Coronavirus-Caused Furloughs Hit Shuttered Colleges, Large And Small

Brookings Hall, one of the symbols of Washington University in St. Louis.

Colleges and universities ranging from sprawling state flagships to small liberal arts institutions are feeling the cost of their coronavirus-prompted closures. 

The latest to feel the sting is Washington University in St. Louis, a medium-sized institution with a total enrollment of about 16,000. On Monday, Chancellor Andrew Martin announced in a letter to faculty and staff that about 1,300 employees, particularly on the medical campus, will be furloughed without pay for the next three months.

“Even for an institution like ours, with a strong financial foundation, this crisis is taking a huge toll, primarily due to sweeping changes on the Medical Campus, which has completely shifted its operations to respond to COVID-19 patient care,” he wrote in an email obtained by TPM. “Elective procedures and any activities that are not absolutely necessary or related to COVID-19 have been halted or scaled back.”

He said that the medical school is predicting a loss of $150 million through the end of the fiscal year, plus another $25 million in losses from unused housing and dining plans left behind by the students who left the shuttered campus.

He added that tight restrictions governing the school’s endowment, 8.9 billion as of June 2019, keep him from dipping into the pot to cover the current financial crisis. 

WashU is in good company. 

Marquette University, another medium-sized private college, announced earlier in April that it was putting about 250 employees on furlough for an undetermined amount of time. Smaller Union College, a liberal arts college in Schenectady, New York, put 30 percent of its workforce on a “temporary” furlough.

Bigger, public schools are also feeling the heat. 

The University of Arizona, facing a $66 million shortage this fiscal year and a $250 million ultimate loss, put “most” of its employees on a graduated furlough through the summer of 2021. And that’s if campus reopens this fall.

The University of Wisconsin System will furlough its 600 administrative employees one day each month through June 2021, which will save around $3 million. Each individual campus will decide whether to furlough its employees. The Milwaukee campus said that it will “most likely” implement a furlough plan until June 2021 as well.

The University of Oregon is furloughing 282 employees. The University of Montana is furloughing 63.

And this non-comprehensive list is just the first wave. Most of these furlough plans have been implemented with the hope that campuses will reopen in the fall.

Should the pandemic persist, or flare up again, it is all but certain that financial losses will spike and college employees find themselves in an increasingly desperate position.

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