The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

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VSOs offered to prevent future S.O.S.

More than two-thirds of full-time St. John’s employees have been offered buyouts, according to University officials.

At the end of January, University President Rev. Donald J. Harrington sent an internal e-mail stating full-time St. John’s employees would be receiving Voluntary Separation Offers in an effort to maintain a balanced budget.

According to Dr. James Pellow, executive vice president and COO, a VSO is “an opportunity for an employee to, on a voluntary basis, separate or terminate from the institution and receive a series of benefits.”

More than 1,700 full-time St. John’s employees have been offered VSOs including 357 faculty members and 1,345 administrators and staff. The University employs more than 2,100 full-time employees and more than 3,000 altogether.

All eligible employees have been notified and have until March 12 to accept the offer. Once they accept, they will have seven days to reconsider.

Pellow said the upside of the VSOs is that it will make the University more financially flexible.

“This is a great opportunity for us,” he said. “It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be painful in some areas, but at the end of the day, the institution is going to come out so much stronger because it’s provided us the opportunity to rethink how we approach student service and enhance academic quality.

“We hope to make sound repositioning decisions,” Pellow added. “We’re looking very carefully and in great detail at our marketplaces.”

To determine eligibility, each employee was given a score based on a combination of their years of service and age to determine their eligibility. Faculty members with a score of 65 or over fall under the eligibility list while 60 is the cut-off number for administrators and staff.

Facility members who accept the VSOs will receive a package of two years pay and up to five years of medical benefits.

Administrators and staff could receive packages up to two years salary and three years of medical benefits.

Pellow said the University could be investing as much as more than $20 million into this program.

He said “a dozen or so” employees have already filed paperwork while many others have shown interest in upcoming informational sessions.

“There’s fairly significant interest on the administrative and staff side of the house and there appears to be interest on the faculty side of the house as well,” he said.

“But there’s no clear patterns on what areas will be most affected or what departments will be most affected.”

Despite the use of VSOs, Pellow maintains that the financial state of the University is “terrific.”

“We continue to remain very strong, very healthy,” he said. “In fact, like a lot of schools, you read in the headlines, many schools are hurt by the drop in their endowments. For better or worse, St. John’s endowment is not $36 billion like Harvard’s was. So while we did suffer a drop of value in our endowment, the impact on our operating budget was not as great.”

According to a Sept. 2008 Standard & Poor’s credit profile, the University’s endowment was $345 million as of the end of July 2008, a decrease of 1.5 percent.

“St. John’s has traditionally had strong operating performance,” the report reads.

“In fiscal 2007, the University had an operating surplus of $11.7 million or 2.4 percent of operating expenses; unaudited fiscal 2008 results show a slightly modest surplus for the year.”

In the meantime, Pellow said other changes could be on the horizon.

“We’re looking at every single budget, every single department, every single division and the way we do business on every campus across the entire university,” he said. “We’re seeking opportunities to redesign, redeploy, and take different approaches to be more efficient or economical in student service and academic quality.”

Pellow confirmed that although there will be more changes coming besides the VSOs, the possibility of layoffs have not been “specifically talked about.”

“What we’re thinking is that the VSO should provide enough flexibility so that we can redeploy resources,” he said. “There are some areas of the institution that we know we’re not going to operate in the same way.

Things that we started 10 years ago, that made sense 10 years ago or 15 years ago, we know are just not the appropriate way to serve students and faculty today.”

“We hope that the pieces will fit together and we’ll be able to do it with a minimum amount of impact to individuals.”

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