As we marked the end of an academic year unlike any in our history, I emphasized the need to do more than merely adapt to a new normal. I challenged us to build a better normal. The selflessness and resilience we in the University of Miami community have witnessed day in and day out as we cope with COVID-19 gives me every confidence that we can meet that challenge—build a better normal—and can do so together.
This pandemic has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and interrupted the livelihoods of billions of people across the globe. Its physical, emotional, social, and economic repercussions will be felt for some time. Yet, we will emerge from this period with solutions to the circumstances that gave rise to the current crisis and lessons to prevent future ones.
Teams across the University are hard at work reimagining spaces, programs, and processes to safeguard the health of our students, faculty, staff, patients, and community. Our researchers are developing tests, treatments, vaccines, and other innovations to combat the disease and its far-reaching ramifications. We must continue to engage in these essential efforts with our feet firmly planted in our financial reality in order to deliver on our mission and preserve our institution for generations to come.
To do so, we must effectively steward our University in the face of uncertainty while abiding by four guiding principles:
The imperative of preserving the continuity of the institution;
The primacy of our academic mission;
The importance of fairness and transparency; and
The commitment to treating every affected person with empathy, respecting their dignity, and providing institutional support.
Last month, we outlined several steps we are taking to mitigate the financial impacts of COVID-19, from leadership pay reductions to pauses in hiring, capital projects, merit increases, and retirement contributions. At that time, I noted that we would consider every option possible to avoid furloughs and layoffs. We have done so.
Nonetheless, as the circumstances of limited activity across the University persist, it has become clear that a reduction in workforce has regrettably become unavoidable. Our Coral Gables and Marine campus operations have been beset by refunds related to the end of last semester and unanticipated expenses as we work around the clock toward an on-time, on-site semester in the fall. UHealth has also experienced large revenue losses due to the cancelation of elective procedures, which will take time to mitigate even as we work hard to resume regular operations. In addition, we must take proactive measures in anticipation of a second wave of the pandemic. In sum, the breadth of the economic slowdown and the pace of recovery we expect in light of necessary restrictions makes our current rate of expenditure unsustainable. We must address existing shortfalls and ensure that the whole of the University will be financially sound and prepared to address short- and mid-term contingencies.
In light of these circumstances, we are taking the difficult step of implementing furloughs and layoffs. As I mentioned in my prior communication, we will avoid indiscriminate across-the-board reductions. Instead, we have asked leadership to step back and strategically look at all functions and activities. Our approach distinguishes between areas experiencing what we deem to be a temporary slowdown and areas supporting activities unlikely to resume in the foreseeable future, while identifying ways we can restructure certain functions to reduce expenditures and achieve permanent gains in efficiency. As we implement these mitigation measures across all levels of the organization, we will give priority to protecting the academic core.
Furloughs, or unpaid leaves for those we expect to return, will begin soon. Notifications to those personally affected by furloughs have already begun. Employees affected are primarily those who are unable to substantially perform their duties remotely or who support areas with significantly reduced workloads as a result of the pandemic.
Furloughs—either full or partial—are a temporary measure. They signal that if the pandemic and our financials stabilize in the near term and there is a full resumption of activities in the impacted areas, we very much hope that affected employees will return to work at the U. We will continue to offer these employees benefits and cover the cost of medical and dental premiums prorated for any periods of unpaid furlough leave.
For employees who carry out activities we do not foresee resuming fully or whose functions require restructuring to strengthen institutional efficiency, layoffs will be necessary. Official notice to employees will commence in June and will be provided in accordance with the University’s separation policy.
Support for Affected Employees
Employees affected by unpaid furloughs and layoffs may apply for state unemployment benefits, and Human Resources will provide support during this transition, including outplacement services to employees impacted by layoffs. We will continue to use every instrument at our disposal to assist everyone affected by these measures.
This is a message I had hoped I would not have to deliver. As difficult as these decisions are and as much as we value all of our employees, our commitment to protecting the institution of which we are all a part—one that has been and must continue to be a beacon of hope and creativity—is more necessary now than ever.
An end to this pandemic will come and an economic rebound will follow—and we at the U will be ready to drive the progress, promise, and prosperity so often borne of sacrifice in the course of human history. Thank you for the many ways you continue to support the U, our students, our patients, our community, and each other.
With gratitude and appreciation,