Education

Sweeping UI budget cuts affect Hancher, thousands of employees and Harreld's pay

UI cutting Hancher funding, will transition it to a self-sustaining operation

(File photo) The Old Capitol Building between Schaeffer Hall (left) and Macbride Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campu
(File photo) The Old Capitol Building between Schaeffer Hall (left) and Macbride Hall (right) on the Pentacrest on campus of the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, April 30, 2014. (Gazette File Photo)

IOWA CITY — Facing mounting COVID-19 losses, the University of Iowa on Friday announced sweeping budget cuts that — among other things — temporarily lay off 112 housing and dining workers, freeze pay for about 4,200 other employees, leave 32 positions unfilled and cut President Bruce Harreld’s salary in half for the rest of the year.

Those savings and others are meant to offset tens of millions in losses from COVID-19-related hits, extra expenses associated with bringing students back to campus this fall, cuts in state funding and projected enrollment dips that curtail tuition revenue.

And, in a sign the UI expects funding challenges to endure, the university announced plans to begin weaning its cherished Hancher Auditorium off general fund support, aiming to make the performance venue self-supporting within three years.

By fiscal 2024, the UI intends to have Hancher in a similar position as its Department of Athletics, University Housing and Dining and UI Health Care operations — which don’t use general fund support but instead independently generated revenue.

In a statement, Harreld voiced confidence that Hancher “can maintain its standing as a national leader among university performing arts centers while transitioning slowly to being self-sustaining.”

“Hancher leadership and the entire team is first-rate, and I look forward to their continued prominence within our community, the state, and region,” he said.

All three of Iowa’s public universities are facing deep budget cuts after COVID-19 cleared their respective campuses in the spring, forcing students to wrap their academic semesters online and keeping instruction in a virtual-only format through summer.

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The UI has projected losses through August of $76 million; Iowa State University anticipated losing $89 million; and the University of Northern Iowa predicted $28 million in losses.

Following those projections, state lawmakers this summer announced plans to cut Board of Regents funding by $8 million for the budget year that started July 1. the regents haven’t yet announced how they’ll split the cut, but UI officials Friday said that decision will come July 29.

Pending the board approval, Harreld’s pay cut will result in one-time savings of $270,416 to be directed to a “student emergency fund” meant to help those experiencing unforeseen circumstances, like COVID-19, that negatively and severely impact their academic progress.

Last summer, the board approved contract extensions and compensation increases for all three of its public university heads. For Harreld, that meant an extension through 2023, with additional deferred compensation contributions of $400,000 annually between 2020 and 2023. His base salary has remained unchanged at $590,000 since his hire in 2015.

The budget cuts announced Friday didn’t specify which positions won’t be filled in the coming year, though it will directly affect seven department or offices; and the pay freeze will be broadly felt, impacting 16 colleges or offices.

“Many of our faculty and staff have worked long hours to support the university mission during the current pandemic and we are grateful for their commitment to excellence and to providing a world-class experience for our students despite our current financial situation,” Harreld said in the statement.

John Dickens, director of governmental relations for the Undergraduate Student Government, decried a “generational disinvestment in higher education” by state lawmakers.

“The projected $76 million in COVID-related losses that the University of Iowa is incurring pale in comparison to UI’s historical losses from state appropriations” when adjusted for inflation, he said.

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In addition to the campuswide cuts, individual colleges and departments have been rolling out reductions.

The largest UI college — the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — was earlier warned of a need to trim $15 to $25 million.

The college already has announced the elimination of 15 non-tenure-track instructors. Additionally, the College of Engineering recently notified four staff members their positions are being eliminated.

“I have made some difficult decisions including: the permanent elimination of several staff positions within the college; no anticipated salary increases in January 2021; and significantly limiting hiring except for essential college operations or research initiatives,” UI Engineering Dean Alec Scranton announced in a recent budget message. “The college may need to employ additional cost-saving strategies in the coming months.”

UI Health Care is employing a range of cost-cutting measures, including pay cuts for top-earning executives and faculty and mandatory unpaid time off or donated vacation hours for merit staffers.

UI Housing and Dining has enacted the temporary layoffs affecting 112 workers, and Von Stange — who directs the enterprise — said his team is looking for additional cost-saving measures.

The campus is planning to welcome students back into its residence halls this fall — but with new safety measures and the elimination of all triple and quad rooms.

In the spring, it continued to pay employees even after it largely evacuated dorms and refunded students for the time they lost there.

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“As you know, over the last three months, the University of Iowa and University Housing and Dining have taken deliberate steps to protect our students, their parents, and staff during this global pandemic,” Stange said in his statement. “In so doing, we created several financial challenges we must now address.”

In the Athletics Department, big-name Hawkeyes coaches Kirk Ferentz, Fran McCaffery, Tom Brands and Lisa Bluder all took 15 percent pay cuts for a year as the department takes a $15 million hit.

Harreld in a statement acknowledged the challenges facing the university are unprecedented and were unexpected.

“We are disappointed to be in this position, facing challenges from the pandemic and a cut in state support that we could not have imagined just six months ago,” he said. “Each of us must make budget decisions that protect the core mission of the university and set us up for success moving forward.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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