Recent Layoffs and Restructuring UMSL’s Budget
by Stephanie Kim
COVID-19 has seemingly touched every aspect of our lives. It has forced us to adapt in ways that no one could have predicted and it seems to have touched the education system the most. From the students and staff directly, to the schools’ ability to provide for them, COVID-19 has changed every facet of it in some way. It is because of this forced change that we have had to adapt the way we do things in order to get through this time more smoothly. UMSL, like all colleges currently, has had to go through changes and modifications due to the virus and pandemic. The university has had to make tough decisions in order to combat what the virus has done, and choices that seem sudden have been thought over for months.
One major change due to the impact of the pandemic is the recent staff layoffs and pay cuts UMSL has had to make. Though what started small did seem to escalate quickly as the state took a heavy hit from the pandemic. Budget withholdings were announced in early April and, at first, cuts in pay weren’t mentioned. However, pay cuts of 10% were quickly made to many of UMSL’s leaders and administrators. This was followed by contingency plans of layoffs, unpaid leaves, and restructuring to be needed in order to counter the lower budget. In late April, UMSL staff members were asked if any were willing to volunteer for pay cuts, followed by the announcement of temporary pay reductions for those making over $50,000 in mid-May.
On May 29th, 2020, after it was sent out through the UM system of the budget withholdings and pay cuts, UMSL’s chancellor Kristin Sobolik held a live stream discussing the various changes being made due to COVID. The live stream lasted about an hour and featured PowerPoint slides that talked about future administrative reorganization, the fiscal year 2020 and 2021 budgets, and the next steps in UMSL’s plan. It was shown how much could potentially be withheld in the 2020 and 2021 school years, as well as where UMSL’s budget comes from. Within the slides discussing the 2020 year’s budget, interim CFO Tanika Busch talked about UMSL’s specific expenses. The greatest expense that UMSL has is compensation, which includes staff salary and benefits. According to Tanika Busch, this portion makes up 67% of the expense budget overall. During the live stream, Busch says, “that this is a significant portion of the expense budget and to think that we can realize the significant reductions that are being accessed without impacting our workforce--there’s no possibility of that.”
Though the pay cuts and layoffs caused some disturbance and upset in the community, it looks like UMSL’s leaders have had to thoroughly consider these actions beforehand. After the live stream and UM system news of budget withholdings, updates were continually given out when new decisions were made. The last one posted is from September and mentions the affected 52% of UMSL’s workforce, promising to revisit the salary reduction quarterly in the fiscal year 2021. These updates can still be found on UMSL’s website under budget planning.
The pandemic has touched almost every aspect of our lives, and that does not stop with our schooling. UMSL’s recent layoffs and pay cuts have come from the drastic impact COVID has had on the education system. There have been many decisions made in order to keep the school’s budget to plan, while also trying to accommodate and aid staff members during this confusing time. Chancellor Kristin Sobolik said it best during the live stream, “UMSL will adapt and meet the challenge, the stakes are too high. UMSL must survive and thrive to continue to provide access to a high-quality education for our students, transforming their lives and the lives of their families in the region.”