University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank announced last Monday UW will launch an additional set of furloughs and expense reductions in an effort to mitigate financial damage induced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a press release, Blank said employees will be asked to take a number of unpaid days off from the beginning of January until the end of June. Blank and UW’s vice chancellors will take a 15% salary cut and deans at the university will take voluntary 10% salary cuts.
Professor of English and English Department Chair Anja Wanner said the furloughs did not have a big impact on her personally, as long as she makes an effort to plan out her unpaid days in advance.
“For me, the furlough is pretty much a fantasy. When I take a furlough day, I look for days that are not busy,” Wanner said. “Those are days where no teaching activities are scheduled, so I block that day off and stay away from my email during that period. Everybody was directed to use their furlough days in such a way that situated teaching to be effective.”
Though university employees were instructed to stay away from their emails during that period of time, Wanner said it can be hard to avoid considering the unusual nature of this semester.
Wanner also said most employees try to follow the guidelines administration gave to them as best as they can.
“For most people, it’s really not a time where you don’t pay attention to the news or what’s going on for 24 hours,” Wanner said. “So, I doubt that people actually follow the full day off policy, but we try to follow those rules.”
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Associated Students of Madison Chair Matthew Mitnick said he had concerns about the university’s decision to implement furloughs as a way to combat the campus budget deficit.
Mitnick said while ASM was not financially impacted in a negative way, the deficit still provided a number of challenges for employees associated with ASM and posed issues for students in general.
“There’s a number of staff who we work with who have had to take furlough days who we may not know personally, but their services impact the student experience,” Mitnick said. “ASM is functioning off of the same budget, but there are other organizations facing a lack of revenue. Speaking as a student, the burden being placed on students to handle financial mismanagement is a huge problem.”
Wanner and Mitnick had different opinions on how the university should handle the financial issues UW is facing going forward.
Wanner said she sees the unpaid days she was instructed to take as an opportunity to help the university in a time of crisis, though not ideal. Wanner also said writing-intensive classes the university offers may make learning online easier for students, even if they cannot get in contact with their professors.
“As a faculty member, you want to do your part and the furlough is our way of doing our part. Furloughs are the way to help,” Wanner said. “I will say that the English department made the decision to offer that many in-person classes. It has to do with a lot of the classes we teach focus on writing, so students can learn online easier.”
Mitnick said he believes the university should be thinking about more creative ways to solve this financial issue and be mindful of how the semester is affecting staff and students.
In order to do this, Mitnick said, UW needs to keep the students, professors and other faculty members in mind when making important decisions.
“When looking at the furloughs, the administration should be considering what other areas of the budget could be reduced so the furloughs do not have to happen,” Mitnick said. “I think the priority should be retaining faculty, staff, other employees and student workers because they allow for this institution to run.”
Mitnick said in order for this plan to work, it is crucial administrators put students, professors and other faculty members first, which Mitnick said he thinks they are not doing so far.
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According to Mitnick, allocating funds to help certain academic programs, such as the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, could provide a solution to this issue.
“I think there are other areas that we could still cut,” Mitnick said. “I think they need to be creative and put students and employees first as the top priority, implement those measures and be transparent. Those efforts are crucial.”
Regardless of the efforts made to combat this year’s budget deficit, Blank said she believes COVID-19 related issues will continue for the foreseeable future.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Blank said. “The pandemic will affect UW into 2021 and beyond.”