This has been an incredibly tough day for our university. Unfortunately, in addition to the many steps we’ve taken to find sustainable annual savings and reduce our budget gap, further actions have become unavoidable. Earlier today, 47 members of our community, from departments across the institution, were notified by their supervisors that their positions had been eliminated. We did not take this step lightly. We know this action is painful for our entire community, especially for those whose jobs have been affected.
I deeply regret the personal and professional impact on each of these members of our staff, who have given so much to sustain and advance TU over the years. In return, despite ongoing financial pressures, our goal was to offer as much support as possible to those who are leaving, including:
- One week of salary for each year of service, with a minimum of four weeks and a maximum of 20 weeks
- Health benefits through the end of 2020
- Tuition benefits for separated employees and their eligible dependents for the next 12 years
- Transition services including help with job placement, career strategy webinar workshops and unemployment benefits
In order to help ensure that we did not have to make any broader staffing cuts, we also decided to institute further reductions in the university’s employee retirement benefits. Effective Sept. 1, we will suspend all employer retirement contributions, at least through June 30, 2021. This stands on top of the 10% to 15% salary reductions that our leadership team and some athletic coaches had already taken as of July 1, 2020. While painful, these cuts are the fairest and most equitable way to address our continuing budget challenges.
I recognize that the combination of layoffs and the cut to retirement benefits is a tough pill to swallow. I also know that beyond the financial impact, you are concerned for your colleagues who have been affected and worried about whether this is the beginning of yet more changes to come. If there is a positive aspect of today’s announcements, it is that we have made tremendous progress over the past six months in getting on a path to financial sustainability – despite the headwinds caused by the pandemic – and I am hopeful that we now have established a firmer foundation upon which to stand and prosper.
Huron and Organizational Change
Substantial organizational change is always hard. It is even harder when done under significant time constraints and the pall of the pandemic. Even though we’ve had to make some tough decisions, we cannot and should not lose track of the considerable progress we have made in setting TU on a transformative path to future success. As with most significant change, TU will look different on the other side.
The support of the Huron Consulting Group is one example of how we are well on the way to becoming a more efficient organization and one better able to support our academic enterprise. Many of the employee decisions made today were directly related to the new systems and procedures that we are implementing. We are on track with streamlining work and automating traditional paper processes. We are using comprehensive data to ensure less duplication of effort and more specialization within our teams. The search for our next Human Resources leader is underway, and soon you will see new focus on talent management and professional development for all of our employees.
While implementation of the four workstreams will not be completed until October, no additional layoffs are contemplated as part of this process. For the foreseeable future, however, change will remain a constant. In the coming months roles will continue to evolve with some getting new titles, job descriptions, moves to different offices or departments, new assignments and new teams. All of these will bring us into alignment with best practices in higher education management and make us a more effective administrative organization.
Strengthening the TU Brand
For our Marketing Communications workstream, we are taking a different approach. To be frank, we have been talking about the importance of brand and brand awareness at TU for a long time. Never has this been more important. COVID-19 has compelled us to address what has been a lingering issue with increased haste.
We know our changes to student recruitment were working because most of our metrics, including that critical net tuition per student number, were trending positively until March. We know we have excellent yield when students visit our campus. We know when they interact face-to-face with our outstanding faculty and staff, they choose TU. We now know our recruiting relied too heavily on these cornerstones, which the coronavirus has stripped from us.
This presents TU with both short- and long-term branding and marketing challenges. For the long term, the Board of Trustees is leading a strategic planning process, with input from faculty, to meet the changing demands, opportunities and expectations in higher education. In the short term, we have to find a way to expedite branding and student recruitment for the current cycle that can more than compensate for the loss of our cornerstones of in-person, on-site recruiting. We simply cannot be successful in another recruiting cycle without it.
Unfortunately, after a review of the Huron assessment and the ongoing analysis of our strengths and competencies in this area, we have concluded we need to take a new approach. We simply don’t have the time to train, build, hire or staff TU with the branding and marketing expertise we need. So, as part of the layoffs announced today, we significantly reduced the staffing levels of our existing marketing and communications function in order to free up resources to support a new expert branding and enrollment marketing effort that is laser-focused on and able to fully support student recruitment in this unique pandemic environment.
Starting in the next few weeks, we have engaged SimpsonScarborough, a nationally renowned higher education marketing firm with proven success in university brand and enrollment campaigns. In addition to expertise and the ability to execute quickly, this firm will be cost-effective and we are hopeful and confident will yield tremendous results.
During economic downturns, American universities offer the opportunity and the ability to use knowledge to get the economy and individuals back on track. Companies will refocus, retool and create jobs; individuals will choose to reinvest in themselves for the opportunities available in the future. Universities play an important role in providing the knowledge, expertise and research to get the economy started again.
The current health and economic crises will continue to affect our university, but I am confident TU now has a strong foundation and will weather this storm. The reason is simple: TU’s core functions are creating knowledge and transforming lives. People look to higher education to do both of these – in good economic times and bad. We offer the best investment people can make – an investment in themselves.
With our new organizational structure, streamlined and improved processes, intentional approach to budgeting, board-driven strategic planning process and our continued laser focus on student success, we are ready for the unforeseen challenges of the future.
I look forward to seeing you as some of us return to campus and prepare for the start of a new academic year – a moment of excitement and promise not only for our students but for all of us as we look to the future. With the risks of COVID-19, it will certainly not be a “return to normal,” but I hope we will all soon recognize that we are on the verge of setting the conditions for TU to not just survive the current crisis but to emerge resilient and strong.
Janet K. Levit