Early results on workforce reduction plan

by Diana Grier Ayton

The May 15 deadline for accepting the University's enhanced early retirement package passed quietly last week, but the results may have a profound impact on everyone in the McGill community.

Vice-Principal (Administration and Finance) Phyllis Heaphy is responsible for administering the plan for non-academic staff, and reports that 40% of eligible employees have opted to leave. That translates into 95 staff members, and on the academic side, Vice-Principal Chan says that approximately 60 of the more than 450 eligible faculty members have applied for the package.

While the overall response was not overwhelming, Heaphy estimates that the eventual savings from faculty and staff departures will be about $6.5 million. "First, though, we have to pay back the costs of doing this. We estimate those costs to be about $10 million, and we think it may take about 18 months to pay back. All these figures are a little preliminary because we're still doing the calculations."

While most retiring administrative and support staff will leave the University by July 1, Chan says things will have to work a little more slowly on the academic side. "Many faculty are working on research projects which will take some time to complete or are supervising graduate students in their labs. Sometimes these things can't be done right away."

Those departments which are losing administrative staff will be able to replace only one in five, according to Heaphy. "And those replacements will come from the placement transition pool-- which currently stands at more than100 people and is promising to grow larger." Although there hasn't been time to prepare a breakdown of departures by department, Heaphy says there are areas where significant numbers of key people are leaving. "I think people understood the need to do this for the greater good of the University, even if their particular unit was going to suffer. People let staff go even when it hurt, and we're delighted by the cooperation we've had."

The picture is clearer on the academic front regarding where retirements will occur. The Faculty of Arts will lose 17 people, the Faculty of Science 10, Medicine 8, Libraries 6, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences 6, Music 3, Education 3, Management 3, Engineering 2, Dentistry 1 and Religious Studies 1.

Chan says there are no hard and fast rules about replacing faculty, except that there will be no permanent replacements until the fall of 1997. "Departments will have to cope by rescheduling classes, rearranging teaching loads and using sessionals. We can't rush to replace people because we have to look at the longer term academic implications. One of the important things we have to realize is that we can't say that we will do the same things in the future because many of the individuals who leave are never going to be replaced."

Chan says the plan definitely encouraged more faculty to leave than would do so in ordinary circumstances, and that the offer brought out considerable "creativity" in some people. "We had some very imaginative counter-offers," he laughs.

Heaphy characterizes the exercise as a success. "We put together a good plan and showed we can deliver on something quickly."

She adds that cutting $6.5 million from the operating budget is a good result but says, "We have to put that into the context of an additional cut of $14 million in 1997/98. It means we have gone about halfway down the road but it's not going to take the monkey off our back unless other things happen--for example, if mandatory retirement comes in. We've done well but we haven't gone the whole way."