University staff laid off due to the $9 million deficit

Written By Nardos Haile, Co-News Editor

Since the beginning of the fall semester, Point Park has taken measures to ensure a safe transition back to campus life during the pandemic, but the $9 million COVID-19 related deficit has resulted in staff layoffs. 

Lou Corsaro, the spokesperson for the University, cited financial challenges the university is facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to him, the Board of Trustees has instructed the university to cut costs.

The University has been directed by its Board of Trustees to find significant cost savings both in the current budget year and the next. This is one of many steps Point Park is taking to streamline operations while ensuring we can continue delivering the kind of quality education our students expect,” Corsaro said.

In a statement, Annie Cassin, now the former Director of Student Engagement, recently announced that she was let go due to Point Park’s budgetary issues.  

“I am truly honored to have served as the Director of Student Engagement these past three years. I have been able to work with some of the best students, faculty, and staff of my career. With them, we have made incredible strides in growing the Pioneer Ambassador Program and Pioneer Experience,” Cassin said. “I am humbled by the efforts my team has taken to try and reinstate my position that was eliminated due to budget cuts. There is nothing more fulfilling for a student affairs professional than to know how much your work has meant to your students.”

The  layoffs are not just affecting Point Park’s staff members, it is also affecting the student body.

Junior Madeline Macek, a technical design major specializing in costume design, said prior to the layoffs and coronavirus, technical theatre was never an easy major.

“But the difference has always been, the past two years I have been at Point Park, there had been so much support coming from staff. If I ever had a problem I knew I could go to somebody,  I knew I could get answers somewhere. Now that’s not necessarily the case,” Macek said.

Since the start of the semester, Macek estimated that about a half or a quarter of technical design staff have been laid off. In turn, students have had to take the place of their professors in the shops.

“Students have really had to step up. I know in the scene shop there’s two seniors running the whole shop. In addition to the two productions and off-campus jobs, they each have a whole semester’s worth of classes,” Macek said. “There’s nowhere we can turn to get any sort of break from that because the staff that are still there, that kind of got almost lucky to get called back, are so overworked themselves.”

Macek said frankly that students running the shops on a long term basis is no longer sustainable. 

“Students are having to step up to be 40-hour a week paid professionals while we’re still students,” Macek said.

Additionally, Macek stated about at least ten staff members a part of the costume and scene shops have been laid off. The layoffs have increased difficulties for tech students to quickly put out high-quality sets when only two students have the training necessary to build these projects while simultaneously teaching their peers.

“It’s a lot harder to work and put on a significant product when we essentially have no backup and no time. I keep referencing the scene shop, but they’re still being expected to build everything when only two people in the shop have experience and they’re having to teach freshmen these kinds of dangerous skills like how to work with a table saw and how to weld,” she said. 

Moreover, the tech students felt overworked and undervalued by the administration and the University: 

“I can speak for everyone when I say this is the most difficult and draining semester we’ve all experienced but we’re expected to be professionals and turn around in classes and certain meetings still being students. It has to be one way or another. It’s unfair to be treated like equals in some aspects and children in others.”

Macek clarified that the layoffs and the growing deficit stems from mismanagement from the administration and not the technical design department of the Conservatory of the Performing Arts, or COPA.

“It seems, on my end at least, that the administration is using COVID as a scapegoat almost. Instead of just being like ‘we mismanaged this,’ ‘we made mistakes,’ ‘this is our fault,’” Macek said.

Some students are too exhausted to bring their concerns to the administration, but Macek said she plans to report her insights to Point Park.

“I hope it brings about change. I don’t think I’m going to see it in the next three semesters I’m here,” Macek said.