Responding to UWO’s coronavirus financial challenges

Dear University community,

The COVID-19 pandemic has created economic impacts throughout society. UW Oshkosh has felt the harm. We are faced with challenges that require painstaking decisions and sacrifice to keep our institution operating and carrying out its mission.

Today, I must announce plans to enact furloughs at UWO.

We and every UW System institution face new and serious financial challenges. As you know, this prompted the Board of Regents Executive Committee to meet last week and review and endorse updated furlough policies and guidelines. Provost Koker and I subsequently briefed and consulted with employee groups’ shared governance leaders.

There is no good or preferable time to take this action. Causing this disruption to lives is difficult. It hurts people. Our hand is forced. Employees’ COVID-19 leave provisions sunset May 1. And financial conditions that would have allowed us to finish the academic year at full staff have changed in just the past several days.

While UWO will benefit from $6.2 million in federal support through the CARES Act stimulus funding, we confirmed last week that we must dedicate half that amount to direct financial relief for students. We fully support that relief for Titans. However, it prevents us from covering the refunds we made for students’ housing and dining, which represent the lion’s share of UWO’s approximately $7 million in COVID-19-related losses. In short, we face an immediate $4 million gap this fiscal year. It threatens our ability to cover costs as fundamental as payroll.

What is a furlough?

The UW System policy defines a furlough as “a leave of absence from UW System employment either intermittently or for a specified consecutive number of days where the employee remains an employee of the institution.”

While furloughs disrupt work and livelihoods, they do help us preserve employees’ UWO positions and benefits. Furloughed employees will also have ability to, right away, apply for unemployment insurance. This was among the first, expanded federal support approved for people and families weathering the pandemic.

We have created a new resource page that offers definitions, FAQs, contact information for additional questions and links to financial and benefit resources. In this time of uncertainty, we will continue to do our best to regularly share clear, helpful and forward-looking information and direction.

Our approach at UWO

Furloughs will begin May 4. Employees will experience them differently, and not all will last for the duration. We are working quickly to get thorough details on furlough requirements, assignments and flexibilities to UWO employees. Employees will be notified by Monday, April 27.

We plan to enact two types of furloughs:

  • All 12-month employees who are not currently working and other employees who will be identified this week will be on continuous furlough May 4 through Aug. 31. Per UW System policy, these furloughs, referred to as consecutive day furloughs, are “assigned in full day increments for a continuous period of time with a defined start and end date.”
  • All remaining 12-month employees will be on intermittent furlough for a number of days to be determined beginning May 4, 2020, through June 2021. “Intermittent” furloughs are “assigned in full day increments that must not exceed one day in any two-week period.”

All nine-month employees are exempt from furloughs this fiscal year. Nine-month employees will be notified later this summer that they will be intermittently furloughed during their Fiscal Year ‘21 contract.

As we move into Fiscal Year 2021 (July 1, 2020, through June 30, 2021), we anticipate additional financial challenges due to the COVID-19 interruptions and the uncertainties surrounding the path to recovery. Right now, we anticipate more furloughs will be necessary into the next academic and calendar years. Types, timeframes and durations will depend on UWO’s operational status.

By early summer, we hope to have learned more about the pandemic forecast and what, if any, limitations or prohibitions there will be on instruction, housing and other operations in fall. For now, I ask for your patience and understanding.

Additional voluntary options

There are additional ways you can help. I want to make an appeal to faculty and staff members to consider a few voluntary options that could help us abate additional, widespread workforce disruptions as we move toward 2021. They include: 

  • Voluntary furloughs. These would be above and beyond required actions.
  • Retirement from UWO. This would not involve incentives as past programs have. This would be a traditional retirement from the institution. (Employees who have entered the Voluntary Retirement Incentive Options Program (VRIOP) will proceed as previously planned and agreed.)
  • A voluntary reduction in your FTE.
  • A possible reassignment of work to not only help UWO contain costs but also redeploy people where needs are, and will be, greatest in months to come.

I encourage faculty and staff members considering the above voluntary actions to reach out to their supervisor and strike up a conversation about their situation and flexibility. Questions also can be directed to hroffice@uwosh.edu. We continue to develop a process to help supervisors record and advance employees’ proposals to Human Resources for consideration and approval.

It is essential that we continue to live out our values, starting with inclusion, fairness and equality. We have a tradition of engaging, prioritizing and protecting our workforce. We honor transparency as an ideal and a practice. This is why I share such candor and detail with you about a difficult topic today. I am grateful for the thoughts shared governance leaders have already offered and the guidance they will continue to provide as we venture into difficult months ahead.

As chancellor, I take responsibility for decisions made and those to come. My pledge to you is that they will be made with every intention of minimizing harm as we recognize our responsibility to sustain this University and our community.

This is a hard time. We will support you and we will get through this together.

Stay safe. Stay healthy. Thank you for helping Titans and UWO persevere.

 

Chancellor Andy Leavitt