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University braces for projected $15.5 million budget shortfall

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Jocelyn Arceo
Managing Editor

The University of La Verne plans to be fully operational by the fall 2020 semester through the implementation of various measures officials hope will provide safety and financial stability moving forward, President Devorah Lieberman announced via email last week. 

The email included a summary of comprehensive budget cuts, including increased class sizes with added health and safety and social distancing measures, which the Board of Trustees is currently planning. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the ULV campus, along with other colleges across the nation, from mid-March through summer 2020. All classes, meetings, and programming have migrated online, as students faculty and staff abide by state shelter-in-place mandates. As of Thursday, there were more than 28,000 known cases of the virus with more than 1,300 deaths in Los Angeles County alone.

According to the president’s April 30 email, the University has projected a loss of $15.5 million in revenue due to projected decreased enrollment, housing, dining services, as well as students struggling with income due to the pandemic. The University is planning for $15.5 million cuts during the 2020-21 academic school year to make up for the projected loss, Lieberman said. 

Measures such as reduced compensation for the President’s Executive Cabinet as well as pay cuts via furlough for other employees, reduced discretionary and operational spending, retirement incentives, increased class sizes, hiring freezes and other cuts are on the drawing board, according to the email.

 “We have to start the academic year with a balanced budget,” Lieberman said on May 2 through a WebEx interview. “You cannot start with a deficit. This year, more than any other year, is unpredictable… Because of the coronavirus, everything is unpredictable. The number of students right now for undergraduates who have confirmed for the fall is very healthy, but we don’t know if the number who have confirmed will actually be coming.” 

Proposals for salary cuts will be presented to the Board of Trustees at their May meeting, which will call for vice presidents to reduce their compensation by 10% and the president to reduce her compensation by 15%, Lieberman said through email on Thursday. When exactly these salary cuts will be implemented is dependent upon the approval of the Board. Reed said that most faculty and staff will not see their salaries reduced, however, certain job descriptions are being considered for reclassification which can thus lead to a salary reduction based on the job description change. The University is seeking to be as equitable as possible, Reed said, meaning that those who may experience salary cuts will be individuals who make higher salaries overall. 

“I and the other vice presidents are reducing our salaries significantly so that we’re leading by example for the greater good,” Lieberman said. “Because our salaries are higher than others on campus, my thinking is that it should start with us at the highest level. The deans are considering the same.” 

According to the 990 tax form posted on the University website, in 2018, Lieberman’s total compensation was recorded at $726,773 while Reed’s total compensation was recorded at $265,912. Reed reported that he would be taking a 10% salary cut, while Lieberman said she would take a 15% salary cut, pending the Board’s approval of the 2020-2021 budget at the end of this month. 

In addition to select salary cuts, full-time faculty members may be required to teach an additional course, increasing their annual teaching loads from six to seven courses. And the University Management Council will also teach one course as well, of which they usually would not, meaning students may come to expect classes offered by vice presidents, deans, associate deans and even Lieberman herself. 

“We’re seeking, as much as possible, to be equitable in terms of shouldering the burden,” Reed said. “We’re really intent on having each person, faculty or staff, as qualified to teach an additional class, then also approaching the salary reductions in the same way: The higher your salary, the higher the percentage cut. Most faculty and staff will not see their salary reduced.”

To reach the projected $15.5 million in savings necessary, the University is also discussing plans to decrease so-called discretionary spending by reducing travel expenses and not beginning any new capital planning projects unless absolutely necessary. Most conferences have moved to virtual meetings, Lieberman said, so the University can still actively participate in the exchange of research and scholarly ideas in higher education even without the travel expenses. However, some memberships in national organizations are being suspended. 

“In my mind, these are all suspended for the time being until the rebound when we know what our budget is going to be,” Lieberman said. 

Furloughs, or required unpaid days off for staff and some faculty, is a point still up for discussion, Lieberman said. However, if implemented, the furloughs would be applied when the faculty or staff member is least needed. She gave University Advancement as an example, stating that winter break is a crucial time because that is when many people come in to make their gift toward the University for tax purposes, so there would be no furloughs of the staff in that area during that time because of how critical it is for them to remain in their capacity. 

 “A furlough could be applied at any time, it doesn’t mean you would have to miss class,” Lieberman said. “Furloughs, if it happens –  I’m not sure it will – would be applied to when you are least needed in your position.” 

The University may also decrease its contribution to retirement benefits for faculty and staff. 

And for those faculty and staff who have worked at the University full-time for at least 15 consecutive years and are 62 or older and they want to retire, the University is offering a full six months salary as well as medical coverage up to $1,800 for the same six months. 

 “A number of faculty and staff are stepping up and that will then end up helping us financially because it will go toward that $15.5 million,” Lieberman said. “It’ll be a savings for the University.”  

A crucial aspect to be expected of the upcoming academic school year is an increase in class size, however social distancing practices would still be applied, Reed stressed. He said the average class size at ULV is around 15 students, and the increase would bring that average to about 20 students per class. Classes such as senior project, internship and field work would still remain relatively low in class size, he added.

Although the challenges of social distancing measures within the classroom have not yet been finalized, they are being discussed with attention to the guidelines provided by public health officials, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Gov. Gavin Newsom.  

Lieberman said that right now, discussions around hybrid and “flexible” classes are being considered, such as the possibility of having half the class online while the other half is virtual, and switching the two depending on the day of the class. Other considerations are required face masks for all students, faculty and staff while on campus, the possibility of coronavirus testing kits on campus, and protocols for students and faculty who are considered high risk. 

The recommendations provided by the governor as well as various public health officials and the CDC will dictate many of the fall protocols, Lieberman said. However, having a plan in place instead of waiting on standby for these guidelines to be introduced is just as critical, she added.

“The guidelines are important, but we cannot sit and wait for the guidelines,” said Juan Regalado, chief student affairs officer. “We have to be thinking and putting plans together. Instead of waiting and figuring out how to do that, we want most things figured out. We want to be able to make decisions on our safety that are doing more than just the guidelines recommendations.” 

Regalado said the University has been in contact with other universities and various public health officials regarding planning for the upcoming academic year. This planning involves taking a look at all available options for minimal, moderate and rigorous interventions so the University will be as prepared as possible. 

“Our goal as a University is to create the safest possible environment so that if there is a resurgence of the coronavirus, we, as a campus, are as safe as possible and continue to deliver a quality education,” Lieberman said. “We will do what the public health officials tell us is the best to do.” 

At this point, much of the plan on what specifically can be expected for implementation is still up for discussion. Reed said a finalized plan should be established by May 15 – regarding the overall plan for the upcoming academic school year – including any safety measures being implemented as well as any changes being made to meet the $15.5 million required to keep the University in good financial standing. 

“We will do whatever it takes to maintain the community at the University of La Verne that we all love,” Lieberman said. “That’s why everybody at the University is sacrificing, so that we can come through this together because it is our responsibility and our obligation to be a University that provides the kind of education that we do for students who will go on and make our regions better.” 

Jocelyn Arceo can be reached at jocelyn.arceo@laverne.edu.

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