Thursday, May 17, 2007


It Only Hurts When I Think

A while back, I did a piece on Dilbert budgeting. It's getting worse.

The administrative assistant for a fairly high-traffic department quit. In former times, we would hire a temp for a few weeks while we did a search for a new full-time assistant. We would pay the temp from the budget line that we had set aside to pay the full-timer's salary. So instead of paying person A, we'd use (pretty much) the same amount to pay person B, until we hired person C, who would also get pretty close to the same amount.

That was too close to rational.

Now, to save money, the college has decided to impound sixty days' salary whenever somebody leaves. The idea is that most positions can go unfilled for a short time, and the net impact will be equivalent to a couple of layoffs, but nobody gets laid off.


The flaw in the theory, of course, is that most positions can't sit vacant for two months. If they could, I'd wonder why we have them at all. (The theory was also based on the assumption that attrition only occurs through retirement, and retirements typically involve months of advance notice, for benefits purposes. Of course, some people just up and quit.)

Certainly this position can't go unfilled for very long. Most faculty high-tail it out of Dodge once they've turned in grades, and this is a pretty high-traffic department with some students who badly need individual attention.

So the solution worked out with the budget director is...

drum roll, please...

find money in the corners of other accounts to pay for the temp for the next two months, to make up for the money being sucked into the void from the original salary line. We're looking at leftovers in telephone allocations, photocopying, subscriptions, and the like.

The punchline is that the cost of the temp is actually higher than the cost of the full-timer being replaced, since temps come with temp agency fees. (Adjuncts are the only temps on whom we actually save money.)

This, in the name of saving money.

Your tax dollars at work!

What's the dumbest or most self-defeating 'money saving' move you've seen?

Oh yeah. Boy have I seen this in spades.

A State flagship U, the administration got hit with about $66 million in budget cuts last July. Most everyone who works for the U are unionized. So, the administration went after the middle-level administrators who were the only "group" (besides teh grand poo-bahs) who weren't unionized.

It was an absolute bloodbath. Folks with over 20 years were let go, including one of my closet colleagues.

Well...during this academic year, the mid-level administrators decided to unionize. The administration responded in a highly ham-fisted manner to the point that the governor and one US senator intervened. The administration was also promising the mid-level administrators they'd "get a better deal" if they didn't unionize (yeah...right!).

So, NOW the mid-level administrators have unionzied (AFT), and the upper administration looks like lying fools. And, it looks like with nearly EVERYONE unionized, if the budget cuts come again, the layoffs will follow seniority rules (last hired, first fired). It's still harsh, but service should count for something.
Our university did the a similar thing when our department admin assistant left. Students were taking turns filling in for the position until somebody else got hired, four months later. She, of course, is now up to her ears in work from everything that fell behind while the temps were there.
Disclaimer: I'm about to make a "Dilbertesque" suggestion.

How about offering the temp position to an adjunct looking for more put-bread-on-the-table work?

We constantly have interns, temps and whatnot. We've had a temp in a position for 4 months and this week are interviewing people to fill that position. We may or may not end up with a candidate. Students in another common stopgap.
Ooooh...I have a full-time faculty one. When someone retires or leaves, we wait to begin a search (if we're even replacing) until the position will have to be vacant for a year. No visitors. Adjuncts. So, at one point, we had a department (which shall go nameless) lose three people in two years (a death and two retirements), with no one hired.
Using students for administrative assistant work, in an academic department? Whooo! Just wait for the first lawsuit on privacy violation grounds when a subbing student looks up grades for all of his or her friends and enemies and blabs about them.

I can't talk to the parents of my students (parents who are footing the bill) about their grades without written consent from the student. To expose all that private info to a student worker is wildly irresponsible.
calugg might not have seen the news story in IHE today saying that "State Flagship U" of NJ, having cut some sports to deal with a 66 M$ shortfall, might be given 1 M$ by the legislature to keep crew, fencing, swimming and diving as varsity sports. Sweet.

And a happy Syttende Mai to DD (or are you on the Swede side of that celebration?). Have some herring tonight.
I was a software developer at a company that went out of business (Em Jay Research -- initials spelled out so this won't show up in google). Morons at former employer won't properly budget for server hard drives so the servers are perpetually out of space. They also won't properly budget for tapes -- the media you use to back up server hard drives. You can see where this is going.

I get paid, including benefits, probably north of $40 / hour. The company finds out the hard way what happens when you lose slightly more than two weeks of my work because my local hard drive dies and the servers were out of space so my project wasn't backed up anywhere. We also missed some important deadlines because the work took a while to redo and I took my sweet time -- I was pretty pissed. This "saved" the $600 or so to add sufficient room for me and many others to properly back work up at the mere price of 5 weeks of my time.

I was in the marketing department of a community college at my last job, which I left about 6 months ago.

At the time I left, our director had left (been pushed out?) less than a month earlier. The day I announced I was leaving, the chancellor had just assigned a manager from another department to supervise on a part-time basis.

The person in charge of planning and buying advertising was a temporary employee...who'd been there for at least a year and a half. (Or was it 2 and a half years?)

My work (webmaster) got given to my half-time assistant, who wasn't interested in my job for a variety of reasons. Then they hired another part-time person to fill in some of his work. I'm still in touch, and last time I heard, they were still waiting on the consultants (!), so neither my position, nor my boss's, had been advertised.

Then the whole department is getting moved to another campus next month.

Of course, this is during a time of declining enrollments, when everyone & their cousin is freaking out about marketing.

Oh, and we went through some of what calugg mentions with mid-level administrators, although not with that particular result.

Ugh. So, yeah, I've left academia -- with a few regrets, but mostly substantially for the better!
When I taught at Oxymoron University, my office, where I taught music lessons, would often be over 90 degrees. It was unbearably hot and my students often became sick in the heat. I begged for A/C and was told there was no budget, so I offered to buy a unit myself if the uni would install it. I was told that I was forbidden to use A/C because the extra electricity would "cost the university too much money."

So instead the uni had to spend $100 every month or so to retune the piano in my office. And I taught lessons outside during the warm months, which drove my colleagues crazy, of course.

This budget problem was a small thing compared to what you've mentioned, but those small things are what drive us crazy eventually!
A friend's dad was offered early retirement from the military as a cost-savings measure, then rehired as a consultant at 3 times his previous salary, because he was the only one who understood the program.
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