Since the Crisis Management Team first convened in late January to monitor this public health crisis, our top priority at Monmouth University has been ensuring the safety and welfare of all the constituents entrusted to our care. It is always our highest priority, but especially during a global pandemic. Now that we have migrated our teaching and learning to a remote environment both for the remainder of the spring term and for the summer sessions, we need to turn our collective attention to the fiscal realities that this crisis is creating for Monmouth University.
As the coronavirus situation was rapidly unfolding, we took numerous actions to support our university community. For students, we have provided prorated room, meal, and parking refunds; preserved on-campus jobs for the remainder of the semester, even if remote work is unmanageable; and established the President’s Relief Fund to aid students who are dealing with pandemic-related financial hardship. For faculty and staff members, we have committed to paying full wages and benefits, even when some work is nearly impossible to accomplish in a remote environment. At the same time, we have absorbed additional costs to adapt teaching and learning to a remote environment, accrued substantial revenue losses from outside event cancellations and reduced bookstore sales, and lost significant philanthropic support as the country has plunged into an economic recession. Taken together, these factors have placed significant pressure on our current operating budget for the fiscal year ending on June 30.
The federal CARES Act should offer some assistance, as each individual institution will be allocated relief money from the legislation. However, the details on that funding, including when it will arrive and how it may be spent, remain unclear. We cannot count on these funds to be flexible enough to help balance our current budget, so we must take matters into our own hands.
Accordingly, I am announcing the following measures, aimed at mitigating the financial impact and ensuring budgetary discipline for the remainder of the fiscal year.
- Freeze Hiring. All open and new positions – academic and non-academic alike – are frozen through the remainder of the fiscal year. We will complete searches that are currently underway. Any other essential replacement positions that arise over the next three months must be approved by the Cabinet.
- Control Non-Essential Operating Expenses. I have asked the vice presidents to pause all non-essential operating expenditures in each of their respective divisions. We will aggressively manage operating expenses with a goal to save $4 million between now and fiscal year-end. We will, of course, continue to make essential investments, where necessary, in academic learning and support to ensure a high-quality remote learning experience for our students.
- Suspend Capital Projects. All capital projects are postponed until further notice. The only exception is the continued work on the simulation lab at the Graduate Center, which is a joint effort between Monmouth Medical Center and the university. The vice presidents will approve any essential maintenance projects on a case-by-case basis.
- Implement Senior Administrative Salary Reductions. Effective May 1, cabinet members will be taking a 10 percent reduction in salary and will be forgoing any salary increases for at least the next six months. For my part, I will be taking a 25 percent pay cut. Other salary reductions from around the campus may be considered in the weeks ahead, as we evaluate summer and fall enrollments.
- Develop Furlough Program. I have asked the vice presidents to talk with the Staff Council and union leadership about the possibility of implementing a furlough program, designed to keep employees as whole as possible while taking leaves of absence from the University during the slow periods over the coming weeks. New unemployment benefits under the CARES Act include an additional $600 weekly payment, helping some employees maintain or even exceed their regularly earned wages while collecting unemployment. Additional information will be shared under separate cover in the coming days, following discussions with key stakeholders.
We have no choice but to create room in our operating budget this year both to cover lost revenue and to fund the unforeseen expenses associated with the rapid transition to remote instruction and learning. Doing all of this will give us a fighting chance to break even in the midst of this crisis.
In addition, this global pandemic will, no doubt, adversely influence summer and fall enrollments, which will put pressure on next year’s budget as well. We will spend the next few weeks working through these challenges in order to prepare a balanced budget for the Board of Trustees, which is our institutional commitment to them.
This public health crisis – and its associated economic fallout – is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Our actions must reflect our new realities. My promise to you is that we will do everything we can to make decisions that are equitable, fair, and in the best interest of our core constituency: our students. I will be hosting another round of faculty and staff calls to provide additional information in the coming days. If you have questions in the interim, please feel free to direct them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you for your brave efforts during this challenging time. We remain Monmouth Strong.
Patrick F. Leahy, President