Coppin State union, faculty hold rally to protest layoffs

A group of about 50 faculty members and students gathered Wednesday to protest the most recent round of staff cuts at Coppin State University.

Five people were let go last week, workers said, increasing the total for the year to 25 layoffs and contract nonrenewals, and further straining the university administration's relationship with its staff.

"As a faculty member, I find no solace or relief or comfort in seeing staff let go, especially in these perilous economic times," said Ken Morgan, an assistant professor at Coppin.

He and others complained that there was no mention of layoffs as the state determined its budget for higher education just a few months ago. Protesters said Reginald Avery, the university president, had added seven new positions to his Cabinet since he arrived in 2008.

Workers say the university is continuing to struggle with budget shortfalls during the fiscal year that began a month ago.

Avery and other university officials did not respond to requests for comment about the rally, but the president said after a vote of no confidence earlier this year by the faculty senate that he planned to work to improve communication with his staff.

"I certainly take all of the issues, whether it's budget or academic affairs, seriously," Avery said in February. "I just think there has been a lack of communication, and if I need to do more to improve that, I will."

The rally was organized by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which represents many workers at the school — but not faculty. AFSCMEMaryland's director, Patrick Moran, said his group has been monitoring Avery since the vote of no confidence.

"For us, this is about giving students an opportunity to a great learning environment." Moran said. "People that work with them, the staff that work in those facilities, are the ones that deal with them everyday — giving advice or opportunities to the greater campus. And it sends the wrong message to folks that are trying to better their own lives by coming to a good university that we don't take that into consideration."

Participants at the rally called on the university to be more transparent about its fiscal plans. Coppin's faculty has yet to see any justification for the layoffs or the added cabinet positions, which has caused staff to question the personnel moves by their management.

"I believe that open, full, honest and inclusive disclosure benefits everyone," said James Brown, a performing arts specialist with 15 years at Coppin. "Everything right now seems so random. Trust is lost, and an already frustrated campus is now angry and feeling under-appreciated."

Brown said he is concerned about whether the remaining staff is able to handle the workload brought on by the layoffs. Brown said that a meeting between management and the faculty has been arranged to talk about staff concerns.

"I cannot do my job alone," he said. "I need my co-workers; I need the support of my faculty; I need the respect of the administration to do my job and to do it well. I'm concerned that when I call for support, offices might be understaffed, my colleagues overworked, causing the quality of our programs to suffer."

Students also wonder what the new layoffs will mean to course availability.

"People who are planning to graduate in three to four years are thinking about five or six years now because they have to cut staff," said Carlington Morgan, a graduate student. "Classes you wanted to take this semester are only offered in the fall, so you have to come back to take it."

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