Furloughs are on the table as university deals with financial impact of COVID-19 pandemic

(Archive Photo by Andy Nelson | Collegian Media Group)

In an age of low enrollment and state funding problems, Kansas State was already operating under a pretty “lean” budget model and had low-level reserves, President Richard Myers said. Limiting operations and shifting online only exasperated that.

The top priority for the university, Provost Charles Taber said, is the health and safety of the students and the K-State community, but finances are still at the top of the list.

Right now, the university is in the first of three phases in dealing with this crisis — responding to the pandemic, making a decision about fall classes and finally, using this period of crisis to possibly change the way K-State does business.

During the Virtual Town Hall on Tuesday morning, Myers said the university has drawn up several budget models ranging from what the finances would have looked like had the pandemic not happened to the worst case scenario.

There are steps being taken to mitigate some losses, Myers said. One of those steps was the hiring freeze announced shortly after the university suspended in person classes.

“We have to pull more levers as we go forward,” Myers said.

Down the line though, more serious steps might need to be taken, and faculty furloughs aren’t off the table. What that would look like is uncertain and Myers said it is unclear who might be affected, but the option is preferable to total layoffs as faculty would be able to retain benefits temporarily.

“Have we discussed it? Yes. Have we made any decisions? No,” Myers said.

Additionally, senior staffers like vice president for student life and dean of students Thomas Lane have volunteered to take a temporary 10 percent salary cut. Myers and Taber also indicated they’d be willing to take a cut.

“People know that we’re going to get into really tight fiscal circumstances,” Myers said.

Through the coronavirus relief bill, K-State is expected to received about $12.6 million. The first half of the budget, which is supposed to be made available soon, is earmarked for student emergency financial aid. The remaining $6.3 million is for the university to use as needed, but none of the money has come down the pipeline yet, Ethan Erickson, chief financial officer and director of budget planning, said.

This pandemic is unpredictable, and while the goal is to come back to campus in the fall, there’s no promise that will happen.

“We don’t have a crystal ball,” Taber said.

To come back to campus, Myers said a number of things would need to change regarding the crisis in Kansas. For one, there’d need to be more widespread testing.

“We’re a long way from that right now,” Myers said. “Hopefully that will improve.”

Right now, a lot of the testing for the novel coronavirus is primarily disease-diagnosis testing meaning only individuals who are sick are receiving tests, leaving asymptomatic or people with minor symptoms often unable to be tested.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel, but we have a lot of work to do before we get to that particular point.”

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.