Addressing the Challenges Ahead
March 30, 2020
Dear Brandeis Faculty and Staff,
Today, I am writing to update you on some of the steps the university is taking to mitigate the effects of two ongoing, interconnected crises – the public health crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the significant economic crisis that has emerged from it.
As I'm sure you know, we have already implemented an extensive, institution-wide response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past two weeks, faculty members with staff support have rapidly adjusted to an all-online mode of teaching; staff members have facilitated and processed the move-out of more than 2,400 undergraduates; research labs have wound-down their activities to ensure the health and well-being of faculty, staff, and students; and all of us have acclimated to new modes of communication and day-to-day work.
While these changes have been dramatic and difficult, they have also been necessary – not only for the health and well-being of members of the Brandeis community, but also for the good of greater Boston, the nation, and the world. As public health experts have explained, it is incumbent upon all of us to take steps to help slow the spread of COVID-19 so that our health care system can tend to the most acute cases without getting overwhelmed.
I am confident that Brandeis' current policies and practices will allow us to do our part in slowing the spread of this virus in the coming weeks. And I am proud and grateful for the many ways that each of you has risen to the challenge of this crisis by supporting one another, showing compassion and ingenuity, and never losing sight of our mission.
With these policies firmly in place, my senior administrative team and I have now begun to evaluate and plan for the stark economic consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. At this early stage, it is difficult to know precisely how, to what degree, and for how long this economic downturn will affect colleges and universities across the U.S. But today, one thing is clear: a great deal of uncertainty lies ahead. My senior team and I are committed to addressing that uncertainty in a focused, principled, and transparent fashion.
While our public health responses to the COVID-19 pandemic are prudent, they are also costly. Students will soon receive adjustments for the balance of their room and board, which represents a significant loss of revenue for the university; we have already cancelled our summer study abroad programs and we expect low enrollments in other revenue-generating summertime initiatives, such as the pre-college programs; and, as the pandemic continues to affect visa processing centers around the world, like many colleges and universities, it is unclear whether we will be able to enroll and retain our international students.
Thankfully, we are entering this time of uncertainty from a position of financial strength. We have balanced our budget for the past four years, and the institution has enough resources to cover our expenses. Additionally, our endowment is positioned conservatively and can provide additional support to the university as we prepare for the challenges ahead.
Yet, just as we responded to COVID-19 at every level of the institution, we now must also take specific steps to respond to the emerging economic situation. We are taking the following measures to help prepare us for the financial unknown — all in a collective effort to preserve the long-term health of the university:
Deferring salary increases: We will be deferring the regular July 1 salary increase program for all non-unionized faculty and staff until at least January 1, 2021. This will afford us time to better understand what our financial condition will be based on the upcoming fall enrollment, the state of the endowment, and what philanthropy will look like in such a steep financial downturn. During this period, senior administrators who report to me, and I, will take a 10 percent salary reduction.
Conserving operating expenditures: As a result of our university’s response to the public health crisis, managers will likely have funds remaining in their operating expense budget at the end of the academic year that were originally intended for travel, supplies, conferences, programs, and other day-to-day activities. While we should certainly spend what we need to maintain our basic operations, I have asked managers, because of the financial uncertainties, to spend only what is truly necessary. Though this may seem like insignificant savings for any individual unit or department, it has the potential to have a significant impact on our collective efforts as an institution.
Seeking hiring approvals: Any plans for new or replacement hiring or salary adjustments must be approved by both Provost Lisa Lynch and Executive Vice President for Finance and Administration Stew Uretsky. I want to reassure you that, at this time, we are not instituting a freeze in hiring or to salary adjustments (adjustments are not annual raises, but rather a correction to one’s current salary). We are, however, requiring prior approval from Provost Lynch and EVP Uretsky during this period of uncertainty.
Pausing the implementation of Springboard: All uncommitted Springboard expenditures, which includes unspent operating expenses, open or unfilled position hires, and capital expenditures, will be put on hold. This will give us time to better understand our overall revenue position and our ability to pursue our original Springboard plans. All current offers, however, will be unaffected. With regard to fundraising specifically, we are reviewing and revising our projections and taking into consideration the sensitivities and challenges of fundraising in this environment. At the same time, it’s important to emphasize that we are making every effort to speak with our donors, as appropriate, in continuing to pursue the university’s short and long-terms goals.
Expanding and extending the continuing pay program: As an addition to an earlier communication from VP of Human Resources Robin Switzer, I want to add that we will be extending the continuing pay program to include non-benefits eligible staff, alongside benefits-eligible staff, through the spring semester. This means that the university will provide emergency paid time off through May 17 to any employee who is healthy and able to work, but for whom no alternative work or assignments are available. We will assess things as we learn more about future operations and options for the university. Sodexo will also ensure that its workers are financially supported during this time period.
In a time when we are already faced with so much uncertainty and stress, I understand that these measures will likely cause anxiety and concern across our institution. Please know that we are taking these steps out of an abundance of caution so that we remain in a strong position for the significant challenges ahead.
I hope this message will initiate an ongoing conversation as we continue to respond to these evolving challenges. In this spirit, and in order to share with you more information on our financial situation, I invite you to join us for a virtual "Community Check-In." This event will be live-streamed at brandeis.edu/streaming on Thursday, April 2, at 10 a.m. We welcome your thoughts, ideas, and questions. In order to make this session as productive as possible, and because this is a virtual event without the traditional way of asking questions, please submit any questions in advance using the form found here. If you are unable to attend, this event will be recorded and made available for review.
Thank you again for all that you have done during this period, and thank you for being a partner and committed member of the Brandeis community as we work together to build and sustain a stronger Brandeis.