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Chancellor Dwight Watson, center, sits with other administrators at a listening session Feb. 10 at UW-Whitewater at Rock County in Janesville.

WHITEWATER

UW-Whitewater announced Friday that furloughs will be part of how the university, which was already making substantial budget cuts, deals with the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That move comes as the university has suffered nearly $9 million in expenses and loss of revenue because of the pandemic, Chancellor Dwight Watson wrote in the announcement.

Layoffs are possible, as well, although he said the university prefers furloughs at this time.

More decisions will be made on “some immediate and critical situations,” such as commencement and the fall semester, he added.

“I wish I could report that the challenges are coming to an end. They are not,” Watson wrote. “In reality, the difficulties facing individuals and the institution have just begun and will only intensify.”

Details on furloughs at both campuses will be released next week, the chancellor said. This comes after UW System President Ray Cross on Thursday allowed universities to enact furloughs and layoffs themselves.

Watson said university leaders believe furloughs “are the best option at this time rather than laying off employees.” But he said they “may need to use layoffs” as the pandemic continues.

Furloughs are unpaid leave periods that allow employees to keep benefits such as health insurance and vacation and sick leave accrual, according to the announcement. They also preserve employees’ jobs so they can return to them in the future.

The full financial impact of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus is not yet known. Watson said UW-W has to prepare for reductions in income from areas such as tuition, housing and dining.

Watson said other steps the university might take include:

  • Pausing hiring except for essential personnel.
  • Suspending unmandated salary increases for the coming academic year.
  • Eliminating purchases or expenditures through June 30, the end of the fiscal year. If a purchase is essential, Watson said employees should talk to a supervisor.

“The scope and the severity of the situation is deeply concerning,” he said in the announcement.

“This is sobering news,” he said. “I understand that.”

But Watson said the university is in a better place to deal with the pandemic because of what it has already done to find operational efficiencies, track down new revenue sources and reduce unbudgeted and operating expenses.

In January, Watson announced that the university needed to make $12 million in base budget cuts over the next two years to deal with declining enrollment.

In his announcement Friday, Watson said officials will submit their fiscal year 2021 budget as planned without accounting for the pandemic. But budget adjustments might be made if needed.

Questions or suggestions for Watson and his cabinet can be directed to Chief of Staff Kari Heidenreich at HeidenreKA12@uww.edu.

“We have many challenges ahead of us. My desire is that we face those challenges together in a collaborative and consultative way,” Watson wrote. “With precision and a firm course based on care and safety, financial liquidity, student and personnel care, and operational continuity, UW-Whitewater will come through this on the other side.”

Watson also addressed a handful of other changes within the university:

  • Spring commencement: A decision has already been made to postpone the May ceremony, and a survey about alternatives has gone out. The commencement committee will make recommendations to the chancellor’s cabinet next week, and a decision will come “as soon as possible.”
  • Grades: Undergraduate students will have until May 27 to switch to “satisfactory” or “no credit” for most courses, but Watson encouraged them to consult with their advisers.
  • Summer: Courses set for this summer will move to “alternate delivery forms,” such as being online. A decision about summer camps and conferences hosted at UW-W will come by May 15.
  • Fall 2020 semester: What the next full semester at UW-W looks like remains unknown. A decision about whether classes stay online will come later.
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