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USU Eastern students argue for extension for terminated staff, administration agrees

Student association president Thomas Garvin addresses the campus meeting Wednesday.

Sun Advocate associate editor

USU Eastern adminstrators got the message: giving long-time student services staff only a week to make life-changing decisions is not enough time.

That message was a personal letter from the student association to the administration over the weekend. On Wednesday, association president Thomas Garvin told a campus-wide meeting that the student voices had been heard.

The 18 staff members who had been terminated and offered a chance to reapply for newly-created jobs, leave with severance or retire, will have some extra time to make up their minds.

Garvin said that it was understandable that the college would have to make tough decisions in the wake of an 11.2 percent drop in full-time enrollments. However, students were upset by the swiftness of the move and the short time given to the affected employees to decide their futures.

Vice chancellor for academics and student services Greg Benson explained Wednesday afternoon that the original deadline for the staff decisions had been extended a week, to 5 p.m. Nov. 18.

Job interviews could begin as early as Nov. 21 and conclude no later than Dec. 2.

While the original transition deadline had been pegged at Nov. 30, Benson said the jobs will be phased in during the whole month of December. The entire process of hiring or separation is now set for no later than the end of this year. The phased transition "is in the best interest of students and staff," he stated.

As far as the student association is concerned, the affected staff members should choose to reapply, Garvin declared. "Students need you," he told them, "You have been fighting in the trenches for us since day one."

Garvin added, "We applaud you for the way you have carried yourselves during these tough times."

The restructuring of the entire student services department was announced late last week. Administrators, facing the budgetary implications of such a steep decline in student population, brought in a team of consultants to analyze the college's recruitment and retention programs.

The recommendation was to augment the staff size to 20 from the current 18, but to reorganize functions under three directorships: enrollment, student success, and life and leadership involvement. With the changes in functions and qualifications, the job descriptions for current employees will cease to exist - and so will the jobs.

Those who choose not to apply for the new positions will be offered a severance package or retirement.

Garvin also delivered some blunt advice to his assembled fellow students: "We are the best tool this campus has for recruitment." He asserted that students themselves can and should do more to promote the benefits of attending USU Eastern. On the list of those advantages are low tuition and fees, and small class size.

The enrollment dip compounds the systemwide problem facing the state's higher education funding. Recessionary cutbacks have affected each of the state's colleges and universities, while tuitions have increased to close the gap.

Garvin told students that a statewide petition drive to preserve higher education funding at the legislature has already collected 31,000 signatures.

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