Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘I still am grieving’: Staff move forward following University layoffs

Naina Srivastava
Jordyn Butler, an African and African Diaspora Studies sophomore, works at the former Multicultural Engagement Center on February 8. Butler served as the public relations chair of Afrikan American Affairs, a former MEC agency, last semester.

On the morning of April 2, an anonymous Division of Campus and Community Engagement staff member and several colleagues joined a Zoom meeting with University human resources representatives. The staff member, who frequently met with HR for their role, did not expect the news that followed — the University dissolved their role.

“It was a little bit humiliating because you’re in this room with 30 people and we’re all finding out the same news,” said the staff member, who is still working through the semester. “We can’t say anything back, this is just being told to us. It was like, ‘Oh, this is happening — Okay, leave now’ and they closed the meeting. It just felt like a pit in your stomach of like, ‘Is this real? What’s going on?’” 

The University announced the layoffs and closure of the DCCE later that afternoon in an email to UT community members. President Jay Hartzell said the layoff impacted 49 employees at an April 15 Faculty Council meeting. The American Association of University Professors said they confirmed 62 staff who received termination notices. Both numbers do not include student employees.

AAUP interim president Brian Evans said the organization wants the University to give employees a “due process” with an explanation of why they’re being fired.

“The people (fired) on April 2 didn’t get any warning or opportunity to meet with upper administration on what their jobs entailed and what they are doing for students,” Evans said. “They were just fired.” 

The anonymous staff member said the layoffs created a sense of distrust with the University on campus. 

“I felt so many emotions of anger and despair and loss. I still am grieving,” the staff member said. “It feels like a big loss because, in a way, I felt like this was a job that checked off all my boxes, in the sense of getting to be around the people that I love and doing the work that I love and just feeling like I had a purpose.” 

Jen Moon, Faculty Council chair, said the decision to fire staff has a “chilling effect” that makes individuals feel unwelcome.  The Faculty and Staff Council released a joint statement on April 12 expressing their disapproval of the terminations and support for the affected staff members.

“The bottom line is it was quite heartbreaking,” Moon, a biology professor said. “Because these are not folks that were hired in the last couple of years to play a role in DEI and then were let go. These are people that have been here, in some cases over 20 years, serving in all kinds of capacities at the University.”

Hartzell said the closure of the DCCE and staff terminations were mainly due to overlaps in programs after Senate Bill 17 compliance-related changes.  Evans said many of the terminated staff worked with students on a daily basis.  

“It’s a little surprising that they would be considered redundant because they have their own set of students that they work with,” Evans said. “The morale here is pretty devastating.” 

Evans said this also puts research roles in jeopardy. One of the terminated associate deans helped faculty with writing federal grants. The role’s elimination left faculty scrambling, he said. Evans said he is not aware of a plan to replace these services. 

The University declined to comment. 

UT’s decision to close the DCCE was also influenced by the state’s changing legislative environment, including a discrepancy in trust levels in higher education between Democrats and Republicans, Hartzell said at the April 15 Faculty Council meeting. The staff member said they felt his statement demonstrated an over-compliance in SB 17. 

“It feels like the school is being played as a pawn in this political game,” the staff member said. “It’s just vile and disgusting to put the lives of so many people at risk, to hurt them.” 

The staff member said they’re inclined to look for a job outside of the UT, citing concerns about distrust with the University regarding her DEI history. 

“It feels so toxic,” the staff member said. “It feels like my work is worthless to them.”

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About the Contributor
Naina Srivastava, Senior News Reporter & Senior Photographer
Naina is a freshman journalism major from Mountain View, California. She is currently a senior news reporter and senior photographer at the Texan.