The layoffs of eight library staff members — some with decades of experience and only a couple of years away from retirement — have faculty members at the University of San Diego up in arms. Critics call the administration’s actions an affront to the Roman Catholic teachings of the university.
Administrators said a reorganization of the university's Copley Library was necessary in an increasingly technological world, and eliminating some positions made way for the creation of new positions that ensure the library will stay on top of current, digital trends. Those who lost their jobs devoted many years to the university; four are over the age of 58 and two have worked at the library for more than 25 years. But their jobs include positions such as inventory control official, night supervisor and reserves manager -- positions that the library doesn't see as essential in a digital age. At the very least, faculty critics say, the library workers should have been retrained for new positions.
Faculty members have been studying the layoffs since they were announced in July and recently released a report outlining their concerns. Jerome Hall, Academic Assembly chair, said the faculty had to act after the layoff decisions were made in secret and with no regard to the livelihoods of those losing their jobs.
“The overall ethos of the community is one of fear,” Hall, associate professor of anthropology, said. “We feel it is incumbent on those of us who have the benefit of tenure to speak up for those who can’t.… A business ethos is overpowering the university. If you are going to make a stand on something, a university mission statement is not a bad place to place your flag.”
Hall said one of the core values in the university’s mission statement is to uphold the “Catholic moral and social tradition by its commitment to serve with compassion, to foster peace, and to work for justice.”
The university is "marked by protection of the rights and dignity of the individual. The university values students, faculty and staff from different backgrounds and faith traditions, and is committed to creating an atmosphere of trust, safety and respect in a community characterized by a rich diversity of people and ideas," according to the statement.
The administration, including Mary Lyons, the president, and Theresa Byrd, university librarian, have said the reorganization of the university’s Copley Library was necessary to keep the library on track with the ongoing progression of technology. Lyons, in an August letter to Hall and other members of the academic assembly, said that to involve faculty debate in a staff personnel matter would have violated the privacy rights of those involved.
“I can tell you that as in prior layoffs at the university, painstaking efforts were made to analyze how it should be done,” Lyons wrote. “It was difficult for those impacted, but it was also difficult for those who had to make the decisions.”
University administrators did not respond to requests for further comment as of press time.
The eight library staff members were all offered severance packages and career placement services, Lyons wrote. One of the eight library staff members has since been rehired.
At a forum on the layoffs last week, the Rev. Ron Pachence, a professor of theology and religious studies at the university, gave what many are calling a homily about the issues raised by the layoffs. "It doesn’t strike us to meet our mission and our culture to just throw people out on the street,” Father Pachence said.
He added that "the way it was done looks more like the practice of corporate America than it does the practice of a Catholic university."
By laying staff members off, rather than giving them the chance to receive training in new and emerging technologies, administrators have effectively said decades of hard work are a moot point, he said.
In her letter, Lyons wrote that she simply disagreed with the assertion that these layoffs were an affront to Catholic social teaching.
“Preserving the dignity of workers and ensuring their humane treatment are indeed values to which we aspire and practice,” she wrote. “I do not find anything within the canon of that teaching which prohibits employee termination. While we prefer to avoid doing so when possible, it is sometimes necessary and regularly occurs at Catholic institutions.”