Assistant Director of Internships Amber Slade will no longer be working at Guilford College. Slade was laid off due to a recent round of budget cuts after working in the Career Development Center since April 2017.
“Amber has communications with all of the organizations who have worked with Guilford students,” said Juliana Avery, a senior who has worked in the Career Development Center for four years. “If you go in there and you don’t have an idea of what you want to do, she’ll help you figure it out, she’ll help you start communicating with them, help you prep for the interview.”
Other student workers, including senior and peer career advisor Danika Gottbrecht, expressed their frustration with the situation.
“The main emotion that I have right now is that of disappointment,” said Gottbrecht. “We know what students want, we know what they need and I have spoken with so many students in the office who have come in for an appointment with Amber and expressed their frustration, their hurt and their disappointment with the decision that was made. And they no longer feel comfortable coming to the Career Development (Center).”
One of these students is senior Mara Stewart. Slade helped Stewart find an internship last semester and has continued to help Stewart with her internship and paperwork this semester.
“For this school to fire Amber, someone who makes people finally feel seen and heard, will impact everyone, especially students of color,” wrote Stewart in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “Amber makes me feel valued on this campus, she wants me to succeed, and I feel like I am not the only one who feels this way.”
Career Development Center staff members have heard similar statements from other students.
“We hear the concerns that students may not feel as though they’re … going to be able to get … their Career Development needs met, but I can guarantee you that we are doing everything that we can to make sure that that happens,” said Assistant Director in Career Development Chelsea Cromartie in a phone interview with The Guilfordian. “We will be communicating to students, just letting them know that the Career Development (Center) is still rolling, still very much here to service our students.”
While the Career Development Center is planning to communicate with the student body, several students, including junior and Career Development Internship Assistant Kate Nunke shared their thoughts on the layoff of Slade via a petition sent to President Jane Fernandes on Friday, Feb. 2.
“It says we think you made a mistake by letting Amber go, but we really think it’s a giant mistake that you have dissolved that position, so we want to talk about the position and specifically Amber,” said Nunke.
Gottbrecht explained some of the reasons behind the petition.
“This caught everyone off guard. It came out of nowhere and we were expected to adjust and transition accordingly, and I think that that was a very unfair expectation,” said Gottbrecht. “It’s connected to a much greater issue that we have at this College that is characterized by a … severe lack of transparency.”
As of Monday, Feb. 5, students have not received any official communication from administration about Slade being laid off. However, faculty did receive an email from Vice President for Academic Affairs and Academic Dean Frank Boyd regarding Slade. The email also mentioned former Interim Assistant Director of Study Abroad Robbie Van Pelt, who will be moving from his current position to one in the Accessibility Resource Center.
“I very much appreciated the fact that Frank told the entire faculty what … the direct impact was going to be on the academic side, within his purview, because sometimes in the past when we’ve had budget cuts, we haven’t known exactly what had happened,” said Professor of English Jim Hood.
Hood expressed sympathy for those impacted by the changes.
“I really feel for the people who have lost their positions or had positions cut back or changed … and the people having to pick up the duties, like Daniel Diaz in Study Abroad,” said Hood.
Interim Director of Study Abroad Daniel Diaz explained the changes that will occur in the Study Abroad Office.
“We are going from an office of two to an office of one,” said Diaz. “It’s not just the loss of one person. It’s like we all wear multiple hats and do multiple responsibilities, jobs within the one job that we have … I think that’s a hard thing to see when you’re making these decisions.”
Diaz also explained the benefits of this change.
“Robbie will be coming back to his position and title in the new fiscal year, so we’re being told it’s not a permanent reduction in this office, which is a good thing for the College,” said Diaz.
“In my mind … kind of an unusual benefit that comes out of that in this situation is that as the plan unfolds and with Robbie coming back to Study Abroad, that kind of mini-experience … in the Accessibility Resources (Center) provides a unique bridge for our offices, for him to learn about their practices and the work they do and how Study Abroad can better serve that same population.
“So I think we really appreciate that as an opportunity.”
Vice President for Marketing Roger Degerman attributes these personnel changes to budget adjustments.
“Continued fiscal prudence and discipline involves adjusting our budgets, when necessary, to make certain that expenses and revenue are in proper alignment,” wrote Degerman in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “We have recently implemented measures to achieve that balance for 2017-18. Part of that process does include an impact on a few college personnel, which we never take lightly.”
According to Vice President of Administration and Finance Len Sippel, these budget cuts were mainly due to a drop in Guilford’s student retention rate.
“This last year we had a very significant drop in our retention rate,” said Sippel. “When that dropped, that was somewhat unanticipated, so that’s what caused the pressure on this year’s budget.”
Guilford’s total student retention rate fell from 80 to 77 percent between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic year. The College’s first-year retention rate fell from 74 to 67 percent between the 2015-16 and 2016-17 academic year.
“Guilford is at the point now where there’s no easy fluff to cut,” said Hood. “I’ve had to participate back in the past in some of the budget cutting measures that we’ve done at the College, and it’s always a devil’s choice, it’s always a lose-lose.”
Diaz agreed with Hood and outlined the problems with Guilford’s budget cuts.
“You have this dangerous spiral of the removal of resources the reduction of personnel, the diminishing of the activities because there’s not enough money to pay for that,” said Diaz. “When you retract in that way and the students and other members of the community start seeing that and feeling that in some kind of personal and dramatic ways, it becomes a kind of common reaction to seek out another school.”
Gottbrecht believes that the loss of personnel and resources affects current students.
“Over my four years, I’ve seen such a high turnover rate with people and faculty and staff, and that’s really concerning as a student,” said Gottbrecht.
Junior and peer career advisor Darrious Patterson expressed similar sentiments.
“I feel like sometimes that here at Guilford, when we have great things, it’s temporary because of the fact that we have it for a short amount of time, and then we discard it,” said Patterson.
Several faculty members and students expressed concerns over what budget and personnel cuts would mean for the Guilford Edge, a new program designed to attract and retain students that will begin its first stage of implementation in the 2018-19 academic year.
“The Guilford Edge promises more opportunities for students to engage in real-world problems while also refining their post-college goals,” wrote Associate Professor for Foreign Languages Maria Bobroff in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “One of its four pillars is a new ‘integrated approach to post-college planning.’ In light of these stated objectives, cuts to our Career Center, much less to our internship office, seem counterproductive.”
Faculty members also raised concerns about the functionality of the Guilford Edge after the recent layoff of former Digital Communications Coordinator Donna Rasmussen ’04, who worked in the Office of Marketing.
However, Degerman stated that the layoff of Rasmussen would not adversely affect the Guilford Edge.
“The size of our marketing team will be the same as it was when I arrived in 2015,” wrote Degerman in an email interview with The Guilfordian. “We continue to be excited about collaborating with our partners campus-wide in pursuing our marketing initiatives, especially as we prepare for a successful launch of the Guilford Edge.
“Together, we are well-positioned to build a buzz about the Edge and the remarkable transformative impact it will have on the educational experience of our students.”
Many faculty members are still optimistic about the Guilford Edge and the future of the College.
“I’m very optimistic about that,” said Diaz. “I think those are great ideas, and I hope that they do stop this spiral of reduction.”
Hood agreed with Diaz.
“People will feel the impact, students and others will feel the impact of these cuts,” said Hood. “I just have to trust that the senior team is working as hard as they can to have the (negative) impact be as minimal as possible on the student experience.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to say that only faculty received an email from Frank Boyd and not faculty and staff as was previously written.