Q&A: Financial implications of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone, including the University of North Dakota. UND held a Zoom Town Hall on Tuesday, April 21, to address questions from the University community about the financial implications of the coronavirus epidemic, moderated by Provost Tom DiLorenzo. Many questions were submitted in advance through U Senate and Staff Senate, while others were submitted during the ZOOM.
Interim President Joshua Wynne, Incoming President Andy Armacost, and other administrators answered questions from the audience.
They are summarized below.
What is the total loss of revenue due to COVID-19?
We estimate losses to be around $11 million.
What is UND doing to address this?
We have paused hiring except for mission critical positions. We have also paused open RFPs, asking all units to reduce spending, and are reviewing staffing needs to determine positions which can be reduced in hours as of May 16. Those reductions will allow employees to take advantage of unemployment insurance and the CARES Act through July 31. Our hope is to conserve funds now to better prepare for fiscal year 2021.
How will this affect staff?
Because students are not on campus, there is reduced work available for some employees. We are reviewing staffing needs to determine positions which can be reduced in hours. That will allow employees to take advantage of unemployment and the CARES Act through July 31, 2020
How will service areas be impacted?
Our paramount interest is to maximize the safety of students, faculty and staff during the pandemic. Since students will not be on campus until fall at the earliest, functions which interact physically with students will be reduced. Some areas, such as public safety, may have a greater burden.
How long will we be working remotely?
Please continue working remotely until July 31, 2020.
Will there be potential cuts to existing programs?
COVID-19 and demographic changes have led to reductions across the nation. We are reviewing enrollments and considering how to best manage anticipated revenue reductions. This includes everything from increasing teaching loads to no longer accepting students into low enrollment programs.
What can we do to help enrollment?
We are all influencers with family, friends and neighbors. One of the most impactful things you can do is reassure people that UND will get through this. We are innovators and will remain strong, and hopefully emerge even stronger.
If you have contact with current students in your classes or as student workers, encourage them to register for fall classes. If they are concerned about finances or other issues, help direct them to support at One Stop Student Services. Share UND’s points of pride. We are a regional leader in online as well as on campus education.
The Marketing Team is putting together social media training with points of pride you can share. The more we focus on what we can do to move forward, the better for all.
What else can we do to help?
Though it doesn’t help the budget, one of the ways to help is that the UND Alumni Association and Student Affairs & Diversity are working together to develop an emergency fund, the UND Angel Fund. Donations can be put to work immediately to help students. We’ve had a tremendous response, and young alumni are reaching back. You can go to alumni.org to make a gift. It will be greatly appreciated by students.
How are enrollment projections calculated?
It’s a complex process. We track multiple years of history by college, degree type, and locale for a baseline. We look at trends and have a process where deans work through data ina granular fashion. The key driver is student credit hours, which in turn results in revenue.
How will the federal CARES Act funding be dispensed on campus?
The CARES Act, for which we thank our Congressional delegations, provides support in two ways. Colleges and universities receive funding based on students and their eligibility for certain financial aid programs. Of the $5.4 million projected for UND, 50 percent must be distributed to eligible students to help them attend UND, which is a terrific benefit. The other half is for institutional expenses, and we’re still learning about that. However, given that revenue losses for the last quarter of FYL20 may be $11 million, the greatly appreciated $2.7 million will not solve our problems.
The second support is the unemployment benefit, which enables us to make decisions about work that can be postponed and ensuring unemployment benefits to staff. We are trying to do as little harm to employees as possible, but cannot guarantee zero harm.
Why is NDSU receiving $1.1 million more from the CARES Act than UND when we are the larger institution and have Aerospace, Medicine and Law?
As noted above, the CARES Act is a formula, based on currently enrolled students, including the number of on-campus students and those who are Pell-eligible. It primarily allocates funds based on undergraduate enrollment.
Reductions in hours
When will employees be notified about reductions in hours, and when will they take effect?
The reduction in hours takes effect May 16 for most. Supervisors will notify employees on or before May 1. We are required to give two weeks’ notice.
How many employees will be impacted by the reductions in hours?
Around 400 staff members will be impacted.
If hours are reduced, are employees at higher risk of having hours reduced after July 31?
Not necessarily. If further decisions need to be made beyond July 31, it will be a new process.
What happens to a staff member’s salary if their hours are reduced?
The reduction in hours would happen on the UND side, and the staff member would be eligible to apply for unemployment. Once they’re eligible for unemployment benefits, they’re also eligible for the $600 per week from the CARES Act.
What is the definition of “mission critical?”
Management will examine at least three scenarios. Does the work continue to exist? In the case of areas that have physical interaction with students, the answer may be no. Can the work be postponed between May 15 and July 31? Is the work critical for the safe operation of the University or the ability to serve our students as effectively as possible?
If a person is part of a temporary reduction, would that be seen as a strike against them if permanent reductions are made?
Decisions about reductions look at the work that has gone away because few students are on campus, and what can be postponed. This reduction is temporary, and not necessarily related to what might be necessary after July 31, 2020. The key issue is whether there is sufficient work to justify ongoing employment.
What happens to a staff member’s salary if they go to half or less of their hours as of May 16?
The unemployment process looks at the last 12 months of salary, and the employee is eligible for 60 percent of that. In addition, they are eligible for the financial support from the CARES Act. Staff members will also retain their UND benefits.
Will only non-exempt employees have reduced hours?
No. Some exempt staff will also have their hours reduced.
Why are staff the only ones facing hour reductions?
Faculty are responsible for continuing the educational and research expectations of the University. Coursework and research have continued, and they will likely see an increase in workload.
If we have been told by our supervisor that we will be reduced to part-time, when is the soonest we can submit unemployment paperwork? Do we need to do it weekly?
You can apply on May 16. The employee does need to certify unemployment each week, usually on Sunday or Monday.
The unemployment benefit for anyone, including a temporary staff member, is based on the last four quarters of all wages reported. Staff members should apply for unemployment in the state in which they work. If they are eligible for even a small amount, they are eligible for the full $600 dollars on top of that benefit each week. A person who is eligible for only $1 in a week would still receive the $600. It is not prorated. The only impact would be if they are not eligible in a given week. If you have questions, feel free to email email@example.com.
What happens to benefits of staff with reduced hours?
Staff members will continue to accrue leave on a prorated basis and will only be able to carry forward 240 hours of leave after Dec. 31. Retirement will pause for those reduced to zero. Otherwise, it will be prorated according to hours worked.
Are staff members whose hours will be reduced required to deplete their vacation time prior to their reductions in hours?
Does the reduction in hours affect the retirement benefits of those who have met the Rule of 85?
It should not. They are still employed, and years of service are not impacted.
What if a staff member chooses not to return when called back to work?
It would be interpreted as a resignation.
Can staff take a reduction in hours earlier than May 15?
No. the policy requires a two week notice, and we expect them to work until May 15 on their normal schedule or per the agreement.
Can staff still use tuition waivers over the summer if their hours are reduced?
Can staff members reduced to 0 percent still be involved with professional associations and represent UND?
No, they cannot. If people have made commitments to professional associations and it would harm UND’s reputation to not fulfill those commitments, we might consider keeping them at 20 or 25 percent so they can meet those commitments.
For some families trying to juggle kids at home, the idea of working fewer hours per week during the summer may be appealing. Can employees volunteer to cut hours and have their salary pro-rated?
We believe that if someone volunteers for this program, they become ineligible for the unemployment benefits.
Is the stimulus portion of the unemployment package taxed?
You will get $600, and it will not be taxed when you receive it. It is taxable income, and taxes will be collected when you pay taxes.
Can you explain the percentage of salary a RIF employee may receive through state unemployment?
Only the state can do this. There is a benefits estimator at https://www.jobsnd.com/unemployment-individuals.
How is the unemployment application process going in Grand Forks?
We believe it’s going fairly well, and are hopeful that will continue.
The online calculators say you “may” get the $600. Does that mean you won’t get that amount?
We don’t think so, but eligibility is determined through the unemployment process.
The insurance claim site on JobsND talks about a wait week. When would that start?
They have waived the week-long waiting period. If a staff member is impacted as of May 16, they can apply on that date. And they will receive one more paycheck from UND on May 31.
If we are Minnesota residents, where do we apply for unemployment?
Apply for unemployment in the state where you worked in 2019, so UND employees should file in North Dakota.
If employees are reduced on May 16, could they be at risk of going without an income for a period of time?
ND Unemployment has waived the one week waiting period, and affected employees may apply for unemployment on May 16. Since UND pays one week behind, there will be one more paycheck for the May 1-15 pay period. Employees who are reduced to zero who slect to not keep up with their voluntary benefits payments may have a large deduction on their first paycheck back, on Aug. 31.
How do you receive unemployment benefits?
You must apply for benefits. The University cannot do this for you. We will help people who may have trouble with technology. When you apply, be sure to read through the directions and have all the documents you need. One of them will be a letter from UND, which we will provide so they know you are still employed but impacted by COVID-19. We expect to bring you back, so you won’t have to look for a job during this time.
The Grand Forks Herald had a story about the potential insolvency of North Dakota’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Will this affect the ability of UND employees to collect unemployment benefits?
We will hear more from the Office of Management & Budget in May, and the State’s unemployment fund may be exhausted. However, at this time we have received no indication that unemployment claims will not be honored.
What if the unemployment benefits from the CARES Act run out?
At this point we are not aware of the federal portion running out of funds.
Questions on benefits
Can you opt out of vision and/or dental insurance if you are furloughed?
How will moving to part-time affect retirement benefits?
Retirement is based on a percentage of wages earned. If you are working on a reduced schedule, the contribution and match would be reduced based on that salary. You would still receive contributions unless you are reduced to zero. Then you would not receive a contribution.
How will a reduction in hours affect health insurance coverage?
Whether they have a partial work week or zero hours, the life and health insurance that UND offers will still continue. If they’re reduced to zero, UND will cover the cost of their voluntary benefits, such as dental and vision. When the employee returns to work, they will be required to pay back their share of the voluntary premiums. The seniority of a person and leave accruals will not change. Those working a partial schedule will have pro-rated leave and holiday benefits.
Will merit pay be affected by these decisions?
The 2.5 percent merit pay increase was determined by the Legislature and is state law. We are required to award an average of 2.5 percent to faculty and staff as stipulated, unless the law is changed.
Are there options for voluntary pay cuts or to opt out of merit raises to help UND’s bottom line?
The merit raises will go forward because they are part of state law.
Are we still able to take classes over the summer as staff?
Yes. You are still a UND employee.
What is the impact on flex benefits, including daycare contributions, if your hours are reduced?
We’re looking into that now. We may be able to spread them over time to be paid out.
Will the balance on the benefits that UND is paying for furloughed employees be due all at once when they resume employment?
Probably not with flex, but probably so with vision and dental insurance. Employees will have the option to pay as they go throughout the time they are reduced.
How much notice will you give people about the status of their hours when July comes?
The employee may be recalled to work during any of this time. The department may ask the employee to come work as needed.
Will there be a new round of voluntary separation agreements?
We do not know at this time.
The last round of budget cuts affected employee morale across campus. Will the process be changed so employees feel heard?
This is extremely difficult for our entire nation, and state-supported institutions of higher education and their employees have tended to do well during major downturns. Our RIFs occurred years after the downturn. In this case, virtually everyone is hurting. We are trying to be as up-front as possible and to help people plan.
Other institutions, and organizations outside higher education, are cutting pay for administration. Will that be a strategy for UND?
This is an option that the Executive Council and Presidents Wynne and Armacost are discussing.
Will we be required to be vaccinated in order to return to campus?
No. Vaccines and other therapeutics are still in testing and trial phases. Physical distancing and other requirements from the CDC and N.D. Department of Health will be put in place.
Will summer events and camps be allowed on campus?
Not as of now. Everything on campus is canceled through Aug. 7.
When will students have to move out of residence halls?
We still have students living on campus, and they will continue to stay until around Commencement. We will work with students who need to pick up their belongings; please coordinate with the UND Housing Office.
Why are we still paying for parking?
With the campus still open for business, Parking Services as of now through May 31 is open on a limited basis. We are concentrating on ADA spaces, reserved parking like service, maintenance spaces, apartment reserved spaces, patient, loading zones, and safety hazards like no parking zones, blocking sidewalks, driveways, fire lanes. If anyone would like to contact parking to see what options are available please don’t hesitate. Our number is 777-3551 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Questions regarding academics, faculty and research
Previous communications have made it clear that the administration does believe that across-the-board cuts are the responsible approach, and some areas may receive full support while others may need to be cut significantly given predicted enrollment trends. What criteria have been established for eliminating academic programs?
Deans have been asked to work with chairs and faculty to consider criteria. While enrollment data is obviously important, we will also consider centrality, employment opportunities, and the impact of recruiting and retaining faculty to support programs. There are no easy answers, and we are wrestling with all these questions.
Will faculty not be renewed for summer as part of the cuts?
Deans have been asked to look at summer offerings and make sure they are fully enrolled and to identify courses that they don’t have to offer. Faculty in general are on nine-month contracts.
Is UND considering going online through the fall semester?
We plan to be on campus this fall.
Are you considering offering more online degrees?
Absolutely. We are working to identify demand and capacity. We’d love to hear your ideas. We already have a solid online base of courses and programs that are known to be of high quality.
If a faculty member’s hours are reduced, how is that determined?
Most faculty are on nine-month contracts, and thus the consideration of a reduction in hours is not applicable. Faculty will be impacted by the enrollment decline and associated revenue decline through different teaching loads and larger classes.
Will tenure and promotion guidelines be reviewed in light of increased advising and teaching loads and reduced time for research and creative activity?
We have had discussions on how to acknowledge this during annual evaluations and for tenure and promotion. Tenure track faculty can request an extension due to COVID-19, and this is outlined on the Academic Affairs website. Faculty should discuss tenure and promotion guidelines with their chairs.
Are further reductions in graduate offerings anticipated?
Graduate admissions are still very strong, and we hope this can help offset some of the lower undergraduate admissions trends. It will be up to the deans to consider if they want to and can continue to support all graduate offerings.
Admitting international graduate students in the fall is unlikely. Are there plans to admit them online?
We have had a lot of conversations about the challenges our international students might face in terms of getting visas. Online is where the opportunities are, and we absolutely want to accept students when possible.
How will this affect grant-funded programs?
We hope it won’t. We are not aware of decreases in funding from the NIH, DO”D, DOE, or other significant funders. In fact, the EERC has done well in generating new awards. We hope that people understand the real value of research.
How will this affect research?
UND is moving forward. Our researchers are working as hard as ever. We’ve adjusted lab work, and this is a time of great opportunity.
It looks like the School of Medicine & Health Sciences may have its second highest amount of research funding in the history of the school this year. One of our group is looking at host pathogen interactions, or attacks by a virus. That would be an area to expand. There will almost certainly be additional federal resources available to help deal with the pandemic. There are real opportunities, and UND, as usual, can be a leader.
Will Athletics be affected?
Yes. We are monitoring the NCAA landscape and rule changes, and are meeting with our conferences.
Do you plan to play in the fall?
Yes, as of now.
With Athletics on hold, will funding be diverted from athletics to support academic activities?
We still plan to play in the fall, and are modeling several different budgets.
Will teaching evaluations be collected this spring? How will they take into account these disruptions?
Yes, UND plans to continue to seek feedback, especially because it will provide information about students’ perspective. We want to be thoughtful and realize faculty have had to make quick adjustments in terms of teaching remotely. We want to be thoughtful about this and protect faculty from some of the negative evaluations that may occur as a result of the transition to teaching remotely. It’s an important learning opportunity for the University.
The procedures for working remotely seem very strict. Can they be relaxed?
We recognize that it’s burdensome, and that people have childcare and other issues. Flexibility is key, and you may have to spread your day around. Work with your supervisor.
We must assure accountability. As state employees, we owe the taxpayers of the State of North Dakota, and the parents and student who pay tuition, accountability.
Forms and more information are available from Human Resources.
Do we need to take sick or vacation leave in order to teach our children at home?
We understand that you may need to care for children, do home schooling, etc. We are asking employees and supervisors to be flexible while continuing to work and have work-life balance. We assume you will work for 40 hours a week and do your best. More information is available from Human Resources.
If I become ill and unable to work, do I need to use sick leave?
If I become ill and am unable to work, do I need a long-term medical leave (FMLA)?
Possibly. If you are medically unable to work for more than three consecutive days and are receiving treatment by a health care provider, you must submit a leave request form. See Long-Term Medical and Family Leave Policy.
Who do I talk to in HR?
Each individual’s situation is different and questions should be directed to their supervisor and/or HR. UND Human Resource contacts are below.
- Becca Jacobson-Provost and VP of Academic Affairs-All areas except the below:
- Kelsie Carrier-VP Finance and Operations, VP Marketing and Communication, VP Student Affairs & Diversity
- Misty Brustad-Facilities Management
- Mel Arnold-School of Medicine and Health Sciences
- Aerospace Coronavirus Updates
- Campus Emergency Management
- School of Medicine & Health Sciences COVID-19 Response
- University Information Technology
- CBR Rediness Preparation
- University Counseling Center
How will this impact my research?
It depends on the research, but our goal is to maintain the continuity of research as best as possible. Follow travel restrictions. Feel free to contact the Division of Research and Economic Development with questions.
What are the guidelines for postdocs and experiments in the lab?
The goal is continuity of research, though there will be some disruptions. We are suspending in-person contact and data collection with human subjects. We encourage continuing as much research as possible remotely, but understand that can’t happen in all cases. Be flexible and adhere to best practices.
How will the current situation change our messaging to incoming students and recruiting?
The UND Marketing team is working extremely closely with Admissions staff to reach out to our incoming class and their parents to reassure them about the resources that UND has to support them. We understand that some of them may be having financial hardship and want to make them aware of scholarship opportunities and our strengths in online learning. We are communicating with them regularly, and will continue to do so.
How are we planning future campus visits and similar events for prospective students?
We’re disappointed that we can’t bring prospective students to campus, because that really impacts their decision. But the health and safety of our prospective students, as well as faculty and staff, are paramount. We have canceled our open houses for now, and our Admissions team offers virtual visits. Those visits will happen – virtually.
Is the University considering how summer and fall semesters will be impacted if physical distancing continues?
Absolutely. Summer classes will be held online only. We plan to offer classes on campus this fall.
When will the University Children’s Learning Center reopen?
Our concern is to keep our youngest learners and the faculty and staff who use the center safe, and the Center will be closed as long as Grand Forks Public Schools are closed.
Can we schedule summer and fall events?
Summer Session will be online only. Given the changing nature of COVID-19, it’s too early to make decisions for fall. We do not anticipate big conventions or meetings over the summer.
Can faculty request to delay their sabbatical or other faculty development opportunities?
Absolutely. Please work with your chair and dean.
If individuals would like to support our community through donations, how do we do that?
The UND Alumni Association & Foundation has a Priority Needs Fund for departments and an Angel Fund for students, faculty and staff in need.
Is there a procedure in place if a student in the residence halls or UND apartments has been exposed to or is diagnosed with COVID-19?
Yes. UND has established procedures for both quarantine and isolation that will focus on the health of the University community as well as the Greater Grand Forks community.
If a student in the residence halls or apartments has been exposed to the coronavirus or tests positive, UND Housing will work with campus and public health officials to determine whether a person should be placed in quarantine or isolation. Areas have been established for both situations.
Quarantine separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed, or may have been exposed, to the coronavirus, for 14 days. Those individuals will be asked to monitor their health and take their temperature at least twice a day. If the person experiences a fever, cough, or shortness of breath, they will be isolated from others. Isolation separates ill individuals from all others. If test results indicate that a person has COVID-19, he or she must remain in isolation until the risk of transmission to others is low – until seven days have passed since onset of symptoms and free of fever. If the person does not have COVID-19, they should still be isolated until symptoms have improved and they are fever-free for 24 hours.
How will that person receive basic needs, such as food?
A person will be trained and assigned to deliver meals and personal items to the person in quarantine or isolation. Gloves, face masks, and hand sanitizer will be provided. Grand Forks Public Health will conduct daily check-ins and will determine when the person may leave quarantine or isolation.
How will areas be sanitized after a person leaves isolation or quarantine?
UND’s goal is to ensure the safety of the entire community. Workers will wait at least 24 hours to clean, will open windows to increase circulation, and will follow guidelines for safety and sanitation. They will wear disposable gloves, masks and gowns.