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Pandemic and virtual semester mean deep budget cuts, with possibly more to come

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Alondra Campos
News Editor

With a budget deficit of approximately $15 million due to the pandemic, and only 25% of housing and dining enrollment, the University has made financial cuts from numerous areas, while attempting to limit layoffs and furloughs of faculty and staff  during these unprecedented times. 

The University’s hopes of returning to campus for live classes during the fall semester came to a halt when Los Angeles County placed strict COVID-19 guidelines on the reopenings of universities in the county, following a sharp increase in COVID cases and deaths during the summer months. Reported cases in Los Angeles County today are over 255,000 with more than 6,200 deaths. 

The University’s residential halls are housing 150 students compared to the usual 600 students per semester. With decreased enrollment in these revenue-producing areas, the University has made reductions it deems necessary to make up for the financial loss.

“The reductions we had to make were done very thoughtfully and always student centered,” President Devorah Lieberman said in a Zoom interview this week. “We kept three important criteria in mind while making these decisions.”

All reductions maintained the focus on the mission of the institution, were student centered, and took into account the University’s financial stability, Lieberman said. 

“There were no reductions in financial aid for students because we chose to focus on student success and financial feasibility without negatively impacting our students,” Lieberman said.

According to a previous email announcement from the president, the University took numerous measures to make up for the approximately $15.5 million loss, including reduced compensation for the President’s Executive Cabinet members, who took pay cuts between 5% and 15%, retirement incentives for older faculty and cuts to discretionary and operational spending. Additionally, full-time faculty are required to teach an additional course to save on adjunct salaries. And the University’s contribution to employee retirement benefits was cut from 10% to 7%.

The University’s plans to cut budgets to make up for revenue losses consisted of three different scenarios, said Chief Financial Officer Avo Kechichian. Scenario 1 was based on a face-to-face return to campus, and included expensive safety uprgrades to buildings. Scenario 1.5 consisted of having a virtual fall semester, with in-person classes in spring. This added additional cuts to make up for revenue losses from canceled sports and on-campus events, as well as housing and dining. Scenario 2 would involve another round of budget cuts of $5 million, should the University continue to be virtual for spring 2021. The University finds itself in Scenario 1.5 right now, but Kechichian said he fears Scenario 2 can soon be approaching.

“We have frozen non-essential positions,” Kechichian said via a Zoom interview. “We also offered a retirement incentive program and minimized the number of furloughs as much as possible.”

Approximately 12 employees retired by June 30, said Kechichian. The retirement incentive, available to faculty and staff who are at least 62 years or older and had worked at the University for at least 15 consecutive years, was as a full six months’ salary and medical benefits. 

ULV faculty also agreed to add one additional course with no compensation to their six-course load along with members of the University’s management council, who are teaching one course each for free.

“The president has taken a 15% compensation reduction while each of the four vice presidents have taken a reduction of 5% in their compensation,” Kechichian said. 

In addition to the reduced compensation, retirement incentives and decreased retirement contributions, the University also reduced operational spending, limiting the trips staff and faculty usually take to conference calls or meetings. An increase in class sizes has also been implemented in order to make up for the budget deficit.

“Although we’re only increasing classes by a couple students, it makes a big difference when it comes to saving money right now,” Provost Jonathan Reed said. “Increasing class sizes from 15 to 18 students actually helps us save approximately $1 million this school year.”

Student financial stability has been one of great concern for the University as well, said Reed.

“We increased financial aid for students who need it the most and find themselves having difficulty finding employment and caring for their families,” Reed said. “We increased tuition but added a scholarship that basically eliminated the increase of tuition for undergraduate students.”

Kechichian said the University is giving each undergraduate student an additional $1,000 in financial aid. 

“Every college of the University is raising their hand to ask what they can do to contribute to this plan,” Lieberman said. “We did not do this on our own. We have around 600 people meet with us every other week and we go through what we are doing step by step, sharing information with the faculty senate, Board of Trustees and classified staff who aren’t faculty.”

Alondra Campos can be reached at alondra.campos@laverne.edu.

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