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Students walk from University Hill to campus at the University of Colorado Boulder in September 2018. (Staff Photo)
Students walk from University Hill to campus at the University of Colorado Boulder in September 2018. (Staff Photo)

University of Colorado Boulder saw its first layoffs this week as a result of the economic impact of coronavirus, and campus leaders announced cost-cutting measures in anticipation of further financial impacts of the pandemic.

Four employees in the Education Abroad office were laid off due to lack of funding, according to spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra. The department’s funding was impacted by study abroad programs being suspended as a result of the spread of COVID-19 around the world.

Other campus jobs will also be impacted by coronavirus, said Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke, including temporary positions normally needed to put on now-canceled campus events like the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.

CU Boulder will begin implementing a host of proactive measures to address the looming budget crunch, Provost Russell Moore and O’Rourke wrote in a letter to faculty and staff this week.

The letter directed campus schools, colleges, departments and administrative units to reduce discretionary spending, prioritize the use of gift funds and plan for budget cuts in the next fiscal year.

Discretionary spending includes consulting, conferences, office supplies and equipment.

“Every unit should prepare for a university-wide budget reduction in 2020-21,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote, and should consider budget scenarios “that include eliminating low-priority activities, deferring new initiatives and avoiding new commitments.”

Moore and O’Rourke will take a 10% pay cut through furloughs, along with Chancellor Phil DiStefano, Athletic Director Rick George, system President Mark Kennedy and others.

The campus has already instituted a temporary pause on hiring, withdrawn merit pay raises, canceled events and restricted university-funded travel. Campus leaders are also re-evaluating planned and potential capital construction projects, Moore and O’Rourke wrote.

It’s not clear yet what projects will be impacted, which will depend on state funding and prioritizing projects based on maintenance needs and the campus master plan, O’Rourke said.

“When we’re re-evaluating it doesn’t just mean we’re putting it on hold, but what is the right mix of projects we can move forward on that can give us the best bang for our buck?” O’Rourke said.

CU Boulder will likely lose $67 million this year because of housing and dining reimbursements; paid administrative leave for student employees and non-essential researchers who can’t work on campus; and loss of revenue through cancelled events, no on-campus parking and other income sources.

That is approximately 3.5% of the university’s $1.89 billion budget.

It’s too early to predict what the financial impact of coronavirus will be on next year’s budget, O’Rourke and Moore wrote, but campus and system leaders anticipate a reduction in state funding as well as lower student enrollment.

There could be more administrative pay cuts and furloughs in the future, O’Rourke and Moore wrote.

“In making these decisions, we are striving to protect employees’ jobs as much as possible, and we know that our employees are our most vital resource,” the letter stated.

And while Gov. Jared Polis’ stay at home order is set to expire Sunday, CU Boulder employees should not plan on a quick return to campus.

“With the campus engaging in remote learning through the summer, we do not anticipate that employees, including researchers, will need to immediately return to campus as soon as the stay-at-home orders are modified,” Moore and O’Rourke wrote.

“It is important to understand that our campus will continue to ask employees and researchers who are not already designated as critical to continue remote work until instructed otherwise.”