Employee Severance Package Under Fire

    A voluntary employee buyout program initiated by the UC Office of the President in an effort to reduce university spending recently became a subject of controversy, when a severance package amounting to $100,202 for a former UC administrator was approved by the UC Board of Regents.

    Linda Williams, after receiving a larger payout than any of the other 155 UCOP employees who had previously taken advantage of the Voluntary Severance Program, was hired on May 1 to work under UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau as associate chancellor for government, community and campus liaison.

    Though the Voluntary Separation Program requires participants who rejoin UCOP within a specified time period to return part or all of their severance packages, those who retain employment elsewhere in the UC system, like Williams, hold no such obligation.

    “I find it reprehensible that the UC administration continues to let these sweetheart deals go through,” state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) said. “At the same time we are asking students to tighten their belts, the administrators can still live high on the hog.”

    A formula taking into account each employee’s current salary and number of years at UCOP is used to determine the size of each particular buyout package. Hayward said Williams should not be subject to reprimand for the generous size of her severance package.

    “Employees are in no way at fault for accepting an offer that we made them,” Hayward said. “The amount of the buyouts is far outweighed by the administrational savings that we have on an ongoing basis.”

    As campuses throughout the UC system debate raising undergraduate tuition and accepting fewer students in coming years in an effort to compensate for a troubling lack of state funding, many view buyouts like Williams’ as a double standard.

    “[The UC Board of Regents] should be a lot more sensitive to students when they approve these sweetheart contracts,” Yee said. “These kinds of severance packages are a slap in the face to our students. You wonder about what kind of role models the adults making these decisions want to be for our students.”

    The UCOP buyout program was initiated by the university a year ago in an effort to reduce the office’s expenditures by cutting back on labor, which included a limited number of layoffs, in addition to the voluntary departure of those in the program.

    “The Voluntary Separation Program, a one-time program which is now over, was a buyout program that essentially said to employees that if they would like to leave the University of California Office of the President, they could do this and receive a financial buyout for doing so,” UC spokesman Brad Hayward said.

    UCOP estimates that the Voluntary Separation Program has saved the university $5 million after one year, and that its total cost-reduction efforts will account for overall savings of $30 million.

    “There’s been a good deal of different consolidation of activities at UCOP,” Hayward said. “For example, we took the business processing unit of each department and centralized these operations into smaller units that serve the entire office.”

    Lee said further open discussion is needed to reduce controversy over buyout packages such as Williams’.
    “What should happen is a lot more deliberation about these particular contracts,” he said. “They happen in the dark of night and there’s no public conversation about it.”

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