The university is continuing discussions with faculty and staff leadership on the remaining actions necessary to address the financial impact of the pandemic this fiscal year.
Based on the most recent fall enrollment and tuition data, the George Washington University is projecting a revenue impact for this fiscal year of roughly $180 million, which is lower than the previous estimate of roughly $200 million, President Thomas LeBlanc told the Faculty Senate on Friday.
Of the $180 million, $100 million is associated with a loss in housing revenue and the remainder is associated with a loss of tuition revenue, Dr. LeBlanc said.
The university has taken several steps to address the financial challenges and is now moving into a second phase.
In the first phase, mitigation efforts included a salary freeze, a hiring freeze, leadership salary reductions, significant reductions in non-compensation budgets, and difficult decisions regarding staff layoffs, which are being finalized in the coming weeks. During this phase, the university also offset some of the negative budget impact by using reserves for one-time health and safety expenses.
The actions during the first phase have mitigated roughly $100 million. Moving into the second phase of mitigation, the university recently announced the temporary suspension of GW’s base and matching retirement contributions, which takes effect in October. This step will address $27 million, leaving roughly $53 million still unaddressed.
“I want to be very clear. Beyond this step, we have not yet made any final decisions for further mitigation,” Dr. LeBlanc said, adding that discussions continue with the faculty, administration and Board of Trustees.
Dr. LeBlanc also noted that he understands the concerns he has heard from members of the community about budget mitigation actions.
“I am listening to your feedback, the leadership is listening to your feedback, and it will continue to inform our planning and any decisions we make. As always, we will prioritize the health and safety of our community and the core academic mission,” he said, adding that he is grateful for the input of the senate and other faculty. “We need to move forward together as a community.”
While the financial situation remains fluid, Dr. LeBlanc cautioned, faculty, administrative leadership and the Board of Trustees may be able to come to an agreement and announce the final actions necessary for the current fiscal year’s budget mitigation in the coming weeks.
In terms of operations, compliance with public health protocols on campus remains high, the testing operation continues to run smoothly and the number of positive cases has been very low. The university published a COVID-19 Testing Dashboard on Monday that will be regularly updated with testing numbers, positive cases and positivity rate.
Dr. LeBlanc said that the university has not yet made any decisions about the spring semester.
Virtual learning also is going well thanks to the faculty and instructional and technology support staff, Dr. LeBlanc and Provost M. Brian Blake said.
“I know that the faculty continue to dedicate a lot of extra time and energy to teaching your courses online and making sure our students still have a high-quality academic experience, and I want to thank all of you and all of your colleagues for everything you’re doing,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Dr. Blake said he has heard positive feedback from faculty and students about their virtual experience so far.
“Many faculty have told me that this 100 percent virtual experience has been rewarding because they can continue to look at how they can enhance their skills around this new material and approaching this modality moving forward,” he said.
Dr. Blake also provided an update on fall enrollment. Undergraduate and graduate enrollment are both lower than their targets, which had informed the university’s original fiscal year budget. Dr. Blake cautioned the exact numbers will likely continue to change and the official census is not until October.
The university saw increased admission deferrals and leave-of-absence requests for undergraduate students compared to previous years. However, while the new undergraduate student class is smaller, it is still very talented academically and more diverse than previous class years, Dr. Blake said.
During his final remarks, Dr. Blake said that while the strategic planning process remains paused, there were academic priorities that could continue to move the university forward. He noted several areas to consider and said he hopes to discuss them more with the faculty and deans.
Among those areas were infusing diversity and inclusivity in every academic program, examining academic innovations in context of a post-COVID world, and setting new visions within several of the major academic disciplines while also accelerating programs for professional and continuing education.
“These aren’t the end of the discussion,” Dr. Blake said. “They’re the beginning of the discussion.”
Also on Friday, the senate debated extensively a resolution of censure of Dr. LeBlanc for “violating the core principles” of the university in the appointment of Heather Swain as vice president for communications and marketing. Ms. Swain withdrew her acceptance of the position in August, and Dr. LeBlanc apologized to the GW community for the distress caused and for not recognizing the sensitivities and implications of the hire.
Faculty expressed both support and opposition for the resolution, and the senate ultimately voted to recommit it to the Appointments, Salary and Promotion Policies Committee for further discussion.
In his remarks, Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Arthur Wilson said some faculty are concerned about recent administrative unit restructurings, and senate committees continue discussions with the administration about actions to address the university’s financial challenges. He added that discussions are ongoing about better operationalizing shared governance.
Other senate news
- The senate adopted a resolution of appreciation for former Executive Committee Chair Sylvia Marotta-Walters, noting her “inspired leadership, integrity, collegiality, diplomacy, fairness, kindness, patience, perseverance, and grace under fire.”
- The senate adopted a resolution that calls for continuing to “reward faculty who are promoted this year with appropriate increases in salary.”
- GW Law Professor Michael Abramowicz joined the senate after being elected by law faculty to complete the term begun by Sonia Suter.