Internal hiring program protects Cornell workers

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Susan Kelley

Just a week after Pat Miller celebrated 20 years of service at Cornell libraries, she found out she was being laid off. "I was devastated," said Miller, who had spent the past 10 years as a public assistant at the Veterinary Library's reference services. "I was shocked, and I cried and I couldn't stop."

But library director Erla Heyns said there was a silver lining. The Engineering Library had a similar job open, and she had arranged an interview for Miller for the next day. But at less than three years away from retirement, Miller wasn't sure how the move would affect her benefits and health insurance for her diabetes. And the pay grade was lower than her current position. But she did want the job, she says. "The overriding factor was that I did still want to work at Cornell. Cornell has always been good to me."

She voiced her concerns. Staff at the veterinary and engineering colleges and several human resources offices worked together for two weeks and were able to offer Miller the position at a comparable pay grade as her current position -- and with continued benefits. "I had been incredibly devastated and ended up being incredibly happy," Miller says. "Cornell came through."

It also came through for three other Vet College employees slated for layoffs. Two have found new appointments, and a third has a temporary position, says Mary Beth Jordan, the Vet College's human resources director.

Miller's story is one example of the ways that staff across campus are taking to heart President David Skorton's recent directive: Protect the university's human capital.

In a new initiative, university employees now have special access to open jobs at Cornell. The administration has created a Web site that lists positions only available to Cornell employees, including those on layoff status.

The idea is to match internal jobs with internal candidates, especially during the hiring pause in effect through March 2009, said Cornell Vice President for Human Resources Mary George Opperman.

"We asked the colleges and units to look carefully at their openings and to look first within the university for candidates, and they have responded," says Opperman. "We are saying, 'Commit to our current staff.' The Internal Hiring site is a tool that helps us do that."

More than 50 positions are now listed, from investment accountant to web developer and veterinary technician.

To access the Internal Hiring site, go to In the left-hand navigation section, click on the "Job Opportunities" link listed under "Current Employees." Internal applicants are defined as employees who currently hold a regular, full- or part-time appointment at the university, including those on layoff status.

Leaders across the campus are planning carefully during these challenging times. These leaders include the contract college deans, who have been planning for reductions in state funding, one of the more significant effects on Cornell of the current economic downturn. "They've been prudently taking actions to prepare for these cuts and limit the impact on the workforce and programs," said Ron Seeber, vice provost for land grant affairs.

Opperman points out that the economy's negative effect on Cornell is temporary. "We will be fiscally healthier in some period of time. When we are, we want to have a dedicated workforce who saw the university live up to its human resource values and principles," she said. "That's the commitment we're showing now. The internal Web site is a way to focus our efforts on moving people into jobs we believe will continue."

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