Eastern Washington University’s board of trustees may declare a “severe financial crisis” this month as the university faces unprecedented drops in state funding and other revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Some figures are subject to change, but in a presentation to the trustees Friday, Mary Voves, EWU’s vice president for business and finance, said the university could lose more than $12 million in state funding and more than $24 million from tuition and other sources.
That would result in a roughly 12.4% budget cut in the 2021 fiscal year, following two years of much smaller reductions that have involved layoffs and frustrated many faculty members.
The trustees are expected to vote on the crisis declaration at their June 25 meeting. Doing so would invoke a clause in the university’s collective bargaining agreement with the United Faculty of Eastern, giving President Mary Cullinan broad latitude to reduce spending in all departments.
“A financial crisis declaration will start a proactive process to help the university address the impacts of COVID-19 as well as an immediate state funding reduction of at least $10 million,” Cullinan said in a statement Monday.
“The events of the last few months have resulted in dramatic unforeseen impacts on EWU, its students and its employees,” she said. “We need to ensure the university can fulfill all of its financial obligations.”
With Cullinan’s notice, the faculty union has 15 working days to draft a report with recommendations for managing the crisis.
The union’s contract states that, in the event of a severe financial crisis, “the final responsibility for institutional action shall rest with the president.”
The contract also prioritizes EWU’s educational mission.
“Support of instructional efforts will receive highest priority,” the contract states, “when a severe financial crisis requires reduction of the funding of university programs.”
The likely budget cuts of $36 million would be vastly greater than the reductions currently taking place at EWU, which have involved layoffs and a major restructuring, with the university’s seven colleges being merged into four. Before the pandemic, EWU had aimed to reduce spending by about $3.5 million.
The trustees will approve a budget for fiscal 2021 this month, said Dave Meany, an EWU spokesman.
“Normally, this would be a quiet supplementary budget year where they just make some adjustments,” Meany said.
The president of the faculty union, history professor Michael Conlin, said EWU’s administration has not taken this kind of action during his 20 years at the university. The union, he said, will aim to keep as many faculty and staff members employed as possible.
“We believe that you need to have high-quality faculty to maintain a rigorous, effective university,” Conlin said.
Many faculty members have voiced concern about spending by EWU’s athletics department, but Cullinan and the trustees recently declined their request for an independent financial analysis.
Conlin said he believes the budget cuts will force administrators to reconsider faculty suggestions for the athletics department, such as moving the football team into a lower NCAA division or into an entirely different league.
“I think it’s likely, myself, that they’re going to pare it down in some way,” Conlin said. “I do have faith that the administration will take a good, hard look at athletics.”
All state agencies, including public colleges and universities, have been asked to prepare for cuts of up to 15% as the state faces a projected $7 billion hole in revenue through fiscal 2023.
In her presentation to the trustees Friday, Voves, the vice president for business and finance, said the university also faces declining enrollment and losses in revenue from housing, dining and other campus services.
“These factors, when combined, will result in a severe financial crisis for our university in the coming months,” Cullinan said in her statement, adding she looks forward to receiving recommendations from the faculty union. “I am confident that, working together, we will manage and overcome this crisis.”
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