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Update on Campus, Financial, and Fall Planning

Note: This is dated information and may not reflect the current policies in place on campus. Please refer to We Are WPI for the latest information.

May 21, 2020

It has been a remarkable two months that we have weathered together. I am so proud and grateful for every pivot you made, every innovation you tried, and every day that you faced with care and creativity to advance our mission and serve our students. As much as we have been able to accomplish, we still have challenging and exciting work ahead as we look toward the next academic year.

This message recaps what was discussed at today’s Virtual Town Hall.

D-Term is in the books, as they say… perhaps we should say in the e-books. Degrees have been conferred to the Great Class of 2020, even as we await a chance to celebrate them safely in a proper Commencement ceremony at some point in the future. And E-Term, which begins next week, has been expanded with new courses and is attracting record numbers of students, both continuing students and incoming students of the newly enrolled class of 2024. It is inspiring, as is another milestone we have achieved this week: approving the first steps toward slowly, thoughtfully, and safely repopulating our beautiful campus. This is specific to our research enterprise and those directly impacted will have an opportunity to apply to open their labs for specific projects. More information on that will be sent to impacted faculty and staff tomorrow.

Our work to return to our physical campus will be in lockstep with guidance from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and overseen by the CERT. As I’ve previously shared, I served on the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board, important work that has been helpful in our own planning.

As a community, we have had some difficult but honest conversations these past several weeks, and while the road ahead will not be easy, I am proud that we have not strayed from our values as a community.

  • There are no looming personnel changes for July 1. Involuntary personnel actions, as we have said all along, will be a last resort.
  • The Voluntary Early Retirement Incentive Program closes today. We will share information on that later this month.
  • The Voluntary Furlough Program announced on May 15 is available, providing for up to a month of unpaid time off through August.

The Board of Trustees, who met via Zoom in several sessions last week, approved an FY21 COVID budget, preparing for the possibility of a 10 percent decline in revenue and significant ongoing uncertainty. Several existing restrictions will carry forward into the new fiscal year: the hold on any non-essential spending, the hiring freeze, and restrictions on university funded travel. The travel policy is under review and more information will be forthcoming later in the summer.

In addition, the board-approved budget includes a temporary reduction in 403b employer contributions starting July 1 (from 11 to 8 percent). Many institutions are taking their contributions all the way to zero. Our tight controls on other spending will allow us to take this smaller reduction. The budget also includes funds for anticipated additional student financial aid given the unprecedented economic situation, and funds to cover likely higher costs for things like additional cleaning, technology, and facilities changes that will be needed to accommodate operations in the year ahead. Unlike most years, it is a balanced budget with no contingency. The budget will be reviewed regularly across the year and may change (for better or worse) based on the global health and economic situation.

WPI Forward work contributes to some cost reduction assumptions on our FY21 COVID budget. I want to take this opportunity to thank the WPI Forward project teams and the Steering Committee for their thoughtful work. We are still working to review their recommendations and turn them into next steps. We will communicate more about the WPI Forward recommendations as we move into the new fiscal year.

While we are on track to bring in the Class of 2024, much depends on our operational status in the fall. As intense and thoughtful planning continues, you can expect a decision on our status for fall by July 1. Like all universities, we recognize that students and their families are intensely interested in, and will be influenced by, what the fall holds for their college experience. To welcome new and continuing students in the fall, we must prepare in the summer. For the most part, remote work will remain widespread. For those who will return to on-campus work, you will get two weeks’ notice of any plans to do so that affect you, and there will be training to help you prepare. We expect that the first notice—and approval—for return to campus would come later in June with some offices potentially opening after the July 4th holiday.

As the university works towards a careful return to campus, your safety and well-being are the top priority. Your input is critical to the success of this work, and as planning continues we will also continue to engage you along the way. This level of collaboration will be particularly important with our at-risk community members, so that we can fully understand needs and concerns and work to develop appropriate accommodations.  Stay tuned for more information in the coming weeks.​​​​​​

Thank you for all you are doing to help one another, and to support WPI in this moment and for the future.