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Jim Kenyon: No tenure for Dartmouth’s laid-off employees

  • Jim Kenyon. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Columnist
Published: 11/21/2020 10:47:23 PM
Modified: 11/21/2020 10:47:08 PM

Cindy Falzarano began working at Dartmouth College about a year after graduating from Lebanon High School in 1983. Over the next 36 years, she worked her way up through the ranks to a middle-management position at the college’s Tuck School of Business.

To make ends meet, Falzarano, who helped put two daughters through college as a single mom, took on part-time jobs at Dartmouth as well. She worked evening shifts at Thayer Dining Hall, where she started out restocking the salad bar, and the admission gates at football and ice hockey games.

“Dartmouth has been all I’ve ever known,” Falzarano told me.

In mid-September, while working at home due to the coronavirus pandemic, she checked her email early one morning and saw that her boss wanted her to attend a Zoom meeting later in the day.

She didn’t think much of it — until she logged on. A representative from the college’s human resources department had joined the meeting.

“I don’t cry easily,” she said, “and they did it as humanely as possible, but I was kind of in shock. I held it together for the first 10 minutes of the call, then I lost it.

“A huge part of my life was gone.”

Falzarano was among 18 Tuck employees who were laid off, effective Oct. 30. After ending fiscal year 2020 on June 30 with a $3.3 million deficit, the graduate business school, where tuition alone is now up to $77,500 annually, claimed it needed to cut expenses. (Four of the 18 employees who were laid off have been hired back in new roles.)

“This year has presented the most challenging financial situation the Tuck School has ever faced,” Matthew Slaughter, the school’s dean, said Friday in statement to the Valley News. “The actions we took this fall were painful and difficult and distilled down to what was absolutely necessary in order to build a sustainable future for the school.”

But is Dartmouth — with its $6 billion endowment — hurting so badly that longtime employees are shown the door because of some red ink brought on by a global pandemic?

Bottom-line moves like this are why elite colleges have gained the reputation of being little more than hedge funds with libraries. They reap the huge tax benefits that come with being a nonprofit, but when the financial waters get a bit choppy, they behave no differently than a Fortune 500 company.

Rank-and-file workers are sacrificed. Meanwhile, people at the top of the pyramid continue to rake in big bucks. In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2018 — the most recent federal tax information available — Slaughter’s compensation package totaled $833,988. (Along with several other top Dartmouth administrators, Slaughter volunteered this spring to donate 20% of his salary to the college.)

The Tuck layoffs came a few months after Dartmouth announced it was eliminating five varsity teams to cut athletic department spending and reduce the number of recruited athletes.

Rich Parker, who coached the men’s golf team for 15 years, was among eight coaches and seven staff members whom the college deemed expendable.

“It’s not like they gave us a warning,” Parker told me. “All of a sudden you get a Zoom call saying you no longer have a job. The lack of compassion and emotion is mind-boggling.”

But even in challenging financial times when Dartmouth says it has little choice other than to give dozens of employees the heave-ho, the college manages to find millions for bricks and mortar. Earlier this month, it announced plans to spend $42 million to renovate Dartmouth Hall, its signature classroom building.

In our phone conversations and email exchanges, Falzarano didn’t strike me as bitter or angry.

“I feel lucky and blessed to have been part of the college for 36 years,” she said.

At 56, Falzarano is suddenly jobless, but she’s overcome adversity before. Her marriage ended in 2000, and 10 years ago she was diagnosed with breast cancer. After undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, she’s now cancer-free.

“I’m not going to wallow and feel sorry for myself when something bad happens,” she said. “I’m resilient. That’s how I’m trying to be now.”

Falzarano’s severance package will tide her over for a while, and she isn’t losing her medical insurance. But she aptly points out that the severance package was by no means a parting gift. “I earned it,” she said.

Last year, Falzarano bought a two-bedroom condo in Wilder. She also has a car payment and needs to finish paying off student loans she took out for her daughters’ college educations. She’s also lost her dental coverage and life insurance.

“I’ve got to figure out what I can do,” she said. “I’ve got a lot of bills. I need to work.”

John Vogel, a retired Tuck professor, told me that he’d gladly be a job reference. Vogel’s office was two doors down from where Falzarano worked.

“I always enjoyed having her as a next-door neighbor,” said Vogel, who spent 26 years at Tuck before retiring in 2018. “She was always upbeat and extremely competent.”

Falzarano, who last year became program manager at Tuck’s Center for Business, Government and Society, worked behind the scenes. Until earning her promotion, she handled the logistics for Tuck’s visiting executive program, which featured hot-shot CEOs and company presidents, many of them Dartmouth alums. After the execs arrived in the Upper Valley on private jets, Falzarano arranged everything from their speaking engagements with classes to dinners with Tuck students and faculty.

“Cindy had been around Tuck and Dartmouth for so long, she knew how it all worked,” Vogel said. “She had relationships with everyone.

“She was incredibly loyal to Dartmouth.”

If only the college had been the same to her.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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