December 4, 2020

Dear William Paterson Staff,

Recent good news about the status of various COIVD-19 vaccines should give us all hope that the end of the pandemic is in sight. Unfortunately, the economic impacts of the pandemic on William Paterson University will linger long after it’s over. As much as I like to emphasize the positives in any given situation, I believe it benefits no one to ignore the challenges. As a University community, we have made the best of a tough situation, and I commend you all for your good work. However, the drop in enrollment and the attendant loss of revenue, along with losses from residence halls and other campus-based sources upon which we rely cannot be ignored, nor solutions deferred. 
Given the demographic headwinds that preceded the pandemic and which are forecast to continue long after, there are no government or other short-term sources of aid that will allow us to set up the institution for long-term health and success. We are in our current predicament, in part, because for many years we have been growing staff and faculty while overall enrollment has been declining. The pandemic has compounded our problems and made more urgent the need to resolve them. The only way to both stabilize William Paterson now and make it stronger in the future, for example by giving us more resources to invest in our people, is to bring our staff and faculty into balance with enrollment.  
I have been talking, since long before the pandemic, about the need to increase retention and enrollment to avoid layoffs. And while we have had promising success with new programs like Will. Power. 101 and WP Online, they cannot solve the budget gap we now face. I don’t take the prospect of layoffs lightly, especially given these difficult times. Every member of our staff and faculty contributes to the success of our students and the richness of our community, and you have all worked long and hard to be where you are in your careers. While I have done all I can to avoid layoffs up to this point, I am afraid the need to address our budget shortfalls means that is no longer possible. This difficult process is one that no college president wants to undertake. Throughout my tenure, I have focused on growth: new programs to increase access, enrollment, and retention; new buildings to house new initiatives; new ways to better serve our students. But in the life of any organization, there are times when fostering growth in the long term can only be served by reductions in the near term. Now is such a time for our University.
As you know, we are offering a Voluntary Separation Program (VSP) with the hope of minimizing the number of layoffs across both staff and faculty. While we have seen interest on the higher ed manager and staffing side, I want to be clear that attrition through this program or otherwise between now and January 2022 is unlikely to eliminate the need for layoffs. However, to the extent it can reduce the number of layoffs and provide those who participate with the means to transition to the next phase of their careers and lives, the VSP is a worthwhile investment.  In an effort to draw more interest in voluntary separation and reduce the ultimate number of layoffs, I want to share some additional information that should inform your thinking if you are at all in a position to consider taking advantage of this program. 
Ideally, we would like to have people retire rather than lay people off, therefore we are increasing by 15% the financial incentive for those approved to participate in the program. That means that employees with at least 10 years of service to William Paterson will now be eligible for 115% of their weekly salary for each year of service, up to 26 weeks for February 1 separations and up to 13 weeks for April  1 separations. For example, an employee with 26 years of service earning $50,000 annually retiring on February 1, 2021 would receive $962/week x 115% = $1,106/week x 26 weeks, for a gross severance of $28,756. The same employee retiring on April 1 would receive half of that, or $14,378. Again, I believe that by allocating resources to support long serving staff into retirement, which will, in turn, support the longer term health of the institution while also preserving jobs for those not eligible to retire, the VSP is a responsible investment.  
Also, it is important to bear in mind that seniority alone does not provide protection from layoffs. It is a factor only in cases where two or more people occupy positions that are being eliminated. Employees belonging to unions have additional protections under their respective contracts, but I want everyone to be aware that any elimination of positions would be based on the needs of the University going forward and that while in some instances seniority plays a role for AFT and Civil Service employees, it is not always the case. Please note that the University is not currently considering layoffs involving iFPTE or Public Safety civil service staff. Please consult your collective bargaining unit for more information.
I know this is a lot to take in, especially in the wake of one of the toughest semesters we have ever faced. However, given an anticipated Fiscal Year 2022 budget gap of between $16 million and $23 million, I want to be clear: layoffs of some number will be inevitable. As I noted earlier, the extent of layoffs will be largely informed by the extent to which  staff and faculty take advantage of the VSP.  However, summer and fall enrollments will also be an important factor. Specific persons would be notified in accordance with their collective bargaining agreements. We will communicate layoff notification periods related to Higher Ed managers and confidential employees in a separate message, since no agreement covers this situation. 
I hope that this increased incentive and additional information regarding the implementation plan for any layoffs will help clarify things for those of you who are giving any thought to participating in the VSP. Losing good people, whether through a voluntary program or layoffs, is not easy for the individuals, for their colleagues, for our students, or William Paterson as an institution. It is my hope that this prospect strengthens the resolve of our entire community to ensure that these changes, painful as they may be, help us to not only close a budget gap in the months ahead, but also become a stronger institution in the years ahead for the ultimate benefit of all our students and the entire William Paterson community. 
Richard J. Helldobler, PhD