EWU leadership presents the financial impacts of COVID-19 to Board of Trustees

EWU logo

EWU logo

By Aaron Hutchinson, Reporter

EWU leadership is proposing sweeping changes to university finances and structure in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to presentations given to the Board of Trustees on May 29.

Vice president for business and finance Mary Voves presented a revamped budget that included cuts or freezes to almost every aspect of university finances. The cuts are in response to steep reductions in state funding and tuition revenue, which are projected to drop by almost $10 million and $12 million respectively. 

“Initial state reduction is at the 15% level but the Office of Financial Management (OFM) has advised us that they could be considerably deeper moving forward into next year,” said Voves.

Experts expect a revenue loss of nearly $7 billion in Washington over the next three years.

“The June revenue forecast will give us a much clearer sense of where the state stands,” said Sam Ligon, the faculty representative to the state legislature. “The revenue loss will be huge.”

The proposed budget also included a $2.1 million reduction in institutional and student fee support for athletics, with Voves noting that the subsidy is infeasible during the current climate.

EWU is also in the process of bringing in a consultant to further assess the athletics. The consultant will review everything from current revenue models to conference affiliations and NCAA division levels. EWU rejected similar calls for an outside review by a faculty committee in February.

Also presenting was provost David May, who discussed the potential for program reduction. While May stressed that there was no current plan for program reduction, he said that the United Faculty of Eastern had been notified that the possibility existed, paving the way for potential program closure in the future.

May’s department presented data showing that 88% of EWU students are declared in 43% of offered majors, pointing out the potential for savings in under-populated programs, though he again stated that no plan had been made and no programs had been identified for reduction. The BOT had previously endorsed a plan to reduce majors and programs during The Great Recession, but that plan was never implemented.

EWU president Mary Cullinan stressed the need for flexibility and courage from the EWU community when noting that hard choices were going to have to be made during her presentation on the way forward.

“We need to place university priorities over unit priorities and realize that we cannot be all things to all people,” said Cullinan.

Cullinan formally notified the UFE on June 1 that her office is asking the BOT to declare a severe financial crisis. By declaring a severe financial crisis, EWU gains the flexibility to undertake large-scale cost-cutting measures, including laying-off tenured professors and shuttering 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,” said Cullinan in a statement released Monday. “The events of the last few months have resulted in dramatic unforeseen impacts on EWU, its students, and its employees. We need to ensure the university can fulfill all of its financial obligations.”

Many in the administration noted that their projections and initial plans are based on the data available right now and that that information could change at any time.

“I’m presenting the worst-case numbers,” said Voves. “I hope that it won’t be this bad but hope isn’t a strategy.”

The board will vote on whether or not to have EWU declare a state of “severe financial crisis” on June 25.

Doing so would give Cullinan the ability to reduce or cut funding of any department.

“The events of the last few months have resulted in dramatic unforeseen impacts on EWU, its students and its employees,” Cullinan said. “We need to ensure the university can fulfill all of its financial obligations.”

The faculty union has 15 business days to submit a report for recommendations on how to manage the crisis. 

The Easterner’s Randle Kinswa contributed to this report.