Hiring freeze not so rigid

Michigan’s hard-hit economy has created a new job task for Oakland University President Gary Russi – personally approving and denying the school’s new hires. The state budget cuts have forced the university to make changes and slow the hiring process to cut costs.

On June 24, 2011,  an administrative memo with the subject “hiring freeze” was sent out via email to the top university officials stating changes in the hiring process. The memo was sent by Ronald Watson, Assistant Vice President of University Human Resources.

“Positions that fall within the hiring freeze that were posted or will be posted after the June 8, 2011 BOT (Board of Trustees) meeting will require Dr. Russi’s review and approval,” Watson said in the memo.

According to Ted Montgomery, media relations director, this isn’t a full hiring freeze, but “a higher level of scrutiny” to ensure new hires make sense.

“Effective this past summer, vacancies (current positions) and new positions both need presidential approval,” Montgomery said.

Watson said the process used to be that vice presidents were required to sign off on any (job) openings.When the funding situation at OU got to be a bigger issue, President Russi wanted to  become apart of the hiring process. All vice presidents requesting an exception to the freeze are required to notify Dr. Russi about vacancies within departments

This freeze does not affect faculty, or professor hires, according to Watson. The goal is to leave academics out of any financial difficulties the school may be facing.

Karen Miller, chair of the history department and head of the association of university professors confirmed that they haven’t been notified of a permanent hiring freeze.

This freeze would affect base funded positions – both general fund and auxiliary fund. and not grant funded or temporary or casual positions which are funded from controllable budgets, according to the memo.

Watson said that calling it a hiring freeze makes people more likely to look closer at the rationale behind the position they want filled. When they look closer at the situation, they may find there are alternatives to hiring someone new.

“From the prospective of the individuals that have job openings … it’s (the hiring freeze) is requiring them to make sure before a position is just automatically filled that there’s some scrutiny that’s placed into it,” Watson said. “It’s just giving people an opportunity to make sure that when a position leaves, that they’re (departments are) not just automatically filling the position … they take a step back because there could be a possibility maybe putting the position somewhere else that maybe makes more sense.”

A pay freeze was also enacted in the summer 2009, but has since been lifted.

“The majority of employees haven’t gotten (pay) increases in two years. The non-bargaining employees got increases in July and we’re bargaining contracts right now,” Watson said.

The pay freeze had no impact on individuals who were promoted within the university, but it did affect annual performance raises, Watson said.

As for President Russi, Montgomery said that he believes the president has been carefully selecting the new hires. Those who want to hire someone have to make their case to prove there is real value to having the position at OU.

The president also asks questions when new hires are presented to him, and there have been instances where he has said “no” to filling a vacant position or creating a new position.

“I think there has been a few occasions, I don’t know exact specifics, but John Beaghan has told me that he has denied a couple hires, but again – that’s not faculty,” Montgomery said.

Though there is a higher level of scrutiny for new hires, the jobs at OU that are vital to the school’s success are likely to be filled, even during a freeze.

New Hire: Eric Barritt

Three days after Ronald Watson’s memo about an Oakland University hiring freeze was sent to university administrators, Eric Barritt was hired as OU’s vice president for community engagement.

Barritt’s position was formally held by Susan Davies Goepp, who left the university to pursue other interests in early July, according to Ted Montgomery.

According to Barritt, he mainly does three things in his day-to-day job:

“Essentially (my job is) a threefold. One is the philanthropy for the entire university, so this office is responsible and I’m responsible for overseeing fundraising or philanthropy for Oakland University – whether it be student scholarships, research money for faculty, student programs, buildings or expansions of facilities here. We also oversee the OU alumni association … I guess the third leg of my role is community engagement, getting OU positioned in the greater Southeast Michigan community – Oakland and Macomb county, especially as apart of a vibrant community – that the university is a resource to the community.”

The position that Barritt holds is so necessary to OU’s success and ultimately survival, that it had to be filled, according to Montgomery. He said the position is very important now since state funding has been further cut.