As the University of Minnesota makes rapid decisions in response to COVID-19, employees anticipate what’s to come.
The University implemented a hiring and promotion freeze, which will be maintained through the end of the semester and potentially longer. Administrators and leaders discussed the expected financial implications of the pandemic in-depth at Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, as well as in a virtual town hall later that day.
Exceptions to the freeze include “mission-critical” hires, or those related to health and safety, academic priorities, legal and compliance. Additionally, all essential employees are receiving a $2 an hour raise for time they are on campus.
Earlier this week, administrators announced voluntary cuts to their pay to offset some of the financial impact of the situation.
University President Joan Gabel is cutting 10% of her $640,000 salary starting July 1 until the University returns to normal fiscal operations. Additionally, Gabel and around 200 senior leaders will work a week without pay.
Regent Michael Hsu said while this is a good gesture, University administration could do more.
“I'm happy they did it,” he said. “I just don't think they went far enough, especially for the senior administrators.”
The lack of clear work hours, as well as a desire to support the University and students, have led to a more intense workload for many staff, said Chair of the Professionals and Administrators Senate Noelle Noonan.
“I don't know that there has been a lot of sort of equitable support turned back towards staff,” she said.
The University’s emergency declaration policy states that layoff and contract nonrenewal benefit programs may be suspended during a state of emergency, meaning less job protection for staff.
At the town hall Tuesday, Interim Vice President of Human Resources Ken Horstman said there will be significant changes in the coming months.
“The advantage of a hiring freeze at this time is that it forces us to apply diligence [and] scrutiny to any potential new hire,” Horstman said. “This stewardship also serves the purpose of protecting our current faculty and staff.”
The University made a commitment to keep employee pay “whole” for as long as possible, Gabel said at the town hall.
“There are probably tough choices coming, but the starting point for those choices will remain the same, which is that this institution's greatest asset is its people,” she said.
Hsu expressed concern about the financial implications of continuing to pay employees who are not able to work.
“My question is, are we actually doing enough?” he said. “The hiring freeze is one thing, that just means that they're not bringing new people on, but, you know, what are you doing with all the other people?”
Professor Sumanth Gopinath, vice president of the University’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said he is concerned about potential financial hits to programs and units. Nontenured faculty may be impacted first, he said.
“What I'm very, very much hoping is that the hiring freeze and the salary freeze ... will help to really minimize the impact on nontenure track faculty,” said Faculty Consultative Committee Vice Chair Phil Buhlmann.
Along with the hiring freeze, the University implemented a yearlong extension of the tenure clock, meaning faculty pursuing tenure will have another year before moving to the next step in the process.
Because of the challenges and additional workload for faculty teaching online, the extra year was necessary and a positive decision, Buhlmann said.