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Around 400 UND employees to be affected by hours reduction

GRAND FORKS — Around 400 University of North Dakota staff members will be affected by the university’s “reduction in effort” in the coming weeks and months.

The university is facing an estimated $11 million revenue shortfall in the current quarter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the university is reducing the hours of about 400 employees, whose work has been temporarily impacted by the pandemic, to a small percentage or zero.

A full breakdown of the number of employees who will have their hours reduced to zero was not immediately available Monday, May 4. UND employs around 1,700 staff members.

The hours reduction period will be from May 16 until July 31.

Those impacted remain UND employees throughout the timeframe and can be called back to work at any time prior to July 31, if and when workload necessitates their return, the university reported in an email to the campus community.

Affected staff will be able to keep their health insurance and other benefits. Affected staff will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits, as well as additional dollars through the federal CARES Act.

The $11 million budget shortfall is the result of multiple changes made in recent weeks, including refunds given to students for housing and dining costs and the grounding of the university’s flight school.

In a letter sent to the campus community, interim President Joshua Wynne and incoming President Andrew Armacost said the university is “anticipating a decline in overall enrollment next fall as current and prospective students and their parents weigh many personal unknowns brought on by the virus.”

“UND has weathered difficult times before, and we will again,” the presidents wrote. “The university’s leaders, including vice presidents and deans, are busy implementing decisions to address immediate impacts while also conducting budget and scenario planning so we are prepared for the future.”

Cuts remain a possibility if student enrollment drops significantly during the next academic year, Wynne told Forum News Service last month.

The temporary changes will give the university time to gain a better understanding of what its fall enrollment numbers could look like and what impact the coronavirus pandemic will have on the university’s budget, according to Wynne.

“We obviously would like to get the greatest amount of cash on hand that we can without jeopardizing the operation of the university and without impacting any more people than we have to,” Wynne said.

A hiring “chill” has been in place since mid-March, and the university has been re-examining its projects and expenditures to address its budget. It also is looking for other ways to limit expenses.

Most university staff and faculty have been working remotely since the university shut down the campus in mid-March. Since then, students have been taking classes remotely.

Last week it was announced by the State Board of Higher Education that campuses would be reopening for students this fall. Wynne and Armacost have both said there is still planning to be done in the coming months to prepare for students’ return.

Classes, at least for the time being, will likely not look as they have in the past, Wynne said, noting the university will have to be ready to pivot toward more online classes should it be deemed necessary this fall.

“This isn't like a switch that's going to be either on or off,” Wynne said last week. “The likely scenario is we're going to vary different plans depending upon what's going on.”

Sydney Mook

Sydney Mook has been covering higher education at the Grand Forks Herald since May 2018. She previously served as the multimedia editor and cops, courts and health reporter at the Dickinson Press from January 2016 to May 2018.  She graduated from the University of South Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science in three and half years in December 2015. While at the USD, she worked for the campus newspaper, The Volante, as well as the television news show, Coyote News. She also interned at South Dakota Public Broadcasting and spent the summer before her senior year interning in Fort Knox for the ROTC Cadet Summer Training program. In her spare time, Sydney enjoys cheering on the New York Yankees and the Kentucky Wildcats, as well as playing golf. If you've got an idea for a video be sure to give her a call!

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