We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

We've got you covered

The Columbia Chronicle

Get exclusive Chronicle news delivered to your inbox!
* indicates required

Exclusive: College lays off 70 staff across the college to help close the financial deficit, including four therapists in the Counseling Center

Addison Annis
Counseling Services is located on the 5th floor of 916 S. Wabash Ave.

The college laid off 70 people on Thursday, May 30, including four therapists in the Counseling Center, four librarians, two academic advisors and nine staff in the tutoring center. Six people who work in student financial aid also lost their jobs. 


Although the layoffs had been expected, the staff did not know exactly whose positions would be eliminated until they were told in meetings with managers and administrators on Thursday. It came as a shock, several told the Chronicle.


The college also appeared to go back on its plan not to cut staff in the Counseling Center.


An email from the president’s office sent on March 21 included all of the takeaways from the President’s Budget Advisory Board meeting and ensured that while the college may need to downsize commencement, Manifest, Convocation and orientation, counseling would see no reductions. “The college is not planning reductions in student counseling,” the email stated.


The email also only discussed eliminating access to some subscriptions at the library, not eliminating staff, though it hinted at “some changes to operations.”


The layoffs are part of the college’s effort to curb the $38 million financial deficit. President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim previously asked his vice presidents to help identify possible cuts in their units, comprising up to a third of their budgets. 


The college also eliminated 32 vacant positions.


“I think now we are cutting into the bone,” said Paula Brien, one of two academic advisors who lost their jobs. Brien has worked at the college for 31 years. “I hope that I helped students see their own potential and own options to become the author of their life.”


As of April, the staff union represented 232 full-time and 36 part-time employees, said Craig Sigele, president of the USofCC and an academic manager in the Communication Department. The layoffs represent 20% of staff union jobs at the college.


In an email sent the evening of the layoffs, Senior Vice President and CFO Jerry Tarrer said the college plans to sustain student service through “some reassignments, modifications to existing duties and staggered work schedules.” 


The college is expecting 1,000 fewer students in the fall as it wrestles with declining enrollment. Deposits for first-year students and transfer students are down compared to this time last year, Derek Brinkley, assistant vice president in undergraduate admissions, said in an email on Wednesday, May 29. 


Among the layoffs, 53 staff union members lost their jobs. The largest job cuts were made to the Academic Center for Tutoring, Student Financial Services and the Counseling Center. The Counseling Center was not previously mentioned in Kim’s recommendations for cuts.


The President’s Budget Advisory Board did not get all of the details about the proposed cuts when it met on March 19. At the time, the biggest cuts were expected in Student Affairs, Business Affairs and the provost’s office, as the Chronicle previously reported.


The Chronicle reviewed a list of staff union members who lost their jobs but is not naming the impacted employees until reporters can reach out to them to ensure their comfort in being identified and to hear their stories directly.


The Counseling Center had been rebuilding this past year after being understaffed and with therapists working remotely during the pandemic, as the Chronicle previously reported


Lillian Gecker, a therapist, was one of the four staff members whose job was eliminated.


“The college put out a campus wide email a few months ago that said no cuts are planned to the Counseling Center,” Gecker said. “To go back on that word is really frustrating and concerning.”


Johanna Fierke, another therapist, expressed concerns about what the college’s future will look like in terms of tending to all students’ mental health needs. 


“I am gutted, and gravely concerned about the impact that this will have for students,” Fierke said. “I think it will have a significant detrimental impact on students who already don’t get enough support.”


Gecker said the Student Health Center already can’t serve the number of students that they want to. When joining the counseling office in March of 2023, Gecker said the general message was that they were “finally fully staffed for the dozens of students waiting for services.”


Kim’s final report to the Board of Trustees, which adopted his recommendation for “adverse circumstance,” outlined $15 million cuts from various things, including restructuring administrative units, renegotiating vendor contracts, selling the library building at 624 S. Michigan and the president’s Gold Coast residence, reducing funds for travel and professional development and adjusting employee benefits. In addition, the report singled out the following departments where administrative support personnel would be cut: 


  • Business Affairs 
  • Enrollment Management 
  • Office of the President 
  • Provost’s Office 
  • Student Affairs 
  • Development and Alumni relations 
  • General Counsel 
  • Strategic Communications and External Relations 


Another $3 million is expected to come from reduction of instructional expenses. That will come after reviewing all existing degree programs, possibly eliminating some majors but also adding new ones. That process started earlier this week through the Steering Committee with the assistance of a consulting firm, as the Chronicle previously reported.


Faculty Senate President Madhurima Chakraborty said the layoffs have been “sobering.”


“I know that faculty feel, and will continue to do so, the significance of the loss of these colleagues; yet, our sense of loss cannot possibly compare to what our friends and coworkers are going through today,” said Chakraborty, who is an associate professor in the English and Creative Writing Department. “I’m so sorry for what those who are leaving us have been through and I truly wish them the very best.”


Tarrer, who will be interim president and CEO on July 2 following Kim’s departure from the college, said impacted staff and administrators will receive severance packages and other transitional assistance. 


Copy edited by Trinity Balboa


Resumen en Español:


El jueves 30 de Mayo, un despido esperado por los empleados de Columbia ocurrió para ayudar a pagar el déficit de $38 millones. Se despidieron un total de 70 empleados, dejando 1.410 empleados. Los despedidos incluyen cuatro terapeutas, cuatro bibliotecarios, dos asesores académicos y nueve empleados del centro de tutoría.


Resumen por Sofía Oyarzún


This story has been updated.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Addison Annis
Addison Annis, Director of Photography
aannis@columbiachronicle.com   Addison Annis is a junior photojournalism major, minoring in video production. She has covered politics, cultural events and Chicago protests. Annis joined the Chronicle in August 2022.   Hometown: Plymouth, Minn.
Patience Hurston
Patience Hurston, Editor-in-Chief
phurston@columbiachronicle.com   Patience Hurston is a junior journalism major, minoring in Black World Studies. Hurston has reported on student loan forgiveness, changes with campus building policies and has written film reviews. They joined the Chronicle in June 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Illinois