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Update on Financial and Operational Planning for Next Academic Year

DEPARTMENT(S): 
April 29, 2020

Dear WPI Colleagues,

As we come to the end of April, well into our second month of remote operations, I want to begin by expressing my heartfelt appreciation for the work you do each day to advance our mission and serve our students. While challenging, our limited campus operations are in place in order to protect the health and safety of family, friends, and colleagues. Please know that I deeply appreciate your continued dedication to our community. 

This message recaps what was discussed at today’s Virtual Town Hall, with a focus on operational and financial planning for the next academic year.  

We are living history right now. The world is at the unprecedented intersection of a public health emergency and a financial crisis. We did not ask for this, nor do we welcome it. And yet, it is very much where we find ourselves, and we have no choice but to do all we can to get through it together. 

For the past few weeks, as we have all been intensely devoted to serving the educational needs of our students, many of us have also been focused on planning for the future. As shared earlier this week, the Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT) is now considering how the University will begin a phased re-opening as soon as it is safe to do so, and is undertaking formal scenario planning for the Fall. 

You may have also seen that yesterday I was appointed to serve on the Governor’s Reopening Advisory Board. In this role, I will have the opportunity to represent the voice of higher education as the Commonwealth considers how to support a safe reopening of our state, and to bring back to our own planning the latest best thinking from our public health officials.

On our own campus, we are focused on the university’s financial health. Like most private higher education institutions, we depend heavily on tuition and room and board revenue to fund delivery of our distinctive WPI education and campus operations. In the context of this global pandemic and the economic crisis accompanying it, it is clear that we must plan for uncertainties and likely reductions in our revenue, and therefore be ready to take actions to reduce expenses.

As you know, we have already made many decisions that respond to the need for responsible action in the face of uncertainty.  As is appropriate given our values as a community, we refunded $7M of D-term housing, dining, project, and student life fees to our students, and committed to keeping our community fully employed and together through at least June 30. Additionally, we have frozen non-essential spending on supplies and services and travel, delayed capital projects, instituted a hiring freeze, eliminated merit increases, reduced executive compensation, and are working hard to drive new revenue through summer offerings and other innovations. We have committed that involuntary personnel actions will be a last resort. 

So what comes next? In order to reduce the need for involuntary personnel actions, we are announcing two programs—both voluntary—to help position WPI to manage the challenges of the year ahead. More detail on both of these options will be provided by our Talent & Inclusion team in the coming days. In brief:

  • An Early Retirement Incentive Plan: Faculty and staff who are 59 ½ and older with 10+ years of service to WPI as of July 1, 2020 are eligible. This plan will award 1 year of salary plus additional benefits.  The opportunity to opt in will be available from May 1-21, with retirements effective no later than July 1, 2020. The terms of this incentive are the most favorable we can offer, and this opportunity will not be available again in the foreseeable future. More details will be available May 1.
  • Voluntary temporary work adjustments: These voluntary temporary reductions in hours of work will have commensurate temporary reductions in pay. More details on this opportunity will be released in the coming week, and all non-union, non-student employees will be eligible to apply. 

In addition to moving ahead with these voluntary opportunities, I want to be transparent with you that, as uncomfortable as it is, we must also plan for the possibility of involuntary actions. These actions could include temporary reductions in 403b contributions, furloughs (unpaid time off of varying lengths but with continued benefits), and layoffs. Planning for these possibilities is just beginning, and we are hopeful they will not become necessary. In the coming weeks and months, we will approach every decision thoughtfully, and in ways that align with our values. And I commit to engaging you and keeping you informed just as I have tried to do through every step of this crisis. 

These are very difficult conversations, but our actions now will light the way to the future of this great institution, the future of our students and their families, and the future of the WPI family. As we contemplate the path ahead, I ask for your engagement and support as we take steps needed to ensure that WPI will deliver on its missions for generations to come.

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

Stay healthy and safe, 
Laurie