For the next year, the University has halted faculty and staff salary increases and non-faculty hires, along with other austerity cuts, to combat the financial strain caused by COVID-19. The last time the University implemented similar austerity cuts was in 2008 due to the recession. Similar to 2008, the University will continue hiring new faculty during this time.
The decision was made by President Michael Roth ’78 on the advice of Senior Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer & Treasurer Andy Tanaka ’00 after consideration by the Budget Priorities Committee, the faculty’s Compensation and Benefits Committee (CBC), the Faculty Executive Committee, and the President’s Cabinet.
“To date, we estimate the COVID-19 pandemic’s financial impact on the University to be in the region of $11-12 million for this fiscal year,” Roth wrote in an all-campus email. “This includes the cost of important measures like reimbursing students for prorated portions of their residential and comprehensive fees, emergency support for student travel to and from campus, funding lost wages for work study, and necessary investments in creating the best distance learning environment possible—all vital to the health and safety of our educational community.”
The salary freeze means that faculty and staff will not receive pay raises, which are typically given annually in July. In addition, Roth will take a 25% cut to his salary for the next year, and other senior administrators, including Senior Vice Presidents Nicole Stanton and Tanaka along with Chief Investment Officer Anne Martin, will also take significant cuts to their salaries. The freeze will not interrupt salary increases for promoted faculty and contractually obligated increases for union staff, according to Director of Media and Public Relations Lauren Rubenstein. Roth also asked members of the President’s Cabinet to decrease spending for 2021 by 10% and announced that construction on the Public Affairs Center (PAC) will be delayed by a few months.
Despite the salary freeze, the University will not follow the many American colleges and universities—including Harvard, Duke, and Brown—in freezing faculty hiring. Instead, the University will continue with approved faculty searches, but not with the hiring of non-faculty positions such as staff and temporary workers.
“Hiring freezes, as opposed to pay freezes, have long-term bad consequences for the university,” Chair of the Faculty Sean McCann wrote in an email to The Argus. “A crisis is also a good time to be recruiting highly talented faculty.”
This decision was made in both 2008 and 2020 in part because the financial benefits of freezing hiring processes would be minimal and go against the University’s desire to meet student needs and uphold the quality of education.
“Protecting the academic core of the University is our highest priority,” Rubenstein wrote in an email to The Argus. “We continued to hire faculty during the 2008-10 financial crisis and plan to continue the hiring process for faculty now as well.”
While Roth expressed that the University was in a good place financially to face the initial impact of the COVID-19 in his email, he noted at a Wesleyan Student Assembly meeting that the pandemic has to this date put the University in a $15 million budget deficit. This salary freeze will likely be the first of many austerity cuts according to Rubenstein. However, Rubenstein also expressed that future cuts would only be made if they would not inhibit the University from fulfilling its core educational mission.
“This is a difficult time requiring difficult decisions. It challenges us to be more thoughtful and creative in our work than ever before” Roth wrote. “We will have to scale back certain efforts, but I encourage us all to think hard about areas where we can redouble efforts and collaboration to produce especially powerful results. Together, we will rise to this challenge and emerge stronger from it.”
Hallie Sternberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.