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UT Austin preparing for possible furloughs, staff reductions

University of Texas leaders have cited revenue declines due to the coronavirus pandemic.

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas is gearing up for the possibility of furloughs or permanent staff reductions in some of its revenue-generating units, such as Texas Athletics or the Performing Arts Center, due to declines caused by COVID-19.

According to a letter sent to UT faculty and staff on Tuesday, leaders in those units will be reaching out to their staff members with more information should those employment changes need to be enforced.

In its next phase of preparation, the university said it will also need to update its emergency leave policy and no longer allow the extension of indefinite leave due to its significant financial impact. Beginning next month, emergency leave will no longer be an option for employees without work.

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President Gregory L. Fenves and Interim President Designate Jay Hartzell's full letter can be read below:

"Dear UT Faculty and Staff,

Since March, the university has been adjusting to the COVID-19 crisis, which has touched every aspect of our learning, research and operations. Our community has done an outstanding job of weathering the storm and making the best of this unprecedented challenge, due in large part to your dedication, resilience and leadership. We can’t thank you enough for all you’ve done, and we hope that the end of the semester provides you with time to pause and reflect upon our shared journey during the past several months.

The shifts we’ve been forced to make in the ways we teach and work have come with increased costs. We are also facing declines in our expected future revenues and continued uncertainty about the coming academic year. Taken together, these forces have significantly altered UT’s immediate financial outlook.

In April, we implemented a first phase of measures to address the pressure on the university’s finances. This included canceling the planned 2020-21 centrally funded merit pool and limiting new hires and large expenditures to only essential needs.

Today, we are announcing the next phase of financial mitigation measures. Revenue-generating units will now be directed to develop new financial plans with the Provost’s and CFO’s offices to contain costs where needed. Revenue-generating units fund their operations in a variety of ways, including through service charges, fees and memberships. Their budgets primarily come from providing services to paying internal or external customers.

For these units, the mitigation plans will likely include furloughs or permanent reductions in force for staff members in specific revenue-generating units where revenues have declined. Leadership in these units will be reaching out directly to their staff members with additional information should they implement these employment changes.

Also, in this next phase, the university is addressing the emergency leave policy. During the past two months, emergency leave has been extended because of the pandemic, to the benefit of many UT staff members. But the university cannot extend this leave indefinitely without having a significant financial impact.

After May 31, emergency leave will no longer be available as an option to employees without work. Federal emergency family and medical leave will still be available for other situations. Staff members without work who had been using emergency leave will be asked to review work options with their units and/or begin using their own paid-leave accruals.

These are very difficult steps for everyone affected, and we understand your concern as you wait for specific information about decisions in your units, but they are necessary given the impact of COVID-19 on the university’s financial situation. As we move forward, we will closely monitor all institutional revenue sources and, in the weeks and months ahead, probably have to make other difficult employment decisions in order to mitigate any budget shortfalls that should arise.

The University of Texas has been through hard times before, and we’ve always come through them with a strengthened sense of purpose and a dedication to our world-changing mission. We have no doubt that this will be the case with COVID-19, and we thank you for your understanding and commitment."

A spokesperson with UT Athletics told KVUE it will not be making any staffing changes in the near future.

Texas Performing Arts executive director Bob Bursey sent KVUE the following statement:

"Maintaining Texas Performing Arts' ability to do world-class work for the long term is at the forefront of our planning as we navigate the unprecedented financial circumstances of the pandemic. Our focus is on emerging from this historic challenge a stronger and more effective organization for the audiences, artists and students we serve.

We are following the guidance of University leadership and have been developing financial planning scenarios since our first canceled performance in March. The operations behind the most-visited performing arts center in Austin are enormously complex and depend on a skilled and experienced professional staff, and we will need to continue to adapt to ensure our long-term sustainability."

Earlier this month, university leaders held a press conference regarding their plans for the upcoming fall semester. These plans will continue to evolve over the coming weeks, with a full resolution expected to be announced by the end of June.

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