Survivor’s Guilt

Yesterday all the faculty (that remain) and the administration met for 3 hours.

They tried to explain to us why all of this was happening. There were bar graphs. Line charts. Financial statistics. Discussions of bond holder compliance and liquid assets and working capital.

Everything they said made sense. The reasons that they gave were fine.

The only thing I didn’t agree with is what they’re doing with tuition and scholarships. I won’t get in to that here, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. My opinion on it was expressed in the meeting and that is as far as it will go.

To say I’m still shell shocked is an understatement. I lost 21 coworkers – 4 of which I considered friends more than colleagues. We ate lunch together. We laughed together. We discussed education in each other’s offices. We discussed life together.  Why were they let go and not me?

Why was I even hired in the first place? Why were the four of us who were hired full time over the summer even hired if they were just going to fire four (including one of those four who they just hired) just a semester later?

My dear colleagues in Psychology have informed me that I’m experiencing “Survivor’s Guilt”. Guilt that I lived and they didn’t. Guilt that it wasn’t me who was let go. Just plain guilt.

They passed out a “Frequently Asked Question” paper for all of us, one of them being “How did you decide which programs to cut and which ones to keep?”

They based this on enrollment in the major, the enrollment in the courses in the major, the qualification of the faculty (PhDs with experience kept over those working or having just received their terminal degree), and the potential for growth in the program.

That last one is what saved me: potential for growth in the program.

I’ve survived because of the potential that I have to make Chemistry a profitable major at this school. Which I knew was what I was hired to do.

They also made it clear that some programs/majors/faculty may also be let go after this semester is over. While I’m 90% confident that it won’t be Chemistry that is let go – there is always the possibility.

Now… it is time to get back to work…

12 thoughts on “Survivor’s Guilt

  1. I work in higher ed as well. We have been lucky here though. There was a hiring freeze but no layoffs. Thanks for the comment on my blog! all advice is appreciated.

  2. Oh no, glad you were one of the survivors but it would be a hard thing to process too. There isn’t a lot you can do, it wasn’t your decision of who stayed and who was let go. New opportunities will arise for those that were let go, you just gotta keep doing your job.

  3. I feel for you. My boyfriend’s company went through a similar mass-lay off last year, and even though he was spared and he didn’t have any part in the decision-making, he felt aweful about it. I agree with the comment above – it wasn’t your decision, and there’s nothing you really can do. You’re feeling what you are feeling because you’re a decent person, so take solace in that. Try to also remember that in the long term, things will probably work out for those that were let go.

    Kind of makes me wonder about the real costs of mass-lay offs. My bf’s company acts like it’s a fast and easy bandaid solution that can quickly save some $, but have they thought about the costs to the morale of those who are left? What about survivor’s guilt, and the impending insecurity in your stomach, knowing that it could be your turn in the next round?

  4. Wow-that’s a tough situation. My best friend survived through 4 rounds of brutal layoffs at GM when times were really bad, and she felt a lot of guilt and anxiety about being one of those spared, and for how long she would be kept on. You’ve got the right idea-just keep on doing your job to the best of your ability, and the chips will fall where they will. Good luck and hugs to you!

  5. Did they manage to give the remainder of you a sense of what you needed to do to remain off the chopping block? I’m just curious because in my experience with private sector layoffs, they don’t discuss the financials or anything like that post-layoff.

    1. There was no statement like “do this or you’re axed”. But they did highlight that a major that had at least 20 people in it would probably be spared. Chemistry is close to that, but not quite.

      I have quite a few ideas on increasing the number of first time students in the class, which I will hopefully be able to start implementing over the summer. But most of it involves outreach to high school sophomores and juniors. So it wouldn’t result in an increase in students for a few years down the line.

      Essentially all of the ideas that I have won’t increase the Fall 2011 class. The soonest we would see a change would be Fall 2012 and beyond.

  6. Wow I am glad you get to keep your job. It’s no fun to relocate to a new city for a new job and then be told you are being let go. I understand your feelings though. Things like this makes everyone a little insecure and the whole atmosphere changes. I am surprised that such layoffs are happening in the academia too. I would think that universities would be a little more cautious about letting Professors go.
    Good luck!

  7. Oh, my dear, so sorry to heart this but very glad you made the cut.

    I hope they will understand that your growth measures are a LONG TERM thing and not to expect immediate results 🙂

  8. Wow. I feel for you. I hope you are saving as much as possible, and maybe just doing the minimum on your debt payments. At least for a while. Having that cushion of safety knowing you have enough to live on while you find another job (if it comes to that, hopefully it won’t!) could help ease the stress. I’d plan on the worst and hope for the best.

  9. Don’t feel guilty for surviving the cut. I know they’re your friends and stuff… But yknow, it wasn’t you who made the call. The road ahead is still not a smooth one though. Sounds like they expect BIG things from you. You need to focus on that. We’re rooting for you!

  10. Glad you made the cut and I agree with Pear, don’t feel guilty for surviving the cut. Last year two of my best friends were let go and I wasn’t. I felt terrible that I stayed and they didn’t but I also felt insanely happy I still had a job, for obvious reasons. Just work your hardest and make your self as valuable an asset as you can. Good luck.

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