Even during hiring freeze, university staff expands

Despite a hiring freeze that stretched through much of the academic year, as of June, the university had 84 more state-funded employees than it did at the same time a year ago.

However, money for those positions was built into the university’s fully-funded fiscal year 2009 budget, and the hires did not necessarily occur during the freeze, which the University System of Maryland imposed from September to May to counteract budget cuts.

“When you have a hiring freeze, you can kind of go along for a while … but you begin to slow the machine down,” said Ann Wylie, vice president for administrative affairs. “It’s just a creeping loss of productivity.”

The freeze aside, Assistant Vice President for Administrative Affairs John Farley pointed out that uncertainty about funding – which was fueled yesterday with fresh cuts to the university system – slows momentum among administrators and the faculty.

“You’re doing things in a reaction mode rather than a proactive mode,” he said.

Academically, the university loses energy when professors leave, taking their research and expertise with them, Farley said. Administratively, limited resources mean the quality of services from advising to lawn upkeep will eventually suffer, he added.

One reason for the increased number of employees is individuals offered jobs before the freeze may not have actually started working until after the freeze began. Additionally, some faculty may have waited until the break between semesters to begin working, Farley said.

According to vacancy reports, which are filed quarterly, the university had 5,303 state-funded employees in June 2008. That number increased through the summer and fall, peaking at 5,439 in December. The number began decreasing earlier this year and in June, the university had 5,387 state-funded employees.

Departments seeking exemptions from the freeze had to demonstrate the hire was critical to their operation and that they had the funding to support the position. Requests went through multiple levels of review and the president’s office ultimately signed off on 287 requests, including 70 for faculty, Farley said. Not all searches resulted in hires, and in some instances, multiple requests were filed for the same positions.

“We treated [exemption requests] very seriously,” said Mary Kivlighan, assistant dean of the public health school. “A lot of thought goes into exceptions for policy.”

Based on payroll data, the university filled 39 staff positions during the freeze. The hires spanned university departments and included assistants, managers, technicians, a horticulturist and the vice president for administrative affairs, said Dale Anderson, director of university human resources.

“It would be difficult, at best, to try and determine the criteria used to determine why the position was essential,” Anderson said.

During the freeze, the university filled “a number [of] critical faculty positions,” to meet teaching demands, though “the numbers were not that large,” Bill McLean, associate vice president for academic services, wrote in an e-mail. McLean declined to give the specific number of faculty hires.

The freeze did not apply to jobs funded through student fees or private money such as research grants or endowments. The freeze also excluded lecturers, student employees, graduate teaching assistants and people re-appointed through contracts, Anderson said.

Hiring hasn’t picked up since the freeze ended, Anderson said, likely due to the sputtering

economy.

“What we’re saying to departments is, OK, the freeze is over, but if you’re going to fill a position you need to understand that you need to have the money to fund this,” Anderson said. “They’re filling jobs at their own peril.”

The university won’t be able to concentrate on filling vacancies until “the state economy starts to pick up,” Farley said. But “all indications are that we have not hit bottom.”

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