Some Loyola employees camp out to land buyouts

Faculty can start signing up Monday

Andrew McDonald, a 71-year-old English professor at Loyola University, grabbed a camping chair from a friend’s car and, with the assistance of his cane, walked toward the campus Saturday night, knowing he was in for a long haul.

McDonald, who has spent 33 years teaching at Loyola, was one of about 30 staff and faculty members who spent the weekend camped out in Mercy Hall to get first crack at the university’s early retirement program, an effort by Loyola to make a dent in its projected $7.5 million annual deficit by cutting payroll costs.

“It’s first-come, first-served,” McDonald said of the program, which employees can sign up for on Monday morning.

The offer, for which about 200 employees are eligible, is restricted to those who are 55 or older and have worked at the university for at least 10 years, according to Loyola spokeswoman Meredith Hartley. She said 103 of those eligible are faculty members.

Hartley said the program offers 18 months of pay for tenured professors and one year for others. Employees will receive full retirement benefits, including health, dental and vision insurance.

The move is the second attempt by the university to tackle the deficit, following a hiring freeze put into effect earlier this year.

Loyola’s financial problems are primarily the result of a decline in enrollment. Overall, 4,864 students enrolled at Loyola this fall, 200 fewer than projected. Most of the drop was attributable to a freshman class that was roughly 30 percent smaller than last year’s.

Hartley said the administration has allocated enough funds to cover about 30 percent of those eligible to take the offer — or about 60 employees total — but that figure may be raised if more people sign up.

“We are taking all the steps we can to accommodate our employees,” she said.

The total payout available for the program is split into three categories: tenured faculty, extraordinary faculty and staff. The available tenured faculty payout is $4,345,200, the extraordinary faculty payout is $180,600 and the staff payout is $1,414,000.

Hartley said the university has the ability to utilize leftover funds from one category if there is still demand in another.

On Saturday night, 25 of the 30 employees lined up were staff members.

Many of those camping out said they were frustrated that the university didn’t create a better system for signing up.

“Everybody recognizes there is no need to do this. You don’t need people in their 70s to sleep on the floor for two nights,” McDonald said.

Employees were required to stay physically in line, though they were allowed to have family members or friends fill in for them.

Sons and daughters subbed for many parents, and well-wishers from within the Loyola community brought food, made coffee and passed out chocolates. Loyola also provided some food and campus security for those waiting.

Stephanie Jumonville, assistant dean of students at the College of Law, said she didn’t mind the wait, adding that the atmosphere was positive inside the building. “I’m delighted to be here,” she said. “It’s such a generous offer.”

Hartley called the atmosphere one of “camaraderie” and said that university Provost Marc Manganaro stopped by to deliver lunch on Sunday.

Loyola officials banned media from the campus, and campus police escorted reporters off the grounds when they tried to interview those waiting in line.

Hartley said the media ban was issued to protect the privacy of employees who were camping out.

The window of Mercy Hall’s front door was covered in Christmas decoration on the inside, which Hartley said was part of seasonal decor.

However, some of those in line questioned whether the decorations was meant to camouflage the fact that scores of employees, some in their 70s, were spending up to 72 hours in line to snag the benefits offer rather than face the threat of layoffs in the future.

“It looks kind of like Black Friday in there,” McDonald said.

Most of those who were interviewed were reluctant to give their names.

One woman, who said she was there to support her 72-year-old mother, said people were anxious about their financial future and that stress from the camp-out had exacerbated those fears.

“This is completely unacceptable,” she said of the system.

Others were unruffled by the overnight stay.

One man who said he was the husband of a Loyola professor had brought a propane stove and said he’d be serving hot coffee in the morning.

The man said he once camped out for 10 days in an attempt to get his daughter into Lusher Elementary School in the days when the school used a similar system.

“I guess I’ve just got an affinity for lines,” he joked.

According to the university, administrators will begin processing applications for the program at 8 a.m. Monday.