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Cornell leaders manage financial impact of COVID-19

Provost Michael Kotlikoff and Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Joanne DeStefano sent the following message to faculty and staff on March 30:

As we all continue to adjust to the extraordinary circumstances of these past weeks, we have been working with our senior leadership colleagues to address the many implications of this global pandemic. We echo President Pollack’s comments on how heartening it has been to witness the community-focused support and concern exhibited by so many on our campus. 

While much of our focus to date has appropriately been on the public health implications of COVID-19, we only have to look at the nation’s rising unemployment figures to know that there are also significant financial impacts of the virus. As you would expect, there are both near- and long-term financial impacts of de-densifying our campuses and of making such a rapid shift to virtual learning, and we write today to provide you with details on some immediate steps that we are taking to address these realities.

We fully appreciate that these steps are significant. But until we can better understand the full impact of COVID-19 on the economy, financial markets and the university, these steps are essential to our being able to sustain our commitment to our employees and our students and to ensuring that Cornell has the funds necessary to continue to be a world-class university. 

The most frequent concerns that we have heard regard pay continuation for staff and whether we will be able to support students whose financial circumstances may have changed as a result of COVID-19. In implementing the steps outlined below, our goal is to preserve the vast majority of staff positions within our Cornell community until we can return to full campus operations, recognizing that no institution, including Cornell, can predict today the impact of this crisis on its future budget. We have also provided staff an additional ten health and personal days to support them during this time.  

We also have a strong commitment to our students. We know that many of them will see changed personal and family circumstances as a result of the current crisis, and we aim to guarantee that every single one, currently enrolled or newly admitted, can complete their Cornell education. In service of this goal, members of the leadership team – including the president, the provost, vice presidents, deans and vice provosts – have voluntarily assumed salary reductions for a duration of six months. Every dollar of these recaptured funds will be used to help meet the financial aid needs of our undergraduate, graduate or professional students. Should additional faculty and staff wish to pursue this voluntary avenue to support student financial aid, please contact Kim Babuka (kb47@cornell.edu) in Human Resources.

Here, then, are the steps, effective immediately and until further notice, that we are taking to preemptively manage the potential risks created by the current economic uncertainty in our nation and in our community:

Hiring Freeze – We are implementing a university-wide hiring freeze on staff and temporary workers. Any exceptions must be approved via a process that is being established. All academic hires will be carefully reviewed by deans. 

Salary Freeze – We will be unable to offer salary increases for the fiscal year 2021 that begins on July 1, other than those required by collective bargaining agreements. There will be no increases to existing salaries through bonuses, promotions, acting rates, changes to time status or additional pays without the approval of the respective dean or vice president and the vice president and chief human resources officer (for staff) or the provost (for faculty). Any salary change requests already in process will be reevaluated. Salary increases related to faculty promotions are excluded from this freeze.

Travel Ban – All Cornell-related travel is currently restricted to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When safe travel can resume, only essential travel will be permitted, including essential academic travel, travel on sponsored research funds, travel funded entirely by outside entities and travel necessary to deliver instruction or outreach programs or to conduct essential university business. Such travel must be approved by the appropriate dean, vice president or vice provost.

Summer Programs – Given the uncertainty of when normal campus operations will resume, all in-person summer programs or activities, such as summer classes, conferences, etc., that were slated to begin prior to July 12 are canceled or will be converted to online offerings. During this time, the university will continue Cornell summer classes taught remotely. Details about the Online Summer Session will soon be available via this link. We hope to make a decision about programs for the second half of the summer once the situation becomes clearer.

Discretionary Spending – All discretionary spending, including the hiring of outside consultants, is suspended immediately. This includes food/meals, events, recognition banquets and other expenditures that are not critical to the operation of the university. Essential expenditures that directly support the mission of the university must be approved by the provost or the executive vice president.

Capital Projects – All existing capital projects will be reevaluated to determine whether they should proceed, and no new capital projects will be approved.

We understand the stress that the current health crisis is creating for all of you, and we so appreciate how everyone is working together to live our values by supporting our entire community to the best of our abilities. Given the dynamic and unpredictable nature of this crisis, please know that we will continue to monitor its impact and communicate regularly with you over the days and weeks ahead. 

Thank you all, again, for your dedication to Cornell.

Media Contact

John Carberry