UO leaders stress need for shared sacrifice at virtual town hall

Aerial view of campus

University of Oregon President Michael H. Schill will immediately take a voluntary 12 percent pay cut and the institution’s 10 vice presidents and athletic director will each take a 10 percent cut, Schill announced April 2.

The reductions will initially last six months but could be extended to the end of the 2020-21 school year, depending on the UO’s financial situation. Schill made the announcement during a virtual town hall meeting for faculty members, staff and graduate employees.

“Simply put, we are all going to have to make sacrifices,” he said, referring to the economic uncertainty facing the UO and universities across the country due to fallout from the COVID-19 health crisis.

During the nearly 90-minute livestream, Schill and other UO leaders addressed issues ranging from the UO’s financial outlook to remote education technology and employee benefits, reinforcing information on the UO’s COVID-19 website and FAQ. More than 200 questions were submitted via a web form before the meeting and more questions came in during the livestream, which can be viewed on the town hall website.

Schill expressed his gratitude for the hard work, patience, commitment and flexibility that UO employees have shown during “an unprecedented crisis” in modern times. Student enrollment currently remains stable so far for spring term, he said.

“That’s a testament to the hard work our faculty are doing to continue to provide the highest-quality education at the University of Oregon,” he said.

Still, like many other employers, the university could face “significant financial challenges” as a result of the pandemic, the president said.

There’s been “tremendous decline” in students staying in university housing – down from around 4,500 to fewer than 300 – since the UO temporarily shifted to remote education, he said. There’s also great uncertainty about how the crisis will affect student enrollment in the fall.

“Part of our mission is protecting our employees,” Schill said. “I am working hard with other administrators to try to preserve as many jobs and benefits as we can as we face uncertain economic times.”

Schill said it’s too early to know whether the UO will need to reduce its workforce. But he added that the administration will seek sacrifices and flexibility from its different employee groups and labor unions to avoid “more draconian measures up front.”

“These are not normal times,” he said. “We need to focus on the welfare of our employees and students, the success of our students and on the long-run viability of our university.”

Added Provost Patrick Phillips: “We’re not trying to sugarcoat anything or scare anyone. We’re trying to be open and transparent with you … in this difficult time.”

In addition to the administrative pay cuts, the UO has instituted a hiring freeze to be financially prudent and to protect existing employees.

The university also has tried to be flexible and help employees with their needs. All full-time employees have been granted an additional 80 hours of paid sick leave that can be used for a variety of personal situations. The amount of leave is prorated for part-time employees. 

“This is an important new benefit that we want employees to know about and access,” said Missy Matella, senior director of employee and labor relations.

Faculty members will be granted more leniency when it comes to tenure-track requirements and staff evaluations, Phillips said.  

UO leaders stressed the need for faculty and staff members to stay connected and engaged with students during the era of forced social distancing and praised their efforts so far.

Teaching remotely is unfamiliar to many, said Janet Woodruff-Borden, executive vice provost for academic affairs, but she said faculty members have taken to the task with creativity and enthusiasm.

“We miss that in-person connection,” she said. “That need for connection is more important than ever. We just have to do it differently now.”

By Saul Hubbard, University Communications