Saturday, March 28

Layoffs of TFT employees to combat $2M deficit draws protest from students, staff

Union members protested against employee layoffs in the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. The department laid off 11 employees to combat a $2 million budget deficit. (Christine Kao/Daily Bruin)

The UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television laid off almost a dozen employees and cut its budget in early February to address a $2 million budget deficit, according to a TFT statement.

TFT also got rid of some stipends, ended the renewal of several contract appointments, decreased certain spending budgets and increased some staff responsibilities to bridge the $2 million gap. The departure of the 11 employees, some of whom had worked in the school for over a decade, and the cuts have put additional pressure on students and remaining TFT staff, said two former TFT employees and a current student in the school.

Despite this, TFT said in its statement that faculty and student services were not impacted by its actions.

The decisions were made by the new interim dean, Brian Kite, who took over at the start of the year. The former dean, Teri Schwartz, stepped down from her position Dec. 31.

University Professional & Technical Employees at UCLA, a University of California labor union, organized a protest Tuesday to rally support for its laid-off colleagues and to advocate for the reemployment of Liz Gerds, a former wardrobe stitcher.

An email about the layoffs sent from Dean Dacumos, TFT director of student services, to students in the production/directing program failed to mention the budget deficit.

Gerds was laid off Feb. 3. She had worked for the school for over a decade as a temporary worker and was let go a week before the one-year anniversary of her joining the department as a full-time employee.

“I work in a very specialized industry, so I am not going to be able to walk out and get another job as a stitcher or as a costume person,” Gerds said. “This is one of the few places that can do a full-time permanent position. I’ve worked here on-and-off for a decade, and I am very upset. I am very hurt, and I am very angry.”

Former lighting and grip manager Mique Hwang also said he was laid off suddenly after almost 10 years in his position. He was told that it had nothing to do with his performance, and that it was strictly a financial decision.

“Ultimately, we just want some kind of justice,” Hwang said. “After all our years of service, just to be told, effectively, ‘We don’t want you here anymore,’ it’s kind of, it’s just like: What did we do wrong?”

Hwang’s department, lighting and grip, was halved from two staff members to one; Gerds’ department, costume design, was cut from five staff members to three. With their positions and other positions eliminated, the remaining TFT staff have more work to cover, Gerds said.

Fourth-year costume design student Hannah Reinartz, who works in the costume shop, said that her own workload has increased as a result of the layoffs.

“Normally I’m supposed to be learning how to sew things, how to drape, how to pattern and stuff like that,” she said. “Now (time in the shop) is just to make up for lots of work that’s being lost.”

Isaac Werner and Samantha Goodner, graduate student representatives of the production division and participants in the Tuesday protest, expressed their concern regarding the impact the layoffs have on TFT and their educations.

“It’s been stressful,” said Werner, a graduate student in directing. “These staff members are an integral part of the functioning of our department, and to have them suddenly gone has left a gaping hole … that staff members have tried to fill.”

Because the layoffs are recent, students have yet to fully grasp the layoffs’ impacts on their film projects, said Goodner, a graduate student in directing. She added it is concerning, however, because staff, such as those working in the lighting and grip office, are now shorthanded.

Winter quarter is the busiest quarter for TFT because of the large number of film productions run by students during this time, said Jake O’Hare, a graduate student in directing.

“Everyone’s going out and filming, which includes checking out equipment like camera gear and lighting gear, but they basically laid off half of the people in charge of lighting,” he said. “That’s one person in a department with lots of really heavy equipment, and he has to serve dozens of shoots. That’s ridiculous, and it should not be happening.”

Students will have a chance to express their concerns Thursday in an eight-year review of TFT conducted by the university, O’Hare said. Similar reviews happen across all departments at UCLA.

“What we’re trying to ask is: How (can they) cut these jobs that are so vital to how the school functions on a day-to-day basis?’” he said.

Samantha Fredberg

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  • Stefan

    Thanks for the article. I think you could’ve tried to speak to alumni about this topic and get a more well rounded perspective. Those of us who have been through the program from beginning through the final year can address how the layoffs will impact film shoots and class learning. We can better gauge the student workload. I always had to work hard in the UCLA film program to make films.

  • Angela McGregor

    In 2014, the Daily Bruin published a story about fraud, waste and abuse at TFT by former Dean Teri Schwartz that was picked up by a number of local publications (see: ) and that resulted in a petition by TFT students demanding that Schwartz explain herself (see: The University’s response was to do nothing, and in fact they re-upped her contract for four more years. The fraud, waste and abuse continued, and so here we are.

    The University clearly abdicated its oversight responsibilities, and it’s unclear to me what good an eight year student review of Schwartz’s systematic destruction of TFT’s finances will do, given UCLA’s history of ignoring both credible press reports of such abuses and prior students’ protests.

    To add insult to injury, it’s my understanding that Schwartz is still employed at TFT — and if she’s still making her original salary (twice that of her much more qualified, responsible and competent predecessor), the School could make up the $2million in five years just by firing her.

    I suggest they do so, and open an outside investigation on how she, with the University’s apparent blessing, managed to take down the school, one first-class ticket and office remodel at a time.

    • Migdia Chinea

      I agree. Also regent janet napolitano list $85 million dollars for which she was audited and slapped on the wrist.