Administration deems VSO buyouts “successful”

The results of St. John’s voluntary buyouts to school employees have been deemed “very successful” by University officials.

According to James Pellow, executive vice president and chief operating officer, more than 250 full-time St. John’s faculty, administrators and staff took Voluntary Separation Offers by the March 19 deadline.

More than 1,700 full-time St. John’s employees were presented with VSOs by the University, which were announced in January. St. John’s employs roughly 3,000 workers.

“The forecasts that we had for the number of employees that would take the VSO was between 175 and 225 employees,” said Pellow.

“It was a really rough estimate because we hadn’t done this since 1998, so there’s no real history or pattern that you can build on. But over 250 employees decided to accept the VSO, so from that perspective, it exceeded our expectations.”

The VSOs were the latest approach used by the University to lower
operating expenses.

Soft hiring freezes and reductions in salary increases and departmental budgets have also been used in the past.

In a February interview with the Torch, Pellow said the VSO program could be an investment that costs the University “north of $20 million.”

He recently told the Torch that despite the economic climate, St. John’s is financially stable and the VSOs give the University “enormous flexibility to make the next round of investments in the future.”

The next step in the University’s strategic plan is to develop ways to invest that “further support the students that we are recruiting and providing financial aid to and support the physical space we have built over the last decade to make sure that the experience is truly the 21st century high-quality experience,” said Pellow.

St. John’s academic officials will take the next few weeks to continue assessing the impact of the VSOs but Pellow mentioned that there could be some drawbacks to the buyouts.

“As good as it is in terms of being a softer approach to reducing expenses, it’s not a very tactical approach,” he
said of the VSOs.

“Because it is voluntary, you have certain departments that lose higher numbers of employees and you have certain departments that are critical to student service and to the educational product that need to be immediately reinvested in.”

Dominic Scianna, vice president of Media Relations, said in the event it is found that new hires need to be made, employees may be asked to remain with the University a little longer.

“If there is a certain department that has a lot of people taking the VSO, we can ask people to stay on so that we can make for a smooth transition,” he said.

“We could ask for faculty to stay on for certain voluntary situations until 2011 and for staff and administrators,
through the end of 2010.”

Scianna maintained that a more obligatory University approach to reducing employee numbers is not on the horizon.

“There are no plans, in the foreseeable future, for any layoffs and we certainly would want to keep things
that way,” he said.

“The economic times and things that all universities are dealing with across the country are such that you have to continue to look at certain areas where
you can save money.

“But, in no way will we infringe upon student services or anything we’ve done in the past. In fact, we’ll probably be doing more in the area of student services.”