UR’s recent employee furloughs and pay cuts, made to dull the financial impact of COVID-19, have many members of the community upset over what they feel is an inequitable response.
Furloughs — temporary and unpaid leaves-of-absence — for some UR employees were announced in a letter to employees on April 15. UR Medical Center (URMC) employees were notified of their furloughs on April 27.
UR’s Chief Financial Officer and Vice President Holly Crawford said in a virtual town hall on May 10 that these furloughs could be for up to 16 weeks: in effect, a 6% salary cut. Crawford added that many employees are on furloughs shorter than that.
At the URMC, 3,474 employees have received furloughs. 692 of those are full 16-week furloughs.
UR President Sarah Mangelsdorf — writing on behalf of herself, Crawford, Provost Robert Clark, and URMC CEO Mark Taubman — told the Campus Times that over 80% of non-URMC furloughs are partial furloughs.
Mangelsdorf said two factors influenced the decision to use furloughs: “first, that many furloughed employees could recover lost income through a combination of state and federal benefits that are currently available; second, that utilizing furloughs (as opposed to layoffs) would allow our staff colleagues to retain their healthcare benefits.”
At the town hall, Crawford said that “by the end of June […] our total hospital and patient care revenues are projected to be down by about $386 million.” Crawford also said that by June academic revenues are projected to decline by approximately $14 million.
In addition to furloughs, senior administration — a group with a median salary of around $475,000 — are taking salary cuts that will last 14 months, according to Crawford. The cuts reduce these administrators’ salaries by 20% of all earnings above $200,000.
Senior administration includes Mangelsdorf, Taubman, Clark, and those who directly report to them (like Mangelsdorf’s cabinet, Taubman’s senior leadership, as well as deans and vice-provosts).
Crawford also said at the town hall the average cut from the total salary of a senior administrator is 13%, with the highest being 18%.
Mangelsdorf told CT that her current salary, after cuts, is $760,000, reduced from a base salary of $900,000.
Several groups have been calling for administration to take a second look at these decisions. One such call came in the form of a petition by two UR medical students, asking Mangelsdorf and her cabinet to take a bigger pay cut. It began circulating online on May 5. When the petition closed on May 12, it had earned 956 signatures.
Another was an open letter by UR community members asking that UR “expand its umbrella of protections.” The open letter has received 265 signatures as of May 29.
Both the petition and the open letter are connected to the same group of UR community members who are looking to become a powerful representative for students, faculty, and staff as UR navigates the pandemic.
The creators of the petition — UR medical students Kavya Bana and Nick Contento, ‘23, — met with Mangelsdorf, Crawford, Secretary to the Board of Trustees Anthony Green, and Taubman on May 12. Bana and Contento both said they were not satisfied with the outcome of the meeting. They told CT that there was no acknowledgement of the disparity between senior administrators and lesser-paid UR employees.
“It doesn’t seem like administration wants to take ownership of the fact that there is inequity in the policy they put out,” Bana said.
But the meeting did have some value, Contento and Bana said. Between the May 10 town hall and the May 12 meeting, they learned that all departments would be taking cuts, and they got some insight into the timeline of the decision-making around the cuts.
“I tried to research a lot about these decisions [beforehand] and the fact that I’m learning new things in this meeting I think points to the fact that we need to make these decisions more public,” Contento told CT.
Mangelsdorf was most receptive to improving communication, and is still in touch with them, Contento said.
Contento and Bana’s involvement began when they were invited by professors Josh Dubler and Kristen Doughty to an April 30 meeting of UR community members in an Outreach Committee of a group called Space Invaders. At this meeting Bana suggested she and Contento make a petition.
Space Invaders is a listserv — emailing list — that began in 2016 as a feminist reading group composed mainly of female faculty. During the Jaeger scandal, the group broadened its focus to issues of equity and expanded its membership. The group currently has over 100 members including faculty, staff, and graduate students. Doughty described it as an “opt-in, loose collective,” where any action by members of the group is not representative of the group as a whole. (The petition, for example, is only representative of Bana, Contento, and those who signed.)
The meeting was focused on sharing information and asking questions related to UR’s response to the pandemic. “We can’t tell what’s going on here.” Dubler said in an interview. “We need to build connections across rank and division to try to understand what we need to do and what we need to ask for.”
Dubler and Doughty both sit on the Space Invaders subcommittee dedicated to drafting a statement of principles. The open letter calling for equity sprung from a draft statement of theirs, Dubler said.
Dubler sent the letter — similarly only representative of the 262 who signed — to Mangelsdorf, Clark, and Green on May 13, the day before a Board of Trustees meeting. Dubler told CT he hasn’t received a response.
The letter lists no specific steps to take but aims “to stem the tide of austerity and plead with the board to chart a different course.” It asks that UR maintain “the health of the institution by ensuring the wellbeing of those who comprise the institution.” The letter also asks that the board of trustees and administration pledges to keep all employees on payroll and health insurance, and to “narrow the gap between the highest paid managers and workers of all ranks.”
In a statement to CT, Mangelsdorf wrote that “we appreciate [the authors’] passion and their commitment to equity.”
“However, the most important fiduciary responsibility of the University’s board and of senior leaders is to preserve the viability of the institution in the long term so that [UR] can continue [for] future generations,” Mangelsdorf wrote.
The open letter argues that survival doesn’t need to be UR’s only goal: “We call on you to forge your own innovative path forward which will enable our community not merely to survive but to thrive, both during the pandemic and once the crisis has passed.”