Ten WCU employees lose jobs to budget cuts

Ten Western Carolina University employees received notification that their jobs would be eliminated at or before April 1 and 15 more will be cut in the upcoming months as part of the university’s efforts to deal with the projected loss of approximately $8.6 million in state funding for the 2011-12 fiscal year.

Among those let go in this first wave are eight staff employees (subject to the State Personnel Act, or SPA) and two administrative employees (exempt from the State Personnel Act, or EPA) and are employed in several divisions across the university. The positions that were eliminated ranged from a university mechanic to the director of the campus writing center.

All of the individuals whose jobs are being eliminated will receive severance pay, if applicable, pay for unused vacation and bonus leave, and 12 months of health insurance coverage. Those subject to the State Personnel Act also will receive priority re-employment rights at any state agency for one year.

Barbara Hardie, the Director of the Writing Center at WCU, said she was informed verbally by her supervisor that her position would be part of the campus-wide job eliminations on Feb. 16 and was released from her duties at the beginning of March.

Hardie had been employed by WCU since 1992, starting as a part-time English instructor and working her way up to Director of the Writing Center in 2000.

 “I was as much at risk as anybody, but I didn’t anticipate my specific position being cut. In truth, I considered the Writing Center and our services part of the ‘academic core’,” Hardie said.

She is grieving for being let go from the center because she cared for it as if was her own child, but is also angry at the administration and is not hiding it.

“When I first walked into the center, it looked like a doctor’s office, clinical and uninviting—the ficus tree was dying,” Hardie said. “I turned my attention to my new mission as I would an abandoned child—nurturing her, strengthening him. I now feel as though my rescued child has died. I am grieving. On the other hand, I’m furious that our administration has so little connection with what the Writing Center does in Hunter 161 that they dismantle and rearrange the people involved as though they were Legos or Lincoln Logs.”

The Writing Center, which began in 1975 and serves hundreds of students a semester, will continue despite Hardie’s departure, but in a different form. According to Dr. Carol Burton, the Assistant Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Studies at WCU and who oversees the Writing Center, the center is currently being administered by Leah Hampton, who is the Writing Center’s Interim Associate Director. Over the summer months, the Writing Center will be combined with another tutoring center, Catamount Academic Tutoring, under the supervision of Chesney Reich.

Hardie is unsure what she will do next for employment and is currently taking time to herself.

“I am a reader, writing, thinker, and teacher—not only by vocation but also by passion, and I will continue these activities in some way,” Hardie said. “Right now, I need time to recover. What sounds good to me today is to have tea with a friend, rake the leaves in my front yard so the grass can benefit from the coming rain, and read this week’s ‘New Yorker’ magazine.”

She also plans to stay in the Cullowhee area.

“My husband and I both love Jackson County—its stunning mountains and valleys, rivers and creeks, and the hiking trails that take us up, down, and through this magical landscape,” Hardie said. “Although I grew up in El Paso, Texas—the mountainous Chihuahuan desert—my mother was from Boone. For many summers as I child, I traveled from the dry brutal heat of El Paso to the cool cool green landscape of western North Carolina. I remain committed to the places and the people of Jackson County.”

In addition to the elimination of Hardie’s position and the nine others, between now and July 1, university leaders also anticipate eliminating approximately 15 other positions, of which three are staff (SPA) and 12 are fixed-term faculty or administrative (EPA).

“Most of the 15 additional positions are currently vacant and are being held for budget cuts,” said Linda Seestedt-Stanford, WCU’s interim provost. “Other positions are occupied by fixed-term faculty whose contracts expire on May 15 and will not be renewed. These actions will allow us to eliminate these positions as they are vacated.”

According to Chancellor John W. Bardo in a prepared statement, the job cuts are necessary to help the university continue to operate as efficiently as possible and protect its academic core.

“We are making every effort possible to minimize the loss of jobs by not filling vacant positions, by reducing part-time and temporary positions, and by other cost-saving measures, but we cannot absorb this loss of revenue without it having an impact on employees, because the largest portion of our budget goes toward salaries,” Bardo said.