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EWU notifying 400 employees of potential layoffs, furloughs

Eastern Washington University students are reflected in a window on the Cheney campus on Friday, April 12, 2019. EWU’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. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Some 400 faculty and staff members at Eastern Washington University are facing the prospect of layoffs and furloughs as the school grapples with a huge budget shortfall due to the coronavirus pandemic.

EWU President Mary Cullinan said Monday she has asked the board of trustees to declare a “severe financial crisis” as the school faces 15% cuts in state funding, declining enrollment and losses in revenue from housing, dining and other campus services.

Such a declaration would invoke a clause in the university’s collective bargaining agreement with the United Faculty of Eastern, giving Cullinan broad latitude to reduce spending in all departments.

EWU spokesman Dave Meany said the school this week is giving “informal notification” to employees who might be laid off or furloughed when budget cuts are implemented.

“It’s a very unfortunate, difficult situation for everyone here on campus,” Meany said. “We’re trying to work through it and come out stronger.”

Professor Jim Headley, who chairs EWU’s political science department, said he expects the department to lose the only two members of its support staff.

“We will have zero support staff,” Headley said in an email. “I suspect many departments will be in the same position.”

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.

Those cuts 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 are expected to vote on the crisis declaration at their June 25 meeting. The faculty union’s contract states that “support of instructional efforts will receive highest priority when a severe financial crisis requires reduction of the funding of university programs.”