Bracing for revenue losses “beyond anything we have ever experienced” because of the coronavirus, Colorado State University President Joyce McConnell outlined a number of cost-cutting measures that are under consideration, including pay cuts, furloughs and a hiring freeze.
No decisions have been reached yet, McConnell said in video message and written outline of the university’s COVID-19 recovery plan that was released Wednesday night.
And CSU doesn’t yet know whether or not it will be able to resume in-person instruction on campus this fall and if so, how many students and staff will feel comfortable returning.
With personnel costs accounting for 80% or more of the CSU System’s annual budget, which totaled more than $1.32 billion in 2019-20, reductions in staffing, pay and benefits of some sort will be necessary, McConnell said, to meet “budget challenges that were unimaginable two months ago.”
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Also on the table are retirement incentives, across-the-board salary reductions, hiring and wage freezes, furloughs and salary cuts of 10% for the president, other top administrators, athletic coaches and any other employee earning more than a specific amount to be determined, McConnell wrote.
CSU’s fiscal year ends June 30, and the university is in the process of building and adopting a budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The university is bracing for significant losses of revenue from tuition, housing and dining, refunds it must issue, service and research it performs for a fee, and state funds, she wrote.
The revenue losses, she said, will be more significant than those faced by the university in the aftermath of the 2008 economic downturn. CSU’s state funding was cut by nearly one-third over a three-year-period, to $94 million in 2009-10, requiring significant across-the-board cuts primarily through hiring and salary freezes and a reduction in administrative positions.
Those pale in comparison to the cuts the university is preparing for now after moving all classes online after spring break and moving all summer-school terms online, as well, to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
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Other universities that have already announced their plans for how instruction will occur this fall have clearly not done so with the collaborative approach she intends to use to make that decision with others who are critical to the university’s future.
“We fully intend to be back on campus and operational for fall semester,” McConnell wrote. “However, we must engage in scenario planning for recovery and reopening to respond to any contingency.”
McConnell wrote CSU is working with its Board of Governors to prepare its budget for the coming school year and has a commitment from the governing board to deploy “its reserves to retain full-time, permanent employees if we demonstrate fiscal discipline in our planning.”
There also is “widespread and strong agreement on priorities for planning,” she said, with a focus on innovative teaching, transformative research with impact, purposeful engagement with Colorado communities and beyond, a focused and diverse workforce, and a sustainable financial future.”
With so much uncertainty about the future, CSU is working on three scenarios for the coming school year – best case, middle case and worst case. All three include the possibility of another peak in the virus that would require varied restrictions during the fall semester.
In the best-case scenario, the fall semester and the university’s extended operations start on time, with possible modifications for social-distancing restrictions.
The middle-case scenario has spring restrictions continuing through the summer and on-campus and extended operations for the fall starting later than scheduled.
The worst-case scenario has instruction delivered remotely throughout the fall semester, with on-campus and extended operations suspended until January 2021.
McConnell said she will put together two leadership teams, one focused on recovery advising and the other on recovery decisions. The decision team, which she will co-chair with outgoing Provost Rick Miranda, “will determine the best way forward, based on the wise input and critical needs of the university community.”
“It is more important than ever that we stay true to our commitment to excellence and equity in education, research and engagement, but there is no doubt we will have to adopt new strategies and make tough decisions,” McConnell said.
Coloradoan reporter Kelly Lyell can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, You can follow him on Twitter @KellyLyell and find him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KellyLyell.news. Help support Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a subscription today.
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