Dear WWU Faculty and Staff,
As Governor Inslee and state health experts continue to evaluate a phased lifting of certain restrictions of the Stay Home-Stay Healthy proclamation, we have started to examine possible future scenarios for university operations.
As I said earlier this month, protecting the well-being and employment security of Western’s faculty and staff in this ongoing situation is a top priority. There is no doubt that the impacts of the coronavirus and our response to it will have significant financial implications. Our preliminary assessment indicates that we can handle limited, short-term budget reductions without significant impact to core operations. In the longer term, however, much depends on the level of state revenue losses and how much fall enrollment and tuition revenues are impacted. We are expecting a formal revenue update from the state in mid-June.
Looking to the new academic year, Provost Brent Carbajal has convened a planning group to explore and examine possible scenarios for operations in the fall. Foremost among the priorities considered in these scenarios is the health and well-being of students, staff and faculty, and restoring teaching and research activities to as close to normal operations as possible, while maintaining our financial health.
At the same time, the Council of Presidents (representing the six public four-year universities in Washington) is working with leadership of the Community and Technical Colleges and Independent Colleges of Washington to see if there is a broad approach, or a set of guidelines, that can be adopted by the post-secondary education sector for Fall 2020, recognizing that there will be variations depending on the unique set of local circumstances.
We will continue to keep you updated on these conversations, as well as any specific directions that we receive from the Governor’s Office.
I also want to provide you with some additional updates on other important matters.
First, the University and the United Faculty of Western Washington (UFWW) have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding, approved by the Board of Trustees at its April 28 special meeting, which extends the current contract by one year so that negotiations for a successor contract can occur in a more suitable environment. The MOU, however, does commit the parties to restart salary negotiations for 2020-21 in October after we have a better picture of state budget support and net tuition revenue. I am thankful to the UFWW leadership and the UFWW bargaining team for their openness and collaboration in working with the University administration to develop the MOU.
Similar to the approach agreed upon with the UFWW, the compensation levels for professional staff will remain at current levels into the new fiscal year beginning on July 1. Our approach in the past two years has been to keep salary increases for professional staff closely aligned with salary increases for faculty. Once we have a better picture of the budget in October, we will use the salary guidelines developed with the Professional Staff Organization (PSO) to determine compensation increases for professional staff.
For Washington Federation of State Employees (WFSE) and Public School Employees of Washington (PSE), general wage increases are established through the collective bargaining process and approved through the Legislature. The University is obligated under state law to comply with the scheduled general wage increase for classified staff on July 1, 2020. Should the Governor enact any changes that impact state salary schedules, the University will align with the state accordingly.
Delaying salary decisions until October will also enable us to more intentionally consider the impact of the economic downturn on sustaining current jobs. The early, proactive steps we have taken to reduce and contain costs, including a temporary hiring freeze, suspension of all non-essential purchases and expenditures, and a temporary travel ban, will help in this regard. We remain hopeful that future federal stimulus action will support state budget shortfalls which could also provide further support to our state’s higher education institutions.
As you know, in the context of the Governor’s Stay Home-Stay Healthy proclamation, we extended the remote work directive through June 14. We would like to resume normal operations as soon as circumstances safely permit us to do so. We will follow the Governor’s guidance and closely monitor infection rates in Whatcom County and other areas in the state where we have operations, with the understanding that even if we were to resume normal operations on June 15, we will have to practice safe distancing, and we will need to accommodate faculty and staff who have underlying health issues and other extenuating circumstances through continued remote work arrangements.
I know that members of our Western community have questions on many aspects of the unprecedented response to this pandemic, including how to balance work-from-home requirements and family care commitments, concerns related to employment security, performance evaluations, and other aspects of our work under these unusual circumstances. I encourage you to visit the Coronavirus FAQ page for updated information and resources to help you during these challenging times.
As always, I am grateful for the hard work and sacrifices each of you is making to support the mission and ongoing operations of Western Washington University. I share your concerns and anxiety about the future, and I know that together we will solve these challenges.
The Incident Command System team at Western has established three goals for all of our preparation and response to COVID-19: to protect life safety and minimize the spread of the coronavirus illness, to maintain – as much as possible – the continuity of Western’s operations, and to communicate with our communities as fully as possible.
Western's coronavirus information website features Frequently Asked Questions; has links to campus, regional and national resources; an archive of campus messaging and media stories about coronavirus; a new toll-free campus coronavirus information line, and more. The site is a living document, and will get frequent updates as the coronavirus situation evolves.