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Trudeau cuts staff, operating expenses

Facing a loss of research revenue, the Institute tightens its belt

February 15, 2011
By CHRIS KNIGHT, Enterprise Senior Staff Writer

SARANAC LAKE - Trudeau Institute is cutting support staff and scientists to make up for a 25 percent drop in revenue for its research programs.

Trudeau President and Director David Woodland and Board of Trustees Chairman Benjamin Brewster e-mailed a memo to all Trudeau faculty and staff Monday that describes the Institute's grim 2011 budget picture. A pair of meetings with Trudeau staff were also held Monday in which Woodland provided an overview of the Institute's budget, the decisions that have been made and their impact.

The memo, a copy of which was obtained by the Enterprise, says, "The Institute is facing very challenging times that inevitably will lead to difficult decisions."

"Although we have reiterated our commitment to Saranac Lake and recently announced our decision to stay in the Adirondacks, the decision has no impact on the 2011 budget," the memo reads. "In 2011, the Institute will experience a 25 percent drop in research revenue."

The loss of research revenue, according to the memo, is tied to the loss of stimulus funding the Institute received through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Institute was awarded $8.3 million in stimulus funds in 2009, but that money has apparently run out.

Woodland and Brewster's memo says Trudeau faculty will pursue funding for new research grants, but "given timelines for review and funding of successful proposals, this will not significantly impact the forecast 2011 revenue stream," the memo states. "Given these circumstances, the Institute must implement various measures to reduce operating expenses."

Those measures include a decrease in contributions to employee retirement plans, no cost-of-living increase for Trudeau staff and "a decrease in the number of scientists and support staff."

Just how many of Trudeau's roughly 130 employees will be affected remains unclear. In an interview with the Enterprise this morning, Woodland wouldn't say how many staff and scientists would lose their jobs, although he said none of Trudeau's lead research teams will be affected. Woodland said the belt tightening is part of the normal "ebb and flow" in Trudeau's grant funding cycle.

"The Institute constantly increases and decreases in size according to the amount of funding, and that's really all that's happening this year," he said. "We're just coming off a high and coming into a little bit of a trough. The scientists are busy writing more grants, and we anticipate it will turn around in 2012."

However, Woodland admitted that the Institute's budget situation this year is more acute because of the loss of the stimulus money, which he said was used to continue research grants that would have ended in 2008 or 2009.

"What's happened with the stimulus funding is we got a lot of funding for two years that suddenly ended," he said. "It's difficult to regain that revenue all at once. The stimulus funding probably made the drop a little more precipitous than we might normally have experienced."

Asked why the Institute didn't plan for the loss of the stimulus funding, if it knew it would be running out, Woodland said Trudeau scientists "went to considerable efforts to get funding to replace that."

"We've done very well, but it's not enough to compensate for the abrupt loss of the stimulus funding,' he said. "It's probably going to take us another year to get back to where we were."

An e-mail sent to Trudeau employees Monday afternoon indicates that some Institute staff have already been laid off.

The message from Trudeau Facilities Director Bob Donohue, which was also obtained by the Enterprise, outlines a long list of "service reductions" due to the budget situation. Some are small; others are more significant. The Institute will no longer supply coffee, tea, milk or cream. Dishwashing will no longer be done by Trudeau's housekeeping employees. Labs, offices and rest rooms will get cleaned less frequently, and all non-essential overtime by facilities staff will be stopped.

Donohue said the reductions will cause frustration and inconvenience.

"These inconveniences pale in comparison to the inconveniences that those who have just been laid off now face," he said. "If we do not hold to our budgets then the loss of the jobs of our colleagues will have been in vain. I will not have that."

Asked how the news of Trudeau's budget cuts was received at Monday's staff meetings, Woodland said there was "some concern."

"But I think the meetings went very well, and we have a superb staff here," he said. "They know what the challenges are, and as always, they will rise to those challenges."

A Trudeau researcher who declined to be named told the Enterprise Monday night that budget cuts and possible layoffs were expected, "but it doesn't make it easier to see any of your friends or neighbors lose their jobs."

Trudeau's board approved the Institute's 2011 operating budget at the same meeting in late January in which trustees voted overwhelmingly to keep Trudeau in Saranac Lake.

In planning for future growth, the board had considered expanding in Saranac Lake, creating a "sister" institute out of state or leaving Saranac Lake entirely. Elected officials and other sources said Trudeau was entertaining lucrative offers from prospective sites in North Carolina and Florida.

Trudeau officials never confirmed or denied those rumors, but they said repeatedly that the Institute's scientists need to be closer to a clinical research setting near a hospital or university, citing a change in funding priorities within the National Institutes of Health, which supports much of the research at the Institute.

But Trudeau's board ruled out relocation. Trustees told the Enterprise that the decision was based on a combination of political pressure, the Institute's own bylaws and, most importantly, Trudeau's long history in Saranac Lake. Woodland later said the idea of creating a sister institute in another location isn't being considered at this time.

Woodland said today that "there's absolutely zero connection" between the board's decision to stay in Saranac Lake and the Institute's 2011 budget situation. Trudeau is continuing its strategic planning, he said, and will be looking for ways to help its scientists secure funding in the future.

President Barack Obama's proposed 2012 federal budget, delivered to Congress Monday, includes $32.3 billion in biomedical research funding for the Department of Health and Human Services, most of which goes to the National Institutes of Health. That's a marginal decrease from the current year, according to a story published on the website of Science News magazine.

NIH is also proposing a new program, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, which the magazine says would help "translate" laboratory research into drugs and other practical uses.

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Contact Chris Knight at 891-2600 ext. 24 or cknight@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.

 
 

 

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