Thanks to coronavirus, university students aren’t the only ones worried about their futures.
The unsung heroes of the university begin with its faculty and staff, and yet, over 4,000 University of Delaware employees are facing temporary or permanent unemployment or reductions in payment over the course of the school year.
On Sept. 24, President Dennis Assanis and the Office of Communications and Marketing sent an email statement, titled “UD Financial Outlook: Our Commitment to Your Academic Success” to the university community. Directed to faculty, staff and students, the letter addressed the university’s current financial situation. In a recent article, Associate News Editor Eric Munson breaks down the letter in its entirety.
Citing a freeze in tuition, a decline of 700 first-year enrollments and other pandemic-related expenses, the letter stated that the challenges of the coronavirus have caused a projected $168 million deficit for the university budget. This deficit could become as high as $250 million “without extensive mitigation steps,” according to Assanis.
However, the bulk of these “immediate cost-cutting measures” involves the university personnel-related actions, including:
Salary cuts for senior administrators
Salary freezes for all employees
University-wide hiring freeze
Reduction in part-time workers
Voluntary retirement and schedule reductions
The Review understands the gravity of the situation that the coronavirus pandemic has presented us. However, we implore you to consider the following reasons why these “precautionary” measures are less cost-cutting and more detrimental to faculty and staff who face life-changing consequences due to this course of action.
Chipping away at the expenses of your employees, all the while ballooning the budget towards unnecessary construction projects is unacceptable. We wonder if, concerning the university’s budget, the cuts are central to the operation of the school or if it is simply another way to retain the funds needed for more unnecessary changes to our buildings.
With much concern for what lies ahead for university workers, we do not consider the plan set forth by Assanis and the administration to be a viable, long-term solution. In tandem with work schedule reductions, the plan also proposes a period of unpaid leave, which is anticipated to be about nine days. This is equivalent to a 4%-5% pay reduction of a one year salary. Whether this cut still makes for a livable income, especially for those who are primary caretakers of their households, is uncertain.
Retirement as an incentive also sends a clear message to faculty and staff: that they are easily replaceable, and they are not an asset to the university community. At the time of writing this, 369 workers are eligible for utilizing this retirement program. Not only does it seem ageist to push tenured staff, who have worked hard for their employer into retirement, but it is also tone-deaf of the financial struggles many Americans still face during this time.
This past Thursday, President Assanis presented and took questions on the pandemic’s impact on the university’s financial outlook during a virtual town hall meeting via Zoom.
Highlighting a stagnant tuition, an increase in financial aid awards and free parking for students, Assanis expresses how the university is trying their utmost best to support its students financially. Despite the grand gestures (and by that, we mean not raising our tuition), the majority of the student body does not consent to slashing its workforce in order to receive certain student benefits.
“We’re trying to preserve our workforce to the maximum extent possible,” Assanis said in response to furloughing university workers for an undetermined amount of time.
If we are to continue to call the University of Delaware a “family,” it should not set itself apart from the workforce that builds a foundation where the university flourishes. From adjunct professors to researchers and food service workers, we value you.
We ask the president and the university to consider the true cost of losing a majority of its workforce without a future plan in sight.
The Review’s weekly editorials are written to reflect the majority opinion of The Review’s staff. This week’s editorial was written by Laura Matusheski, senior reporter. She may be reached at email@example.com.