Lake Superior State University is striving to become more efficient while at the same time addressing a $2 million structural deficit that has resulted from a long-term enrollment decline, with five employees being let go from LSSU on June 8. The layoffs came after LSSU President Tom Pleger gave an in-depth update to the campus at an all-employee meeting on May 12. Employees had two weeks to share ideas with university leadership before decisions were finalized.
“We have been working diligently to solve an ongoing structural deficit while at the same time to create a more efficient university by aggregating services and functions,” said Pleger. “We have an obligation to find ways to deliver the best educational outcomes to our students.”
Staff reductions affected both non-union and union employees. Union employees have contractual rights to bump, based on seniority. Job-role impacts may take several days to finalize based upon decisions made by these employees.
“Salary savings from reductions are one part of many cost savings and revenue generating initiatives,” said Morrie Walworth, LSSU’s interim chief financial officer. “The university budget has been a topic of discussion at recent Board of Trustees meetings and has been an open topic of discussion with all employees.”
LSSU employs about 470 staff, not counting seasonal student labor. The five employees affected this week represent approximately 1% of the workforce. Over the past year, 28 full time equivalent positions have been reduced.
“These reductions were accomplished through a combination of retirements, resignations, last year’s voluntary buy-out program, a leave of absence program this year, holding vacant positions, and a small number of separations,” said Philip Espinosa, LSSU’s associate vice president for human resources. “Additional staffing adjustments will include moving a number of full-time positions to part-time.”
“Our goal is to make staffing adjustments in a way that allows us to achieve some savings, yet impact the fewest number of employees,” said Pleger. “It is unfortunate that at times like this difficult choices need to be made, but they are done with great care and deliberation.”
“Difficult decisions were made earlier in the spring with the elimination of the women’s softball program,” said Kris Dunbar, director of athletics. “This affected several jobs on campus. It is unfortunate, but we felt it was a change that would help the university.”
The university gave additional pay to those employees separated on June 8, and offered additional separation pay and medical benefits to those who were willing to enter a separation agreement with the university.
A decision has also been made to streamline operations of Academic Affairs into two colleges, to foster collaboration and optimize synergism. The move applies an integrated services model to previously independent support offices. The realignment will better serve students. These organizational changes will reduce silos on campus and help create improved service to students, programs, and LSSU’s communities.
“The overarching goal is to create the very best residential learning environment possible, while serving as the hub for higher education, culture, and economic development in the region,” says David Roland Finley, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs.
The campus is also making considerable strides in planning for its future, including the completion of the South Hall renovation project, recent program accreditations, new collaborations with community colleges, and a 20-year contemporary master plan that calls for $60 million in enhancements and upgrades to campus facilities.