It is my profound hope that this email finds you as well as can be expected in these unprecedented times. Nationally and globally, COVID-19 has emerged as a crisis of historic proportions with significant and profound impacts to our way of life, to our health and to our sense of wellbeing. While it varies by state, progress is being made to contain the disease, but at a huge cost to our economy and at a huge cost to The University of Tulsa.
To date, TU’s unanticipated costs related to COVID-19 include $4.6 million in housing and dining refunds to students, lost athletics revenue and unexpected technology expenses. We anticipate an additional loss of at least $5.5 million in revenue over the summer and into the fall due to declining summer and freshman enrollment, reductions in student retention and the cancellation of the summer institutes and camps we traditionally host on campus. These losses, standing on top of a budget already operating in the red, could grow as our freshman class solidifies.
TU is not alone in needing to meet these financial challenges. On March 18, Moody’s Investment Services, a global ratings agency, gave the entire higher education sector a negative future outlook due to COVID-19. Unfortunately, as you know, we had long-standing budgetary challenges before, which have been exacerbated. We now need to stand together and support TU, just as we have stood together and prioritized the protection of our community’s well-being and health.
It is with deep sadness that I have to inform you that we have made the tough decision to place staff in offices and divisions disproportionately impacted by the university’s remote operations on an extended furlough and to place almost all other staff on a two-week furlough. While all corners of our community will be affected, we must acknowledge that some segments of our staff will bear a heavier burden. As you will see in the detailed information below, we have strived to make these decisions fairly and compassionately and are ready to offer our support and guidance.
There are areas of campus operations where remote work is difficult, if not impossible, and for which our staffing levels are higher than can be utilized in a remote environment. These areas of campus include: Gilcrease Museum (closed); Facilities Management (most of the campus physically closed); Housing (78% unoccupied); McFarlin Library (on limited operation); Collins Fitness Center (closed); and the Athletics Department (NCAA restrictions on winter and spring sports, as well as recruiting and practice).
Many employees in these areas will be placed on extended furlough effective Sunday, April 19. These furloughs may last as late as July 31, depending on the progression of the disease. Affected individuals will remain employees, and the university will continue to provide health insurance. Employees who will be placed on the extended furlough have been notified by their supervisors. More details can be found in the employee FAQ.
TU has tried to minimize hardships for these employees. While normal campus operations ceased on March 10, the university continued to pay all employees, regardless of hours worked, through April 6. Since then, employees who have been impacted by the university’s transition to minimum campus operations have been permitted to utilize available leave (sick, vacation, etc.).
This is a very difficult decision but one made somewhat easier by the knowledge that for many of these employees – particularly those who make less than $60,000 per year, which accounts for 85% of those impacted – the federal and state unemployment benefits available due to COVID-19 may make total weekly unemployment benefits comparable to, or even potentially greater than, the weekly salary from TU. Our new employee assistance group stands ready to help employees in applying for these benefits, and additional information to support our employees can be found on the Human Resources portal.
The fight against the pandemic has often been equated to a war — a significant threat that is only effectively overcome by a singleness of purpose and a shared sense of camaraderie and sacrifice. While that analogy is not perfect — and certainly there are many who either have been or will be far more directly impacted by COVID-19 than others — the sense that we are all in this together, that we are all making our contribution to support TU, our colleagues and our community, is vital for us to get through this crisis. As part of our approach, almost all administration and staff will be furloughed for a two-week period between now and the end of the current financial year. While it will difficult, the impact on us individually is lessened as it will be shared by us all.
These furloughs will fall into one of four windows, and supervisors will work with their teams to schedule them in a way that best accommodates individual needs yet preserves university operations. The only exceptions will be for employees whose roles we consider absolutely necessary in this current moment for the health, safety and integrity of our community during these remote operations.
TU’s Leadership Team, myself included, have also committed to participate in a reduction of the equivalent of two weeks of our salaries between now and June 30 while continuing critical university work during this unfolding crisis.
Employees will continue to receive health insurance during the two-week windows and may be eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits. For this group of employees, state law allows the university to file a “mass claim” for unemployment benefits on their behalf, and we will be doing so. Details can be found here.
Some employees, including resident faculty and certain athletics coaches, due to the contractual nature of their employment, will not be furloughed. However, a faculty member wanting to help alleviate the financial challenges associated with our COVID-19 response may elect to take a voluntary salary reduction in any amount for May and/or June. Faculty who are interested should complete and submit this form. We are also grateful to many coaches who have agreed to voluntarily take two weeks of unpaid leave.
All staff should soon receive an email from the Office of Human Resources with details about your specific status, including additional information and instructions. More information is also available on our Budget Response website, and your supervisors, department heads and our HR staff are also available to provide additional support.
I also hope you will join me for a virtual Campus Conversation at 1 p.m. Friday, April 17, to learn more about these furlough decisions and to ask any questions that you may have.
I know that we all want this to be over and to put COVID-19 in the rearview mirror as quickly as possible. However, the likelihood is that this pandemic will affect us all in ways both predictable and unanticipated for a considerable period of time. On behalf of my team, I want you to know how deeply we regret that we had to make these decisions. It is our sincere hope that we will be back together again on campus soon.
Janet K. Levit