Despite the financial hardships of the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Mary Washington has managed to avoid staff layoffs, according to administration officials. The university has also stated that they have no plans to lay off any staff this semester.
According to President Troy Paino, there were a variety of actions the university took to ensure job security during the pandemic. “When the pandemic caused us to send students home last March, we instituted a hiring freeze,” he said. “We also centralized spending authority to control costs as much as possible. By not filling positions and reducing other operating budgets, we were able to avoid layoffs.”
Paul Messplay, the vice president for administration and finance and Chief Financial Officer, also elaborated on how government funding has also played a role in keeping university workers employed.
“We have received additional funding from both the state and the federal government that was not reflected in the original operating budget,” he said. “These additional funds have helped to backfill some of the financial challenges we are facing, such as less revenue from our housing and dining operations.”
Many professors responded positively to the news, citing the transparency the administration has taken while managing finances during the pandemic. “Personally, I have found our administration’s response to COVID, and the financial decisions they have had to make, to be respectful, transparent, thoughtful, and community-minded,” said Dr. John Broome, a professor in the Education Department. “These are really difficult decisions. Everyone has had to make sacrifices with their salaries and access resources, but in doing so, we haven’t had to resort to UMW employee layoffs.”
Broome continued, stating that despite budget cuts, the educational environment very much remains the same. “Budget cuts have not impacted my teaching. They have also not impacted my students’ learning, to my knowledge,” he said.
Gregg Stull, the chair of the Theatre and Dance Department, also echoed similar sentiments. “While we have experienced the same level of budget cuts as other academic departments, the reduction in our program, due to COVID, has meant that we are not feeling any immediate ill-effects,” said Stull.
The university’s financial adjustments haven’t come without challenges, however. While budget cuts have allowed the university to avoid any layoffs, employees have suffered financially as a result. “We did require employees to take unpaid furlough days this year and faculty had a salary reduction,” said Messplay. “Fortunately, we have been able to restore about half of the salary reductions and furlough days.”
Teaching faculty saw a reduction in pay that varied based on salary. According to Messplay, this restoration means a teaching faculty member who saw an initial 3.5 percent pay reduction will now have a pay reduction of 1.75 percent for this year. Likewise, staff members – who were subject to furlough days rather than a salary reduction – may initially have had to take nine furlough days, but number would now be down to 4.5.
In addition, COVID-related expenses have also continued to complicate the university’s budget, according to Paino.
“We have also experienced significant expenses due to COVID – testing, PPE, housing and meal plan refunds – that have not been fully covered by the federal relief bills passed thus far,” he said. “We are managing the situation relatively well, but the hit on revenue plus the increased costs will continue to present a challenge.”
The difficulties related to lost revenue from university housing have and will continue to be a problem for the foreseeable future, according to Paino. “Because of the significant reduction of students living in residence halls, we lost a significant revenue stream,” he said. “Much of the revenue from residence halls covers fixed costs, such as debt service, that could not be cut”
Among the programs most affected by the school’s revised budgets, the College of Education Accreditation and the university catalog have seen the biggest deficits with respect to previous years. According to a comparison from the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 university budgets, the College of Education Accreditation saw a 48.78 percent decrease in funding, with the university catalog seeing a 28.71 percent decrease.
Other notable programs that saw significant decreases in operating budgets include the First-Year Seminar program and the Art Department, with each seeing contractions of 18.74 and 10.51 percent, respectively.
So long as the pandemic continues, the university will continue to face financial complications going forward. With respect to potential future layoffs, Paino is hopeful that such cutbacks can be averted in the future. “We will continue to do everything we can to avoid that,” he said. “ I’m optimistic we can.”
Matthew Bova contributed to reporting for this article.