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Updated 3:00 PM May 8, 2003



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Staff reductions take place at ISR

Fifty-one employees of the Division of Surveys and Technologies (DST), part of the Survey Research Center (SRC) at the Institute for Social Research (ISR), were notified April 30 that their jobs would end, SRC Director Robert Groves said.

Of those, 43 were regular staff members who were placed on reduction-in-force status, with at least three months pay and benefits. The other eight were limited-term contract employees.

"For the past six months, SRC has been attempting to minimize these reductions," Groves said. "They were made with great reluctance, after a reorganization of the division and several months of voluntary staff reductions, through retirement packages, reductions in percentage of time worked, seasonal leaves and job sharing, when practical."

The SRC Division of Surveys and Technologies provides a wide range of services related to the design, data collection and processing of research data using surveys, which are conducted in person, by mail and by phone. Staff members who are part of the reduction in force include professional, administrative and clerical staff, as well as research and support staff, closed-end contract employees and temporary/interviewing staff.

Groves and ISR Director David Featherman emphasized that the reductions are not related to the general fund cutbacks from the state of Michigan to U-M and other institutions of higher education. Instead, the reductions have occurred because of the ebb and flow of large research grants from the federal government.

Over the last five years, ISR has received unprecedented additional support from federal funding agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, Featherman said. Much of this additional funding has been for the purpose of conducting new large national surveys on a variety of topics. This unusual support has had a tremendous impact on the DST, where the total dollar volume of sponsored research rose from $8.9 million in fiscal year (FY) 1998 to $29.5 million in FY 2002. To handle this unprecedented increase in survey volume, staffing levels within the SRC have increased dramatically.

Over the 50-year history of the SRC, continuous change has been common, with new projects being staffed while old projects were being completed. Parallel increases and decreases have occurred in staffing levels. Research forecasts indicate that the dollar volume of sponsored research at DST is estimated at $33 million in FY 2003 and $14.5 million in FY 2004, followed by a resumption of the normal historical pattern of consistent but small annual growth.

Although there is little likelihood that the large volumes of federal funds for new large surveys will return in the next two years, research scientists at the institute continue to develop new project proposals for a wide array of grants and awards from private foundations as well as from federal agencies. "Overall," Featherman said, "the scientific and fiscal health of the ISR is excellent, and I expect it to remain so."

Since the decline in federal funding levels began to emerge last fall, ISR and SRC officials have worked to lessen the extent of the impact on DST staff in a variety of ways. Staff members have been informed of the decision process, provided with opportunities to identify their skill sets and to cross-train, asked for input, and offered information and counseling to help them search for new jobs and cope with the loss of their current positions.

DST has been reorganized to improve efficiency and maximize flexibility and potential for future growth in the face of cyclical fluctuations in research volume. Among the changes that have been made are grouping similar functions within work units, rather than dispersing these functions among various projects, and reducing the boundaries between DST and the rest of the SRC.

At this time, top administrators of the ISR and the SRC are hopeful that no additional personnel reductions will be necessary. But since ISR is funded entirely by the research grants and contracts developed by its senior staff, the volume of activity and staffing levels needed to carry out these activities depend on the budgets of federal and private foundations devoted to research.

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