The University of Montana announced Monday its plans to furlough 63 employees in the coming month in response to financial strain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an email to faculty and staff, President Seth Bodnar stated the areas experiencing the highest financial strain due to the pandemic are auxiliary operations like housing, dining and event services. In an effort to ease the financial burden, the furloughs target workers from these areas. The employees were given notice they’d be temporarily furloughed until Aug. 1.
“We did not make this decision lightly,” Bodnar wrote. “Our leadership team is working exceptionally hard to ensure as many colleagues as possible continue working. At the same time, we acknowledge the financial challenges this situation already presents and will continue to create.”
The specific positions being furloughed were not released. The president notified individual employees they had 30 days before the leave would take effect. During the temporary leave, all employees will still receive health insurance and retirement benefits.
“This decision was made after careful consideration,” UM spokesperson Paula Short said. “We have been monitoring the situation and made the call now so we could give employees the proper notice.”
Before campus closed, close to 2,000 students lived and ate on campus, producing sustainable positions for auxiliary workers, Short said. Now, there are just 80 students on campus.
The Aug. 1 date reflects UM’s decision to host summer courses strictly online, meaning the same areas would be overstaffed, Short said. However, because of the rapidly-changing situation, the furloughs could end earlier or be pushed later, Short said.
UM is preparing for the possibility that campus might be closed in the fall, depending on the coronavirus situation, Short said. In a closed-campus scenario, the furloughs would be extended. Short couldn’t comment on whether there would be more layoffs in the future.
The pandemic’s financial impact will be damaging and lasting for the Montana University System. Estimates are in the $18 million range, officials said. When asked about the ultimate financial impact the novel coronavirus will have on UM, Short said it was simply too early to tell.
“We know it will be in the millions,” Short said. “And we have teams monitoring the financial situation.”
In Monday’s email, Bodnar announced he’d be giving a quarter of his salary—around $82,000— back to the University. Short mentioned other senior officials pledged to also give back.
“Seth often refers to the UM community as his UM family, and I think this decision really supports that,” Short said.