Cornell orders halt to hiring, freezes salaries

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In a letter on March 30, Cornell University Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano announced the university's plan to halt hiring and freeze salaries in light of recent COVID-19 financial concerns. 

"As we all continue to adjust to the extraordinary circumstances of these past weeks, we have been working with our senior leadership colleagues to address the many implications of this global pandemic," they said. "We echo President Pollack’s comments on how heartening it has been to witness the community-focused support and concern exhibited by so many on our campus."

The letter addressed the financial impacts of the coronavirus and de-desnifying and switching to online learning for campuse.  

"The most frequent concerns that we have heard regard pay continuation for staff and whether we will be able to support students whose financial circumstances may have changed as a result of COVID-19," according to the letter. "Our goal is to preserve the vast majority of staff positions within our Cornell community until we can return to full campus operations, recognizing that no institution, including Cornell, can predict today the impact of this crisis on its future budget."

According to the letter, Cornell has provided staff an additional 10 health and personal days to support them during this time. Also, the university is committed to ensuring that every student currently enrolled or newly admitted can complete their education at Cornell.

"In service of this goal, members of the leadership team – including the president, the provost, vice presidents, deans and vice provosts – have voluntarily assumed salary reductions for a duration of six months," the letter said. "Every dollar of these recaptured funds will be used to help meet the financial aid needs of our undergraduate, graduate or professional students."

These are the steps that the university is taking to preemptively manage potential risks created by economic uncertainty in both the county and the country, according to the letter:

Hiring Freeze – Cornell is implementing a university-wide hiring freeze on staff and temporary workers. Any exceptions must be approved via a process that is being established. All academic hires will be carefully reviewed by deans.

Salary Freeze – Cornell will be unable to offer salary increases for the fiscal year 2021 that begins on July 1, other than those required by collective bargaining agreements. There will be no increases to existing salaries through bonuses, promotions, acting rates, changes to time status or additional pays without the approval of the respective dean or vice president and the vice president and chief human resources officer (for staff) or the provost (for faculty). Any salary change requests already in process will be reevaluated. Salary increases related to faculty promotions are excluded from this freeze.

Travel Ban – All Cornell-related travel is currently restricted to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When safe travel can resume, only essential travel will be permitted, including essential academic travel, travel on sponsored research funds, travel funded entirely by outside entities and travel necessary to deliver instruction or outreach programs or to conduct essential university business. Such travel must be approved by the appropriate dean, vice president or vice provost.

Summer Programs – Given the uncertainty of when normal campus operations will resume, all in-person summer programs or activities, such as summer classes, conferences, etc., that were slated to begin prior to July 12 are canceled or will be converted to online offerings. During this time, the university will continue Cornell summer classes taught remotely. Details about the Online Summer Session will soon be available via this link. Cornell hopes to make a decision about programs for the second half of the summer once the situation becomes clearer.

Discretionary Spending – All discretionary spending, including the hiring of outside consultants, is suspended immediately. This includes food/meals, events, recognition banquets and other expenditures that are not critical to the operation of the university. Essential expenditures that directly support the mission of the university must be approved by the provost or the executive vice president.

Capital Projects – All existing capital projects will be reevaluated to determine whether they should proceed, and no new capital projects will be approved.

"We understand the stress that the current health crisis is creating for all of you, and we so appreciate how everyone is working together to live our values by supporting our entire community to the best of our abilities," the letter said. "Given the dynamic and unpredictable nature of this crisis, please know that we will continue to monitor its impact and communicate regularly with you over the days and weeks ahead."

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