Keeping positions unfilled good way to save a buck

Daily Sundial

Several departments and University Advancement at CSUN continue to leave some positions vacant due to campus-wide budget cuts.

“There have been positions that have been vacated when people have left for one reason or another,” said Ken Swisher, CSUN spokesperson, who works in University Advancement. “It’s a common practice during times of budget cuts to hold off on filling positions as quickly as you may during times when there are no budget cuts.”

According to Swisher, retaining vacant positions is a common practice whenever a budget is a state that CSUN’s has been.

“It’s not kept into this division (University Advancement),” he said. “It happens in divisions in universities all over this state.”

Swisher said two assistant vice president positions in University Advancement were left unfilled for several years. University Advancement filled one recently, and the other is still being advertised to applicants.

“We have a few vacancies in our division that every division has, but all of them to my knowledge (are) in the process of being filled,” Swisher said.

Swisher said University Advancement is not cutting these positions.

“When you have budget cuts, you have to cut permanent dollars out of your budget,” said Terry Piper, vice president for Student Affairs. “If you have a vacancy occur in a permanent position, you can use that position against the cut. However, you don’t necessarily need to turn the position back, (or) eliminate the position immediately. What can you do is hold the position vacant, which means the dollars are available for temporary use.”

Piper said when a university tries to incorporate budget cuts, generally two sources of money – personnel and operating dollars – will be used.

“The vast majority of General Fund money in Student Affairs is in salaries,” Piper said. “Generally, when we have budget cuts we have to absorb those cuts through positions. We try to absorb those by using vacant positions, as opposed to laying off people.”

Piper said Student Affairs currently has a number of positions – such as two outreach recruiters, a disciplinary hearing officer, and an international student adviser – that are being held vacant.

Piper said when Student Affairs holds positions vacant, it means that they have not permanently refilled the position. That specific position might be an occupied position, but it would be occupied on a temporary basis until Student Affairs determines whether or not they can fund the position.

“People account for 60 to 70 percent of the budget,” said Robert Foldesi, assistant vice president of Human Resource Services. Holding positions unfilled, Foldesi said, is not a prevalent technique.

When departments hold faculty and staff positions vacant, the department saves money and it can be used elsewhere, Piper said.

“In some cases, we use those dollars to temporarily fill those positions,” Piper said. “We move those dollars somewhere else, where we have a greater need.”

Piper calls the money saved “one-time funds” because the department uses them one time, and they are available only for that year.

“We might back-fill a position, we might hold, it might be vacant by the permanent position,” Piper said. “The dollars are still there, so we might hire someone for a one-year appointment to fill the position, but then the next year or the third year we might eliminate that position if we’ve not been able to find new money over the salary.”

Piper says the amount of money that is saved in holding spots vacant varies.

“It’s not a static number,” Piper said. “Positions come open at various points of the year. At one point, you might not have any. At other points, you might have $100,000 worth of positions. You can’t do it on the basis of an average.”

Because some positions are held vacant, there is the possibility of creating a reduction of services thereby having a negative impact within a department or division, Piper said.

“Those departments that have actually a reduction in their staff, of course it would impact services. You can’t provide the same number (of) services with fewer people,” Piper said.

University Advancement has been able to be remain successful in its operations, Swisher said, particularly its fundraising efforts in the last few years.

“It’s important to be fully staffed,” he said. “However, we have been able to have a record of increasing our fundraising every year for a number of years. In the past five years, we have doubled our fundraising.”

Piper said another aspect of the budget cut is how the division uses General Fund money.

Student Affairs did not want to reduce positions or reduce services, so it made a decision to shift General Fund dollars out of the Student Health Center.

In order to prevent the reduction of services at the Student Health Center, students last year approved a referendum for a fee increase, which allowed Student Affairs to use permanent dollars there as part of their reduction.

“That has prevented the elimination of a large number of positions because that was about a half a million dollars of budget cuts,” Piper said.

Piper said that all positions are important and critical. He added, however, that in terms of vacant positions, Student Affairs were able to absorb those functions in other ways.

“We were able to maintain services as much as possible,” Piper said.

John Barundia can be reached at