College Launches New Buyout Directed Toward Faculty

The College sent a memo to all faculty members announcing the launch of a new buyout last Tuesday. Unlike the 2016 program — the Voluntary Separation Incentive Package, which was directed at all College employees — the incoming buyout is only open to faculty.

The new VSIP means that the College will offer lump-sum payments to fully tenured faculty in return for their voluntary departure.

While Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Tim Elgren does not know how many faculty will accept the buyout or how much money the buyout will save, he believes it will not only save the school money, but will also have a larger success rate than the 2016 VSIP.

“Restructuring it in a way that makes sense for faculty, I think, will get the yield we were hoping it would get,” Elgren said.

The new buyout has been reworked to appeal to faculty members already considering retirement.

“The timing is different,” Elgren said. “It gives people time to think about this, because the offering allows faculty who are thinking about retiring an opportunity to accelerate that decision if it’s appropriate for them.”

Changes will also be made to policy for faculty on sabbatical. Faculty on sabbatical are usually given five-ninths of pay according to the handbook, and the College’s 2016 buyout offered these faculty members sums based on their sabbatical pay. This is no longer how pay will be determined.

“Being on sabbatical is part of this job,” Elgren said. “[The sum offered to faculty in the new buyout] has to be based on your full-time equivalent fraction and your base pay, not what you were paid recently.”

The full-time equivalent fraction measures the workload of an employee or student. An employee with an FTE of 1.0 is considered a full-time worker.

“[Last year’s offering based on sabbatical pay doesn’t] make sense to a faculty member because they’re not a part of how we think of our jobs,” Elgren said.

While considering FTE may benefit faculty on sabbatical, it has proved difficult in securing buyout offerings for staff.

“The College won’t increase our FTEs,” said Tracy Tucker, Oberlin College Offices and Professional Employees president.

OCOPE, the group of College employees most affected by the buyout, saw 32 of its members leave their positions last year. However, the OCOPE members who left were not replaced, resulting in increased amount of work for remaining office workers, particularly administrative assistants, according to Tucker. Despite the increased workload, assistants did not receive an increase in their FTEs.

Whether employees were considered full-time affected their eligibility for the 2016 buyout. According to Tucker, anyone not full-time did not receive an increase.

“Employees, no matter how long they’ve been working here, or if they worked full years in the past — say they’re 11- or 10- month employees now — they don’t qualify,” Oberlin United Auto Workers Chair Milton Wyman said.

As UAW chair, Wyman asked Human Resources to include UAW members in the College’s 2016 buyout.

“I believe [the 2016 buyout] was a good opportunity for many,” Wyman said. “I know there were a couple of members who had spouses that were, I would say, chronically ill and needed care … and it gave them the opportunity to do that a year earlier than they anticipated.”

Although more staff than faculty members accepted the buyout in 2016, the new plan is currently only offered to tenured faculty.

One key strategy of the new plan, according to Elgren, is “breakage,” which saves money as people retiring at high salaries are replaced by people at starting salaries. Elgren said that directing the buyout for higher-earning faculty increases the College’s potential to save money. He added that the higher salary and benefits tenured faculty are likely to receive make gearing the buyout toward them more lucrative than staff.

Tucker agreed that the new plan will help more financially than the one it is replacing, even if it is offered to fewer people.

“They’re looking to save money, so if they can reduce paying someone’s salary of $150,000-plus a year, that’s where their savings are [going to] be, not on the average of $45,000, which is basically what an average OCOPE member makes,” Tucker said.

Wyman said he believes the College does not see a reduction in UAW members as beneficial, especially considering the addition of new buildings to campus. Unions like the UAW and OCOPE are still recovering from loss of employment from last year’s buyout. The timing of this new buyout, however, could still be desirable to them.

“I’ve heard a lot of folks say, if it was offered to me again, I would definitely take it,” Tucker said.