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UMass plans for uncertain fall 

  • UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/1/2020 5:25:55 PM

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst is preparing for the fall semester with contingency plans for bringing students back to campus, a hiring freeze, and voluntary pay cuts for executive leadership.

The university is committed to resuming classes in the fall, UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy wrote in a letter sent to accepted students on Tuesday, though university officials have yet to determine whether these classes will be held on campus, remotely or somewhere in between.

The university is working with state and local health officials to “determine when we can resume in-person instruction either at full strength or under lower population density conditions,” Subbaswamy wrote. “At this time we don’t have an estimated date on when we will make this announcement, but we are preparing for all contingencies.”

He added, “when we do resume in-person instruction, it will likely be a gradual approach with certain types of classes considered more appropriate for in-person than others.”

The university will continue to offer remote class options for fall 2020 in the event that on-campus teaching resumes to accommodate students who “may not be able to safely travel to campus at that time,” Subbaswamy wrote.

Welcoming students back to campus may also involve different classroom set-ups and other precautions to allow students, faculty and staff to better follow public health measures. Examples of these measures may include changes to the number of students allowed in a lecture, classroom arrangements that allow more space between students, and modifications to lab and equipment management said campus spokesman Ed Blaguszewski.

“We are hopeful that we will be welcoming students back to campus, but we are going to plan for a variety of circumstances because the health and safety of our students and our community are paramount,” Blaguszewski said.

In an email obtained by the Gazette, Bill Brady, vice chancellor and chief human resources officer at UMass, told university officials that Subbaswamy is asking “executive leaders, including vice chancellors, deans, the deputy chancellor, and the associate chancellor,” to take a 10% pay cut from April 26, 2020 through June 30, 2021, or through the end of their appointments — “whichever is sooner.” Subbaswamy will take a 12% pay cut during this time, Brady wrote in the email.

“With all of the uncertainty related to our operating status, enrollment, and state budget support, the challenges we face in FY21 will be even more serious,” Brady said, adding that senior leadership must “lead by example” amid these uncertainties.

“Very difficult decisions will need to be made in the weeks and months ahead to address our finances and the impacts of our decisions will be felt across the organization,” Brady added, calling the pay cuts among campus leadership a “preliminary measure.”

The university also is implementing a hiring freeze for non-academic staff, Subbaswamy wrote in a message to campus posted on the university’s website, in addition to “scaling back on faculty searches, curtailment of travel and purchasing, and other budget measures are being considered as we prepare for the coming academic year.”

The “operational ramp-down” and student reimbursements related to the COVID-19 pandemic led to a $40 million budget deficit for the current fiscal year, according to Subbaswamy.

“This estimate would be higher but for a reduction of approximately $10 million in campus spending on personnel and non-personnel expenditures for the balance of FY20,” he added.

The status of the budget for fiscal 2021, which begins July 1, “remains very unclear” for reasons including uncertainty over when normal campus operations will be able to resume, short and long-term effects on enrollment patterns, financial needs of students and their families and the overall stock market, Subbaswamy said.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.

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