Chemistry department faces budget deficit

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Author: Donovan Dennis

Increased student interest and enrollment in chemistry at Occidental necessitated additional employees this year and left the department over budget, resulting in cuts to student workers’ hours and leaving the department in search of a permanent solution.

 

According to interdepartmental emails provided to the Weekly, staff cuts were necessary in order to maintain funding for staff salaries. “If I don’t cut back now, we will end the fiscal year in a disaster,” Department Coordinator and Purchaser Patricia Flick said in an email from Mar. 27.

Flick explained in an interview that the discrepancies in the budget were the consequence of additional staff members whose wages were not factored into the original budget. The chemistry department’s resources have faced considerable strain in the last several years becauseof an increased student interest in the sciences and a larger student body population. Safety code dictates an 18 student maximum for all labs, thus requiring more instructors.

“We are stretched out, and we don’t know what to do,” Nersissian said. According to Nersissian, the chemistry budget has not increased during his three year tenure as chair, despite the addition of more than six lab periods and the hiring of supplementary teacher’s assistants and lab prep workers. Moreover, the price of chemicals and other lab resources has significantly risen while the budget remains the same.

Keiko Yokoyama, hired from California Institute of Technology to oversee daily stockroom operations and waste management, was brought on staff this past summer for this school year.

In addition to her primary role as stockroom manager, Yokoyama has taken on a role as a lab instructor in order to provide more labs for students. According to chemistry department chair Aram Nersissian, the department was forced to offer additional labs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday because of increased student interest in chemistry classes.

 

With Yokoyama spending more time in the classroom facilitating labs, the department was forced to bring in additional personnel to cover stockroom duties. Following a request by Nersissian, the Human Resources (HR) department provided additional staff. Funding for their wages was only partially covered by HR with the expectation that the chemistry department would cover the rest. Many staff members, teacher’s assistants, lab prep personnel and adjunct faculty in the department are paid from the chemistry department budget while other student workers, such as stockroom assistants, are funded jointly by HR and the chemistry department. Flick, the budget coordinator, explained that as the school year progressed and the available funds dwindled, she was forced to cut student hours.

Hours for student stockroom workers were cut by one hour per shift, a total of two hours per week. “I am upset because I went from having six hours a week to four,” Spencer Whalen (senior) said. “Because we are paid bi-weekly, we lose about four hours per paycheck, that’s the difference of about $30, which for college students is pretty significant.”

 

In addition to frustrating student workers, Nersissian expressed concern that the lack of available lab space resulting from the budget’s discrepancies will send the wrong message to students kept out of labs.

“The problem is, we, the chemistry department, look bad, not the Dean or the President’s Office, when we don’t even decide how much money we get,” he said.

In an attempt to compensate for the budget shortage internally, Flick adressed worker inefficiency in an email voicing concerns with student workers’ time cards and unproductive usage of time. “I have noticed the lab[s] are ending earlier, but I’m seeing three hours listed on your timesheets. This is to end,” Flick said. Additionally, graders were asked to increase their grading efficiency to save as much money as possible.

Ultimately, however, Nersissian called for greater adjustments to the department’s fiscal policies.

We are here to educate our students. If that requires increasing our budget for uninterrupted teaching of the labs, it should happen,” Nersissian said.

 

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