Students know Nancy Wiswell as the smiling face of the University of Minnesota School of Music, but the 39-year veteran clerical worker may not be there to raise spirits much longer.
The School of Music laid off Wiswell in an attempt to balance the budget, Director David Myers said, but the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3800 union plans to fight the University over what they consider an unfair layoff.
“I feel like it’s my family,” Wiswell said. “That’s a strange thing to say about a job, but I’ve been in so many of the faculty’s homes. I’ve been on picnics with their children … I guess I am hurt more than anything else because I’ve been here 39 years.”
AFSCME 3800 President Phyllis Walker believes that Wiswell was laid off due to age discrimination.
“There is a new [director] … in the School of Music and he’s the one who has made this decision to eliminate Nancy’s position,” Walker said.
However, Myers said the decision was not personal, and was only meant to ensure quality music education instruction while freeing up needed funds.
“I can assure you that we have cut the budget in many other ways,” Myers said. “We’ve cut instruction, we’ve cut adjunct faculty, and the major portion of the budget cuts has been in instruction … so actually this position cut is a small percentage of our overall cut,” Myers said.
Students for a Democratic Society and AFSCME 3800 joined to form the “Chop from the Top” Coalition for Wiswell’s benefit in order to put pressure on the University to cut administrative salaries.
AFSCME 3800 Chief Steward Cherrene Horazuk and Wiswell have also filed a grievance against the University under AFSCME’s contract in order to formally fight the layoff.
“Nancy is a very strong, very hardworking, very brave clerical worker and she has decided to stand up to this,” Walker said. “We’re out here getting petitions signed, saying, ‘put Nancy back to work.’ “
The coalition staged small demonstrations outside of Ferguson Hall last Thursday and Friday and gathered signatures from students and faculty in support of Wiswell. There are also rallies planned for this week.
“It’s something that’s totally fixable, if we start standing up,” SDS member Tracy Molm said.
Piano performance senior Kathryn Brown has known Wiswell as a smiling face in an otherwise reserved department since her freshman year.
“I could not believe it. I was just … so mad at the U of M that they could possibly take somebody with 39 years of experience and such a good attitude and someone who’s got such rapport with the students and just let her go so rudely,” Brown said.
Walker is fighting to place her in a vacant position, but Myers said that the provost hasn’t approved it yet.
However, Molm criticizes what she views as the underlying causes of Wiswell’s woes.
“It’s also part of the larger problem of the University going after … frontline staff, instead of looking where there’s actual excess and pork to be chopped [from the director’s salary],” Molm said.
When asked about taking a pay cut for Wiswell’s benefit, Myers said the question was irrelevant.
Wiswell’s last day is Oct. 8, but those in the “Chop from the Top” coalition are convinced they can mount a successful campaign for their friend.
“It couldn’t have come at a worse time because I have three people at home that are unemployed,” Wiswell said.
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