On Tuesday, 257 staff members with the University of Texas at Brownsville were notified their jobs were eliminated.
At Tandy Hall, an administrative building, a steady stream of staff members exited throughout the morning hours Tuesday. Many carried a folder with paperwork detailing the terms of their separation package.
People gathered in clusters outside of the building smoking cigarettes on campus, many of them refusing to answer questions.
Some walked briskly to their car clutching their file folder.
The folders included a list of 33 newly created jobs that UTB Provost Alan Artibise said are available for staff members who are “qualified and acceptable candidates.”
Artibise said as the university reorganizes itself new positions with new qualifications and duties will become available. The reorganization of the school is a response to its separation from Texas Southmost College.
He said the jobs listed are all secretarial and analysts positions and are for internal searches only.
“The only time we would open it up is if there were no qualified and acceptable candidates,” from within the university, he said.
Marisol Gutierrez, who was with the university for almost five years, was one of the employees cut.
“You don’t think it’s real until you start walking out the door,” Gutierrez, 37, said.
Gutierrez, a senior financial aid officer, was uncertain about what her future holds, but she said she loves her job.
“I love the interaction with the students,” Gutierrez said. “I love helping people.”
Gutierrez said she doesn’t know where she will work next, but she plans to continue working at the university until she finds another job.
Staff members said the scene inside Tandy Hall was sad, with many employees walking out of their fateful meetings with tears streaming down their faces.
Students who were headed to Tandy Hall for registration were rerouted to the Arnulfo L. Oliveira Memorial Library by student volunteers.
“There are more people leaving that are crying than students that are going in,” one of the volunteers said.
Faculty Senate President Elizabeth Heise said students should continue going to the Oliveira library to register on Wednesday.
“We chose to do that because we wanted to avoid any confusion because of the layoffs,” Heise said. “It worked very well, and the students seem to be happy and it seemed ro be running very smoothly.”
The announcement that jobs were going to be eliminated was made in December at a Staff Senate meeting. The 257 positions cut are in addition to 70 positions that have remained vacant since the initial announcement, university officials say.
In some cases, such as the three staff members who run The Arts Center, entire departments were gutted.
“What I’m irritated about is not so much that I’m not going to stay, but we’ve worked for three years to build this series and there’s a huge community buy in,” said The Arts Center Director Dan Barnard regarding the Signature Series that brings concerts and cultural events to the university.
The department’s strategy, Barnard said, was to make itself indispensable to the community.
“We have through August to wrap things up here,” Barnard said. “I love this work, and I would be glad to do that somewhere else.”
Staff Senate President Ernesto Tusa, reached by phone, said, “Right now, I don’t seem to find the right words for this.”
In a statement, released by the university, Tusa said: “As we move toward the next step in creating a separate University of Texas at Brownsville and Texas Southmost College, the staff community finds itself in this challenging situation regarding careers and the livelihoods of their families. The Executive Board of the Staff Senate has been engaged with the administration the last several months providing input regarding this difficult action.”
In the statement, Tusa said the staff will remain committed to the needs of the students.
In a message to the campus community Tuesday evening, UTB President Juliet V. Garcia thanked the Staff Senate for “maintaining a sense of service and responsibility to our students throughout the transition.”
“There is no doubt that the last few years have been challenging and the changes ahead will be very difficult and that the reduction in force will have a profound impact on families throughout our community,” the statement reads. “It is impossible to adequately thank the dedicated staff and faculty that have played such a vital role in the work of growing our university over the years. But they should know that all of us acknowledge and greatly appreciate that it was their extraordinary contributions that produced the 33,000 graduates who have earned their certificates and degrees over the last 20 years.”
Vice President for Business Affairs Rosemary Martinez said the university has been preparing for the layoffs for some time.
Martinez was present at nine different meetings notifying nine staff members that their positions were no longer needed, she said.
“It’s never pleasant letting somebody go from their position, so it was difficult,” Martinez said.
Eighteen positions, including 20-plus positions that were already vacant, were eliminated in her division, she said.
“We have great staff,” Martinez said. “All of our employees were brave; they were appreciative of the opportunity that they’ve had here with the university, and we are thankful that we were willing to work with them to transition to their next position.”
At the end of May, some terminated employees will have the opportunity to transfer to the Employee Development Center where they can restructure their resumes and seek new jobs.
By noon, Dirce Hernandez, a security analyst at the school, said he had not received a notice.
“I’m here still on pins and needles,” Hernandez said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”