WHITEWATER — The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Friday announced that furloughs will be part of how the university deals with the financial hardships that come with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The university already was substantial budget cuts. The furloughs come when the university has suffered nearly $9 million in expenses and loss of revenue because of the pandemic, Chancellor Dwight Watson wrote in an announcement shared Friday.
Layoffs are possible, as well, although he said the university prefers furloughs at this time.
And more decisions will come on “some immediate and critical situations,” such as commencement and the fall semester, he added.
“I wish I could report that the challenges are coming to an end. They are not,” Watson wrote. “In reality, the difficulties facing individuals and the institution have just begun and will only intensify.”
Details on furloughs at both campuses will come next week, the chancellor said. This follows UW System President Ray Cross’ decision Thursday to allow universities to enact furloughs and layoffs themselves.
Watson said university leadership believes furloughs “are the best option at this time rather than laying off employees.” But he said they “may need to use layoffs” as the pandemic continues.
Furloughs are unpaid leave that allow employees to keep benefits such as health insurance and vacation and sick leave accrual, according to the announcement. They also hold the employee’s position to come back to in the future.
The full financial impact of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is not yet known. Watson said UW-Whitewater has to prepare for reductions in income from areas such as tuition, housing and dining.
Watson said other possible measures the university might take to handle this financially include:
• A pause on hiring except for essential personnel.
• Suspending unmandated salary increases for the coming academic year.
• Eliminating purchases or expenditures through the end of the fiscal year, which ends June 30. If a purchase is essential, Watson said to talk to a supervisor.
“The scope and the severity of the situation is deeply concerning,” he said in the announcement.
“This is sobering news,” he also said. “I understand that.”
But, Watson said, the university is in a better place to deal with the pandemic because of what they have already done to find operational efficiencies, track down new revenue sources and reduce unbudgeted and operating expenses.
Watson in January announced that the university would need to make $12 million in base budget cuts over the next two years to deal with declining enrollment.
On Friday, he said that they will submit their fiscal year 2021 budget as planned without accounting for the COVID-19 pandemic. But budget adjustments might come, if needed.
Questions or suggestions for Watson and his cabinet can go to Chief of Staff Kari Heidenreich at HeidenreKA12@uww.edu.
“We have many challenges ahead of us. My desire is that we face those challenges together in a collaborative and consultative way,” Watson wrote. “With precision and a firm course based on care and safety, financial liquidity, student and personnel care, and operational continuity, UW-Whitewater will come through this on the other side.”
Watson also addressed a handful of other areas of change within the university:
• Spring commencement: A decision has already been made to postpone the May ceremony, and a survey about alternatives has gone out. The Commencement Committee will make recommendations to the chancellor’s cabinet next week, and a decision will come “as soon as possible.”
Grades: Undergraduate students will have until May 27 to switch to “satisfactory” or “no credit” for most courses, but Watson encouraged them to consult with their advisors.
Summer: Courses set for this summer will move to “alternate delivery forms,” such as being online. A decision about summer camps and conferences hosted at UW-W will come by May 15.
Fall 2020 semester: What the next full semester at UW-W looks like remains unknown. A decision about whether classes stay online will come later.