Dear AU Community,
The halfway point of the semester is an important milestone, particularly this year as we deliver on our educational and research mission through unique times. We have achieved a great deal already this semester, as individuals and as a community. Each and every changemaker in our community has overcome obstacles and contributed to our progress. I wanted to reflect on some incredible moments from last week that help mark this midpoint of fall, provide an update on our financial progress, and begin to turn our eyes to the spring.
I hope you were able to enjoy last week’s wonderful Family Week activities, including the KPU event with Dr. Anthony Fauci, and the ABetterU Skills Development Institute. I also hope you were able to take a moment to breathe. While it was not a traditional fall break, it is so important to recharge. We all know Zoom fatigue is real. The ongoing effects of the pandemic challenge us every day. Taking time for yourself, your family and friends, and the things that bring you hope and joy is more important than ever.
An incredible effort has gone into effectively managing the university budget this year. Our collective action and shared sacrifice enabled us to avoid more extensive impacts on members of our community. The actions to date have positioned us well to serve our students, support our people, and avoid large-scale layoffs. Our plan reflects our values. We know the pressures are great, with tens of thousands of higher education jobs lost nationwide, so we cannot let our guard down.
Thanks to the hard work of so many in our community, we have kept fall enrollment levels within our projections. While this is positive news, the financial situation can change at any moment. We need to continue our vigilance, adhere to all cost-saving measures, and maintain our focus on enrollment and retention. Enrollment levels impact our decisions across the board; that is why we are delivering the best education and services for our current students, engaging with students who deferred to encourage them to join us in the spring semester, and recruiting the next class of Eagles for fall 2021.
No Further University-Wide Personnel Actions at This Time
Building on our initial steps–including reduced compensation for the president and cabinet and using more than $40 million in reserves, we avoided more significant personnel actions this summer and into the fall. Recently, we announced further financial mitigation steps, including the additional 6-month suspension of the university matching contribution to retirement accounts, the implementation of the flexible 5-day furlough, and further compensation reductions for university leaders. Human Resources will provide more details on the furlough implementation in the coming days. The current financial status allows us to hold off on further university-wide furloughs or salary reductions at this time.
We understand it is difficult to continue high-quality work in times of increasing demands and limited resources. Working remotely creates new challenges for our faculty and staff and their families. Throughout the budget discussions, we heard your voices on this point. Your efforts are appreciated, not just by me, but by your colleagues, the Board of Trustees, and our students and families. While these times push our limits, they also bolster our connections, something that is fundamental to the AU sense of community. If you need assistance, your AU family is here for you. Please talk with your manager and use the resources available from HR, including the Faculty & Staff Assistance Program, AhealthyU, and the telework guide. We also encourage all members of our team to be conscious of the impacts of doing most of our work remotely. Consider whether some meetings can be done by phone instead of by Zoom to give people the opportunity to take a walk while meeting, or schedule breaks to be sure you step away from your workspace during the day. And remember that as a community, we try to avoid virtual meetings on Wednesday afternoons.
One key area where we must continue our efforts is the hiring freeze, which remains in effect for existing and new vacancies. Keeping these positions open creates significant savings and are a critical reason why other measures are not being implemented at this time. While we know vacancies can create extra work and strain on our teams, this step helps address financial shortfalls without further financial impact on our current employees. Select strategic hires that are critical to our mission will continue, but this small number of positions is rigorously reviewed and only approved at the highest leadership levels.
Although additional university-wide furloughs are not being implemented at this time, we are assessing the workforce needs of our current and future operational levels. We continue to redeploy team members who are working less than full-time to other areas of need. We will evaluate if additional measures will be necessary for spring, based on enrollments and implementation of our current steps. We are glad that additional actions do not need to be taken at this time, and we will review our status at the beginning of next semester and provide updates if these measures are needed.
Looking Forward to Spring
I want to address the question that is on everyone’s mind–what is the spring 2021 plan? We are working on all aspects of our operations to determine the best operating approach for spring that fulfills our objectives of protecting the health and safety of our community, advancing our educational and research mission, and supporting the overall response in the DC region. Our goal is to ramp up in-person curricular, co-curricular, and residential opportunities over time as health and safety conditions allow.
Many of the key factors driving our decision-making remain the same–the overall case count and trajectory of the pandemic, the availability of widespread testing capacity and contact tracing, the impact of local requirements including the 14 day quarantine for people coming to Washington, DC, from identified hot spots, and the status of local public schools. We are also analyzing learnings from other universities and building on our increasing knowledge about COVID-19’s transmission. As Dr. Fauci said in last week’s event, we face a gradual, evolutionary process throughout next year. We know we cannot return to completely normal operations immediately, and we need to remember that the public health situation can change in an instant. This summer’s work creating the AU Forward plan provides a strong foundation, and we continue to collect data and input from the community. We will provide an update on the spring plan by the end of October.
Today also marks an annual important step towards spring–the registrar is publishing the schedule of classes for next semester. Registration will begin on November 2 for graduate students, November 9 for WCL students, and run through November 17 with staggered starting dates for the rest of our students. No matter the operating status, we have many exciting learning opportunities with our excellent faculty in the spring.
We have arrived at this halfway point of the fall semester with momentum and many accomplishments. That is a testament to your hard work and dedication. While we are committed to finishing the fall with the same energy and commitment, we also have the opportunity to look ahead. While we still must address the challenges of COVID-19 every day, new opportunities on the horizon offer hope for what comes next.
Be safe and be well.