Update On Our University's Plans Thursday, May 28, 2020, at 10:01 a.m.

Dear Jacksonville University faculty and staff --

Greetings, I hope you and your families are safe and well.  In this remarkable COVID-19 era, many have commented that the days and weeks are running together, here’s wishing some of that time is refreshing for you.

This challenging moment offers us a rare opportunity to innovate and improve if we stay positive and focused on our mission. You have cared for and supported one another, the close connections have been encouraging.  You have reached out to my family and me frequently during these times of distancing and the passing of special loved ones, and we deeply appreciate your compassion and empathy.

Today, I’m writing to share an update on Jacksonville University, our financial health and our outlook, and the important steps we’re taking to continue to deliver on our academic mission at the highest levels of quality, service and engagement.  It’s becoming clear that our determination will be tested; success will require sacrifices from us all. I thank you in advance for your partnership in helping sustain this University for the good of so many. 

As we chart our path forward, let me emphasize two points.  First, we are on a journey.  There is no “like the old days” for modern private, liberal arts and sciences universities.  COVID-19 is a profound and sudden shock, but our journey was already underway and must continue for us to be more responsive, more student-centered, more service-focused, and firmly committed to our core academic mission.  We celebrate our history and legacy, but adapting creatively to an evolving new reality is at a premium.  Second, and this may seem a paradox but is real: we will both reduce and eliminate, at the very same time we invest and grow.  Closing our Division I football program coincided with opening our exciting Health Sciences Complex and student health center, and both make sense.  Reducing staffing and spending now in the Office of the President is occurring at the same time we add valuable talent in institutional research, strategic planning, academic advising, academic technology, and the Registrar’s Office – and that fits our needs.  We must continue to nourish our future academic ambitions, while being firm in what we must reduce.

We operate on the belief that Jacksonville University offers a compelling collegiate experience anchored in our close-knit community and enhanced by our culture of personal mentorship, quality education, and experiential learning. Every decision we make is designed to enhance that culture of humanity.

Since March, we’ve been navigating this COVID-19 crisis together.  Like many high-quality private U.S. universities, to keep everyone safe, we quickly adapted our operations, canceled events, shifted to work-from-home, closed facilities and moved entirely to distance learning. It was inspiring to see our campus collectively pivot, quickly, to this new environment and create new ways to connect, teach, and impact. I have never been more proud to be working alongside all of you.

This is my commitment: we will be fully prepared to welcome our students back to campus this Fall.  We are 80 days into this unexpected new world, and we are planning to have students join, and re-join, us 80 days from now.   We are focused on safely returning in the Fall for on-campus, in-person instruction.  Our best leaders and experienced outside experts are working together to finalize strategy for bringing students back and teaching them here on our campus safely, while engaging our faculty and staff in a consistently healthy environment. The team is completing a detailed execution blueprint to reopen our campus safely, and we will be sharing the specifics of this plan in the coming days.  

However, the realities of a global pandemic and worldwide recession have combined to dampen our revenues and increase our expenses in many areas, creating a nearly $4 million deficit in our current fiscal year concluding June 30, 2020. To address that and anticipate the deteriorating national landscape for higher education, we announced in April some hard choices:  we reduced the salaries of many staff members by 1-10 percent; placed many staff members on temporary furlough; immediately reduced my salary by 50 percent through fiscal 2021; and in some departments, eliminated positions and canceled open postings. We also froze all non-essential University spending, hiring and travel. These were tough but necessary measures.

Thanks to your hard work and diligence, we have now addressed the deficit for this fiscal year, and for that you have my gratitude.  Now we are confronting the Fall and our task to manage fiscal year 2021 (July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021), which presents all universities greater uncertainty and a more daunting and shifting set of challenges.

Our highest priority remains enabling every member of our campus community to be confident in their own health and safety. That drives our thinking.  We are mapping out our plan for testing, tracing, spacing, cleaning, and – if necessary – treating.  We remain dedicated to providing an exceptional academic experience for our students, though it will likely have to be different, more hybrid and flexible. In the current climate, we know students will face considerable financial and wellness obstacles and will weigh difficult decisions regarding whether to continue (or even to begin) their college education with us. Our goal is to swiftly and smartly remove those barriers and help them live here, learn here, and earn their degrees here.

We anticipate substantial, ongoing financial challenges through the summer of 2021.  Nearly all of our peer universities are anticipating a decrease in enrollment, and we forecast a version of the same.  Our strategy to attract capable, dedicated undergrads from around the world (especially Florida) who can excel and graduate has been increasingly well executed over the years, and now presents us some risk.  Nationally, the revised expectation of 15 percent lower first-year undergraduate enrollment from our original projections is realistic to apply to our outlook.  Our traditional reliance on tuition, room and board is being taken fully into account.

Now, we are facing a potential deficit of well more than $10 million in the coming fiscal year, depending on certain key assumptions, as revenue-generating clinics, partnerships, auxiliary businesses, facilities and events have remained closed (for safety reasons) or delayed. At this same time, the unpredictability of these times is causing increases in expenses such as insurance, training, technology support, and necessary classroom upgrades, to name a few.

To address our near-term needs and better position us to support students this Fall, following the spirit of our bylaws, Provost Sapienza joined Dr. Mary Gipson, Chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, to form a Summer Council of faculty leaders to consult and advise on steps to reduce expenses while maintaining our academic core principles. I have formally accepted all recommendations from our Provost to address our academic operating expenses. I thank the faculty for their resourcefulness bringing forward thoughtful ideas on how we will tackle this broad and deep financial challenge this year. 

To place us more firmly on reliable footing, I am also announcing the following measures:

  • The University’s match to individual employee retirement contributions will be suspended, effective June 1, 2020, until June 30, 2021. This will impact approximately 400 of our 700 University colleagues, though this will not impact our retirees who are currently receiving their retirement benefits.

  • Similar to measures implemented across our entire staff last month, salaries of our faculty will be reduced on a sliding scale from 1-10 percent, effective July 1, 2020, until June 30, 2021.  At more modest pay levels, this will represent the equivalent of a 1-2 week furlough, and for the 15 percent of our faculty at the highest levels, it will represent closer to a 3-5 week furlough.

  • We are implementing a 20 percent reduction in operating expenses, university-wide (non-fixed and non-salary), effective July 1, for the coming year.

  • The senior leadership team will continue the difficult process of decreasing our personnel expenses further. In some cases, this will be achieved through attrition, and in other cases, it may require the elimination of positions.  We are being painstakingly conscientious in this portion of our work. 

 There is additional information about each of these measures on our Human Resources web page, along with answers to many of your likely questions.  We will continue to communicate with you regularly through virtual town halls, social media, in written updates such as this, via video, and on email and updated web postings.  If you have questions or concerns, please reach out to your direct supervisor.

While we will continue to teach well and look for opportunities to reduce costs and enhance revenue, we do not anticipate wholesale program closures at this time, as has occurred at so many other universities, nor has that been recommended by any of our councils, working groups or the Provost.  Nor do we plan to reduce or eliminate the $8,000 average per-person healthcare subsidy the University provides to faculty and staff.  Know that the Cabinet continues to assess this developing situation from every angle, weighing the full impact of these decisions on each of us. This is a universally uncertain time, and these decisions are never taken lightly. We will continue to closely monitor our financial health, implementing more measures if needed or reducing them if our outlook improves.

Like you, I am dedicated to helping our University come through this as a stronger institution. It won’t be easy or straightforward, and our collective commitment will help us succeed during this challenge. Though we have a difficult road ahead, we have the resilience and determination to succeed in building and maintaining a premier university.

Thank you for your goodwill, positive attitude and continued commitment to our University throughout this extraordinary time.

Tim Cost
Jacksonville University
Class of 1981