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Coronavirus fallout: Cornell sets hiring, salary freeze

By Eric Reinhardt


Other cost cuts are also scheduled                                      

McGraw Tower at Cornell University (PHOTO CREDIT: CORNELL UNIVERSITY)

ITHACA — Cornell University says it has a plan to help it deal with the financial fallout of the coronavirus pandemic, which has squeezed the revenue streams of the higher-education industry.

The plan’s elements include a hiring freeze, a salary freeze, and an “immediate” suspension of discretionary spending.

Cornell Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Joanne DeStefano, executive VP and CFO, on March 30 sent a message to faculty and staff about the financial cutbacks, per the Cornell website.

“As you would expect, there are both near- and long-term financial impacts of de-densifying our campuses and of making such a rapid shift to virtual learning, and we write today to provide you with details on some immediate steps that we are taking to address these realities,” they wrote.

The school’s blueprint also includes a travel ban, converting all in-person summer programs that were set to start before July 12 to online offerings, a ban on new capital projects, and reevaluating projects already in progress to determine if they should proceed. 

“We fully appreciate that these steps are significant. But until we can better understand the full impact of COVID-19 on the economy, financial markets and the university, these steps are essential to our being able to sustain our commitment to our employees and our students and to ensuring that Cornell has the funds necessary to continue to be a world-class university,” the Cornell officials wrote.

Higher-education trend

Cornell is not alone as colleges across the nation have been hit hard by the financial implications of social-distancing measures taken to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. On-campus instruction has ended, residence halls and dining rooms have been emptied, graduation ceremonies have been postponed, and fundraising events have been curtailed. Also, the stock market selloff has hammered universities’ endowment portfolios. Furthermore, prospective students’ family finances have been damaged and on-campus visits have been scrubbed, making it challenging for colleges to fill out their incoming freshman and graduate-school classes for the fall. That’s not to mention uncertainty about future international travel restrictions and the impact that has on international students who are critical revenue sources for many universities.

Hiring freeze

Cornell is implementing a university-wide hiring freeze on staff and temporary workers. The Ivy League university is establishing a process for approval of any exceptions to this freeze. Deans will review all academic hires, the officials said. 

Salary freeze

Cornell doesn’t plan to offer salary increases for the fiscal year 2021 that begins on July 1, other than those required by collective-bargaining agreements. The university says it won’t provide increases to existing salaries through bonuses, promotions, acting rates, changes to time status or additional pay without the approval of the respective school officials in charge.

Any salary-change requests already in process will be reevaluated. Salary increases related to faculty promotions are excluded from this freeze.

Discretionary spending

All discretionary spending, including the hiring of outside consultants, is suspended immediately, Cornell says. This includes food/meals, events, recognition banquets and other expenditures that are not critical to the operation of the university.

Capital projects

All existing capital projects will be reevaluated to determine whether they should proceed, and no new capital projects will be approved.

Summer programs

“Given the uncertainty of when normal campus operations will resume,” Cornell says all in-person summer programs or activities, such as summer classes, conferences, etc., that were slated to begin prior to July 12 are canceled or will be converted to online offerings. During this time, the university will continue Cornell summer classes taught remotely. The school hopes to make a decision about programs for the second half of the summer once the situation becomes clearer.

Travel ban

All Cornell-related travel is currently restricted to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When safe travel can resume, the university will only permit essential travel, including essential academic travel, travel on sponsored research funds, travel funded entirely by outside entities, and travel necessary to deliver instruction or outreach programs or to conduct essential university business.

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