an effort to stave off budgetary crisis and bring the still-fledgling institute’s staffing in line with its mission.
Thirty-three employees from across the Institute, but concentrated in the information technology and fundraising offices, were hit early this month by what Radcliffe officials said was a one-time layoff.
According to Radcliffe Executive Dean Louise Richardson, the largely administrative cuts are intended to alleviate a budget shortfall that could have spiraled as high as $50 million over the next 12 years if unchecked.
They also are in line with Radcliffe’s evolution, she and other officials at the Institute said. The former women’s college ceased to exist as independent entity when it formally merged with Harvard in 1999.
In the four years since, Radcliffe has attempted to remold itself as an elite research institute, doling out grants in the form of one-year fellowships.
Radcliffe officials say its mission is now centered around its fellows program, its collections—the most prestigious selection of books and manuscripts about women in the country—and its goal of outreach to alumnae and the general public.
A financial review concluded that personnel cuts were needed to this end.
“What we found through the administrative, program, and financial reviews was a discrepancy,” said Institute spokesperson Whitney Espich. “We realized we were still built to be a college and not an institute for advanced study.”
Radcliffe’s shrinking alumnae population both helped motivate and provided a target for the cuts in staff.
The Institute requires fewer people in its development office than it did when the alumnae pool was being recharged every year.
And with a narrowing demographic contributing to the Institute, Radcliffe has been strapped for cash and needed to find ways to drastically decrease its expenses.
At first it was thought that staffing could be cut back through normal attrition—people would leave and their positions would be eliminated.
But a slow job market meant that fewer workers were choosing to leave and management decided that waiting was no longer a tenable plan of action.
So the decision was made to take a larger step.
“It’s very demoralizing when people see their department getting smaller and smaller,” Richardson said. “We decided it would be better to do it in one decisive step, rather than gradually through attrition. It’s much better to be open about the realities of the situation.”
She stressed that no large cuts were expected for anytime in the near future and that the cuts were position-focused, not person-focused.
“These layoffs were not about performance,” Richardson said. “We looked for positions and functions that were less necessary for the new organization.”
The cuts will improve the Institute’s financial situation in the long term, but according to Richardson its budget will still take a hit this year because of Radcliffe’s heavy investment in severance packages for the fired workers.
She also said Radcliffe has done its best to spread out the losses. Equal numbers of unionized and non-unionized workers, as well as equal numbers of junior and senior staff members, were laid off.
Richardson said that almost every worker who had lost his or her job was told of it on July 10 in either a personal meeting or a meeting with several others from his or her department.
Unionized Radcliffe employees belong to the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers (HUCTW). Billy Jaeger, a director at HUCTW, said the union had known in advance of the impending layoffs.
“We’ve known for some time that Radcliffe was struggling with its financial situation because our members who work at Radcliffe have told us that,” Jaeger said. “I think it’s been pretty extensively discussed in the Radcliffe community over the last year. So we knew there were some difficult times coming.”
Jaeger said a clause in HUCTW members’ contracts gives them a kind of “superpriority status” in terms of being considered for other jobs at the University they are qualified for and that “there are plenty of open jobs around the University now.”
Still, the effects of such a large elimination are unsettling.
“It’s Radcliffe getting significantly smaller and so at one level that’s sad for a lot of people,” said Jaeger. “And obviously it’s very upsetting for people who are facing the loss of their jobs.”
“It’s hard to do this in an academic community. We are not the corporate world,” Richardson said. “We wanted to do this in the most humane and respectful way possible. We hope we have succeeded.”
—Staff writer Laura L. Krug can be reached at email@example.com.
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