To the Editorial Staff and Readers of The Beacon,
The August 25th digital edition of The Beacon carried a detailed list of requests and demands that were submitted by 11 University of Portland employees to UP’s Budget Working Group on August 20th.
On August 24th, one day prior to the list’s appearance in The Beacon, the Budget Working Group responded directly via email to the employees who authored the list.
In my role as chief media spokesman for our University and in the spirit of transparency, I offer the Budget Working Group’s response for review by other members of the University community. This response has been edited slightly and now includes some additional information that may be useful to all University employees.
Stay Safe & Healthy,
Vice President for Marketing and Communications
To Our UP Colleagues,
Thank you for your letter. We recognize that it is written with sincere concern for our University of Portland community and with a desire for continued vigilance on matters of equity
As Eric Barger noted in his August 18 message, the University is facing significant financial challenges. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have tried our best to address these challenges in ways that minimize the impact to UP faculty and staff. Indeed, the cost-saving efforts we implemented this past spring (e.g., eliminating travel and professional development funds, imposing a pause on new hires, suspending work on capital projects, etc.) were designed with the goal of maintaining full employment and benefits for all UP employees for as long as possible.
In late July, however, when we announced that instruction would be delivered remotely during the Fall 2020 Semester, the University’s financial position changed. Due to the loss of room and board revenue (among other factors), we were forced to enact temporary salary reductions and furloughs, and also to suspend University retirement contributions. These painful courses of action are among the last options available to us in order to maintain UP’s financial viability and solid fiscal footing.
We have endeavored to implement these measures in an equitable manner. The temporary salary reductions are progressive in their nature, rather than regressive; meaning that higher earning employees are experiencing a larger percentage temporary salary reduction, and lower earning employees are experiencing a smaller percentage reduction or no reduction at all. We note, too, that the University has thus far avoided permanent layoffs. Our decision to conduct partial and full furloughs (rather than layoffs or position terminations) will allow UP employees to retain certain benefits (e.g., health insurance, tuition remission, etc.) while still participating in certain government-funded benefit programs. Finally, decisions regarding which staff members to furlough were made by the University’s Vice Presidents. These decisions were based on the University’s staffing needs and anticipated workloads for the upcoming semester.
Know that we support our QTBIPOC faculty and staff. Like all who work at UP, QTBIPOC employees are our colleagues, and they contribute extraordinary efforts to the advancement of our mission. For legal reasons, we cannot meet some of the contents of your petition, including the request to access private information regarding other individual University employees. As you are also aware, Oregon and federal anti-discrimination laws prohibit employers (including UP) from basing decisions regarding furloughs or compensation on an employee’s race, sex, gender, or sexual orientation (among other protected classes). We note, however, that Vice President for Human Resources Sandy Chung prepared guidance for all Vice Presidents on making furlough decisions in an equitable manner.
Our Human Resources Office will continue to mitigate the effects of the furloughs by providing information to employees regarding next steps to apply for unemployment benefits and offering other assistance. Specifically, the University anticipates that the State of Oregon Work Share Program may provide benefits to furloughed employees. Human Resources will work to assist furloughed employees as they apply for Work Share benefits. We encourage all UP employees, especially furloughed employees, to review HR’s FAQs and to attend the upcoming HR-led town halls. Both resources will provide employees with additional information.
Finally, we offer the following response to the other points contained within your letter:
- We acknowledge that some employees have volunteered for furlough and/or offered to take an additional temporary salary reduction. We admire these tremendous acts of generosity and sacrifice. We also mention that for various reasons these cannot be used as a mechanism for decreasing/doing away with the furlough of another individual as furlough decisions have been made in consultation with supervisors so as to meet the University’s operational needs.
- UP made significant investments in preparing campus for a return to in-person instruction (e.g., installing campus signage and purchasing personal protective equipment/cleaning supplies). The materials we have acquired will be put to good use when in-person instruction resumes, hopefully in Spring 2021 as our world continues to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Consistent with restrictions placed upon the University’s receipt of CARES Act funds, UP implemented a procedure for distributing CARES Act funds allocated to students with demonstrated financial need. Some of the funds designated for students remain unclaimed. The University will re-initiate its distribution process so that impacted students may still apply for these funds until the pool of money available to students is exhausted. Note that funds allocated for students cannot be reallocated for any other purpose.
- The living costs for members of the UP Holy Cross Community have not been funded by any pandemic-related governmental support.
Again, we thank you for your message and we deeply appreciate your efforts to ensure that UP navigates these difficult times in an equitable manner.
Budget Working Group
Eric Barger, Interim Vice President for Financial Affairs
Herbert A. Medina, Provost
Robin Michell, Associate Vice President for Budgeting
Rev. Mark L. Poorman, CSC, President
Lori Watson, Interim Controller
Michael Lewellen is the Vice President for Marketing and Communications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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