Students speculate on staff shortages across campus
Brandeis administration responded to questions regarding reports of understaffing.
Brandeis students may have noticed that there have been notable staffing shortages across campus since the start of the spring semester. Longer waits at dining halls and Dunkin’, professors hired midway through the semester, and earlier closing hours at the library are among some of the impacts affecting students around campus. The Justice interviewed Brandeis administration over email to gain clarification regarding reports of understaffing.
According to Vice President of Human Resources Robin Switzer in a Feb. 7 interview with the Justice, “During the height of the COVID pandemic, employees were less inclined to change jobs. As COVID began to subside, many employees reassessed their personal life and/or career goals and left the workforce entirely, retired early, or changed jobs.” Switzer noted that this trend is not unique to Brandeis, as other organizations in New England and across the country are experiencing similar patterns.
In an interview with Bloomberg in 2021, Anthony Klotz, a professor at University College London’s School of Management, coined the term “Great Resignation” to refer to the economic trend that Switzer describes. Also labeled the “Big Quit,” the Great Resignation is an ongoing phenomenon that began in early 2021 when large masses of employees started voluntarily leaving their jobs. According to Statista, an estimated 46.6 million Americans resigned in 2022. The Pew Research Center identified the most popular reasons to be wage stagnation, increased cost of living, lack of career advancement, hostile work conditions, limited benefits, unaccommodating remote work policies, and job dissatisfaction. Workers in hospitality, healthcare, and education have been the most likely to quit, which is why schools and universities especially have experienced understaffing in the past year. Last March, The Boston Globe reported staffing shortages in dining halls at other institutions in the area, such as Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and Emerson College.
In addition to pandemic-related difficulties, Switzer also attributed some staffing issues to natural annual turnover caused by “voluntary and involuntary staff transitions.”
Reports of staffing issues at Brandeis span across multiple different departments. At the forefront of students’ attention is increased wait times in hospitality services such as dining halls and Upper Usdan. “Brandeis Dining currently has fewer than 10 vacancies, but we are looking to fill some key positions,” wrote Kory Laznick, resident district manager for Brandeis Hospitality, in an Feb. 7 email correspondence with the Justice. These numbers are less severe compared to those at schools like Michigan State University, which witnessed a decline from 4,000 employees working in their dining halls to a mere 400 during the fall semester of 2021. Until the 10 open positions in Brandeis Dining are filled, current employees can work overtime.
Olga Papaemmanouil, senior associate dean of Academic Affairs in the School of Arts & Sciences, explained in a Feb. 7 interview with the Justice that faculty who perform extra duties should speak with their chair or the senior associate dean for faculty affairs to be “compensated where appropriate and possible.”
Brandeis students have also observed staffing conflicts in their spring courses. Students enrolled in LGLS 132B: Environmental Law and Policy have reported that their professor was not hired until after the semester began. While this is not necessarily an indication of a major staffing shortage, students were concerned when their course did not have an instructor’s name listed next to it on Workday.
Meanwhile, according to the University registrar site, a graduate student is leading an in-person lecture of 40 students for COSI 10A, “Introduction to Problem Solving in Python,” while a different professor leads a virtual section of 62 students. A course requirement for anyone looking to major in Computer Science, COSI 10A typically hosts around 200 students. Last semester, 185 students were enrolled in the only section of the class, which was taught in-person. Because of limited spots this semester, seniors were given priority so that they can take the course before graduation. First years and sophomores who need to take the class to qualify for more advanced courses next semester have expressed dissatisfaction with being waitlisted or placed in the virtual class rather than the in-person lecture.
According to Papaemmanouil, this instance is not out of the ordinary. “Having graduate students teach some of our courses has been a long-standing practice across all disciplines,” she wrote. “There have been no significant changes in faculty but we did add new sections once the semester started to address waitlists in very popular courses.”
The next significant instance that drew students’ attention to potential staffing shortages occurred on the weekend of Jan. 20 when a poster signed by the Brandeis Library Administration was taped to the front door of the Goldfarb Library. The flyer announced that the library would close at 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday rather than the typical 10 p.m. “due to staffing issues.”
Matthew Sheehy, a Brandeis librarian, said that there is no “staff shortage” at the library, but the department manager and a second employee left for different opportunities. “We were able to offer an internal promotion but that still leaves two open positions,” Sheehy wrote in a Feb. 7 email to the Justice. Brandeis Library Administration is working to fill both positions as soon as possible so that the library can begin to close at 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays again.
Although the pandemic enabled people to leave their jobs en masse as they reevaluated their work and priorities, the high demand for workers has also allowed people to find new opportunities. In fact, labor force participation has recently surged, which suggests that people are not permanently leaving the workforce. While current economic conditions continue to cause employment shifts, universities such as Brandeis will likely continue to face staff fluctuations.
“Our staff are an integral and valued component of Brandeis,” wrote Switzer. “We are committed to attracting and retaining staff in support of the University’s mission, our students, the community and each other.”