Pandemic forces changes in Division of Global Engagement

International flags on Oregon Hall

COVID-19 has forced the University of Oregon and other institutions across the country to suddenly and indefinitely halt study abroad programs and other travel-based international academic activities, and that reality is driving a reorganization of the UO’s Division of Global Engagement, including a reduction in staffing levels.

Many countries, including the United States, have put in place broad restrictions on international travel to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Division of Global Engagement Dean and Vice Provost Dennis Galvan let staff know earlier this week that the COVID-19 pandemic has cut sharply into the unit’s budget, which is mostly derived from travel-based programs, after the cancellation of spring and summer activities.

In the current budget year, the cancellations produced a loss of about $1.5 million for the division, and it is plausible that study abroad programs will not fully restart until the summer of 2021, Galvan said. The division will reduce staffing levels by roughly 50 percent through a combination of reduced hours for some employees and 17 layoffs.

“That shortfall is forcing our division – with guidance from Human Resources and university leadership – to undergo a substantial re-organization for the next academic year,” Galvan wrote in a June 23 memo to the division’s staff. “This reorganization will result in a range of staffing and operational changes, layoffs, FTE reductions, and changes to positions and job duties.”

The division advances a variety of programs and projects around international travel, studies and curricula. With the equivalent of 60 full-time employees, the division oversees study abroad and international internships.

The division also oversees visas for international employees, students and academic visitors. And it supports international faculty research centers and programs, raises funds from overseas alumni and friends, and establishes global programs that connect the UO with top scholars around the world.

In addition to the 17 layoffs, most of the remaining employees, including the division’s managers, will have their hours reduced. Galvan said the division is in the midst of a complete reorganization, but he anticipates that when the pandemic slows and travel restrictions wane that study abroad and other activities will return to normal levels.

“With the pandemic there are no guarantees, but I am certain we will rebound from this,” Galvan said.

Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips said the pandemic is having an impact across campus and that the division’s layoffs are difficult.

“Global engagement is a central component of the University of Oregon and an important part of our future,” Phillips said. “The COVID-19 pandemic is generating challenges for many across the world, and I am afraid that we are not immune. We feel for those who are affected by this action and thank them for their efforts to make the university a broader, more outward-facing institution. I’m looking forward to the moment when the pandemic lessens and we can return to offering our students opportunities such as study abroad that ensure their long-term success in a rapidly changing world.”