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WVU offering some workers buyout options

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia University will soon be offering some of its longtime employees an opportunity to voluntarily separate from the university at two separate exit dates.

Rob Alsop

WVU is looking to keep tuition increases at a minimum and to do so must cut $14.8 million out of next year’s budget in personnel and supplies, WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said on Monday’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

“We’ll be offering to certain employees, those with 20 years of experience or more, the opportunity, again this is voluntary, if they want to, to separate from the university. If they do that there would be a buyout that they would be entitled to,” Alsop said.

Those workers approved for the Voluntary Separation Incentive Plan (VSIP) program and choose the first exit date of Dec. 31, 2019 would be given one year’s pay. Employees who choose the second exit date option, June 30, 2020, employees would receive a lump-sum incentive payment of 50 percent of their annual base salary.

Alsop said the eligible faculty or staff member would first express an interest and then the head of his or her department would decide if the position could be eliminated. If so, an offer would be made.

“It may be that the employee has done their job for 20 years and it’s been great but there’s been a new technology that’s developed and it will allow us to continue to do that and we don’t need that position,” Alsop said.

WVU officials believe there are about 1,300 positions system-wide that fall under the review. Alsop said they are projecting about 10 percent, about 130, of those workers might take advantage of the offer.

“Most of those employees are happy and not ready to retire or separate. From that, a small fraction of that (1,300 employees), we think, less than 10 percent would make it all of the way through the process. We think through that ultimate savings to the university on an annual basis would be about $7 million,” Alsop said.

The WVU Board of Governors voted earlier this month to increase tuition for in-state students by 1.36 percent this fall. The increase was a little more, 1.44 percent, for out-of-state students. They represent the lowest increases since a 1.9 percent hike in the 2010-2011 academic year. The BOG has expressed a desire to keep the increases at a minimal rate in the years to come. Alsop said that means WVU has to find savings in other areas.

“This (the buyout plan) is one of the strategic ways we’re trying to reduce costs, remain financially sound, and make strategic investments,” Alsop said.

Alsop said he doesn’t’ consider consider WVU extra-staffed or over-staffed but offering buyouts is an opportunity to stay ahead of the curve in order to remain relevant.

Action by the state legislature in recent sessions has given WVU more autonomy and it does have the tools for layoff workers if the voluntary separation numbers are below where they need to be, but Alsop said that option isn’t on the front-burner.

“We do have those tools but there’s a number of things we would have to do before we want to get to the point of reductions-in-force,” Alsop said. “This is not a crisis. This is not any of those types of things. This is a strategic opportunity to make sure we remain financially sound.”

Faculty and staff that meet eligibility requirements were set to receive an email invitation Monday. The workers will have until May 10 at 5 p.m. to respond. WVU is also hosting Campus Conversations Friday to further explain the program.

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