Staff layoffs leave college stunned, angry

Decision keeps college fiscally sound: DiSalvo

Abby Arsenault, News Layout Editor

As with the start of every new school year, students and staff have returned to reconnect with friends and enjoy another fall on the Hilltop. Some staff, however, will not be returning to campus. On May 24, just four days after the Class of 2018 received their diplomas, 13 staff members were let go in a mass layoff that has shocked and angered many.

The layoffs were unexpected and affected multiple departments. The list of individuals let go includes Joseph Horton, vice president of student affairs; Lorraine Parr, of College Communications and Marketing; Robert Shea, director of the Dana Center; Darcie Champagne, administrative assistant for arts and marketing at Dana; Patricia Schuster, Title IX coordinator and vice president for human resources; Hui-Ling Chen, director of institutional research; Laura Reyes-Irizari, administrative assistant at campus ministry; Robin Good, an assistant director in College Advancement; Lisa Gowern, coordinator of college events and services; Lori Ragas, administrative assistant for the vice president of financial affairs; Chip Underhill, director of media relations; Casey Shaughnessy; and Margaret “Peg” Bourque, associate vice president for finance and auxiliary affairs.

Past reports in The Union Leader of Manchester and other news sources have suggested that the reason for the layoffs is financial, with a nearly $1.5 million shortfall caused by a budgeting error and rising operational costs necessitating cuts.

When asked about the college’s current situation, President Steven DiSalvo wished to clarify that Saint Anselm is not, nor has ever been in a financial crisis.

“We have been blessed with success in recent years, and our enrollment and endowment figures are stronger than ever. In order to maintain that position of strength into the future, it was critical to reduce overall expense growth. We were being prudent stewards of the college’s resources, so we can fulfill our mission of educating students,” he said.

DiSalvo added that “After the March Board [of Trustees] meeting, at which finances were a topic of discussion, we initiated a complete financial review and took a detailed look at our options to trim expenses. Thankfully, we were successful in finding cost reductions on the non-personnel side. Ultimately, we did have to eliminate some administrative and staff positions across all levels and divisions, but were able to keep it to a reduction of less than 3 percent.”

Beyond the anger surrounding the layoffs themselves, many were incensed by the way in which this was handled. According to previously published Crier reports, a group of administration members allegedly went door to door in Alumni Hall to alert those who were no longer employed. Additional claims state that these employees, some of whom had been at the college for decades, were given only 15 minutes to pack their belongings and leave the premises.

DiSalvo said that he was unable to get into particulars about the situation but added: “I do stand by the statements that I made in May – that the people who were in the positions to be eliminated were treated with the dignity and respect they deserved during those difficult conversations. The truth is, there is no easy way to handle these upsetting situations and what might feel compassionate to some might feel callous to others.”

After the former Anselmian staffers were escorted off campus, the annual staff picnic was canceled, and everyone was reportedly shuffled into the Dana Center, where DiSalvo explained the situation, allegedly surrounded by a security detail. According to anonymous staff reports, the meeting ended with an obscenity being hurled by an unidentified staff member: “I think that it was a very natural, human, and compassionate response for members of the community to be upset at the news; it was an emotional and upsetting day for me as well,” the president told The Crier.

“Looking at the academic year ahead,” DiSalvo continued, “I want to find ways all members of this community can work together. We all have such shared purpose, and one of the strengths of Saint Anselm is this community’s ability to draw on that for common causes. Dialogue around what those areas might be is important and healthy, and I’m interested in thinking about what shape that might take.”

A staff member shared some thoughts during this difficult time with The Crier. To avoid what the speaker perceived as the risk of retaliation, the source asked to remain anonymous: “There is an old expression, ‘the bum’s rush’ which means a forcible ejection.  These people got the bum’s rush, but they were not bums. They were people who would drop everything if you told them you needed their help. These were decent people, who were told to leave without warning, some escorted off campus by security and told not to come back; as if they were criminals. Many of them have family members employed here.  The whole business was devastating and bewildering. One wondered if perhaps someone held a grudge against these people because the layoffs were so arbitrary.”

One of the most surprising cuts was Dr. Horton, the former vice president of student affairs, and a Saint Anselm graduate of the Class of 1977. Horton, who served here for some four decades, was seemingly loved by the students at Saint Anselm, and his occasional lectures earned him a 4.9 out of 5 on with comments calling him “caring” and “one of the nicest guys.”

DiSalvo said he was unable to comment on any specific staff member. However, he did add that he felt Student Affairs was left in the capable hands of Dean of Students, Alicia Finn.

Of the 13 laid off, nine were women, and several were minorities. Just last fall, Saint Anselm boasted about the hiring of the college’s first chief diversity officer, as well as the welcoming the Class of 2021, the most diverse class the school has seen.

DiSalvo was quick to dispute this claim: “I think that the college has been very clear regarding where we stand on diversity and inclusion as an important institutional goal. These decisions were not made based on race or gender, but on multiple factors involving the operation of the college and the costs involved.”

DiSalvo said that the administration does not expect any additional staff cuts in the coming year. In the meantime, the college will try to adapt to the open spots left by so many who were once considered essential. “Fortunately, very many exceptional, fair-minded people remain.”

Update from 9/28/18: Roseanne Marchand was among those laid off; she served as the college’s Receptionist/Switchboard Operator for seven years.