UM System Community Virtual Town Hall
Thursday, April 23, 2020 | 10:30 – 11:30 a.m.
- Christine Holt, Chief of Staff
- Mun Choi, President
- Ryan Rapp, Vice President for Finance
- Marsha Fischer, Associate Vice President for Human Resources
- Beth Chancellor, Interim Vice President for Information Technology
View the meeting video below, or click on a category header to expand a list of questions and responses related to each topic.
Trouble with the video? View the video on YouTube.
Systemwide Organization and Initiatives
President Choi, in your new dual role, how do you plan to balance your workload and ensure the entire UM System will continue to feel supported during the current transition?
Right now, I'm very fortunate to have talented leaders at both the UM System and at all of the campuses. For me to be effective in this dual role as we move forward, I'm going to rely more on the expertise and advice of those senior leaders. I will be operating at the strategic level and relying on the subject matter experts and the division leaders to make good decisions, so that I will be able to coordinate decisions according to the best interests of the University.
Will we be looking at more consolidations, in terms of departments?
We are evaluating those opportunities now. There may be ideas about consolidation, not just between Mizzou and the UM System, but also across the system. There may be opportunities for us to have academic programs that are centrally directed by one campus for all of the campuses. We're also evaluating how the consolidations can work on both the academic and non-academic side at each campus. Given the uncertainty that we face when it comes to state support and potentially soft enrollment, we have to be ready with these types of plans moving forward.
How will we fast-track the decisions to eliminate inefficient processes and workflows? How can employees help identify what those processes might be?
We are going to rely on the 2018 Administrative Review, which was conducted with a lot of input from staff and administrators. That review will be the foundation, but things have changed over the past two years. So the division leaders are going to be seeking input for new concepts and ideas that we may not have considered two years ago. So more to come in that area, and by the way, change management is not a process for one point in time. It's going to evolve with the situation, challenges and opportunities that we face. We want change management to be part of our normal way of doing business.
How will we start getting back to work on campus? What information is needed from public health and medical experts to make the determination of when to bring people back to campus?
That decision will be made with the input of local leaders, as well as public health directors. Here in Columbia, we are still under shelter in place until May 4 and it may be extended. During that period, we will be closed for in-person work at the University. In addition, we're disinfecting the University facilities now and we'll continue to do that on an ongoing basis. We're also thinking about what it means for us to have PPE available for staff and faculty members who are asked to come back to work, let's say sometime in June. No decision has been made and we will make sure that we follow the best guidance from the local municipalities and the public health directors.
Once the determination is made to come back on campus, for those employees who may not feel comfortable or may have certain risk factors, will they be forced to come to work or will they be allowed to continue to work from home?
We're not going to force people to come to work. When we make a decision that the campus is safe, that decision will be based on input and advice from multiple organizations. When we do make that decision, it would indicate that the campus is safe for us to come back to work
How do we take into consideration the massive amount of work that still has to be done when positions are eliminated? Oftentimes, people who are very busy now will have to assume some of those duties. How do we work with them to keep employee morale high?
This is an unprecedented and challenging period. Many of our staff members, faculty and administrators are stressed because of the uncertainty. I wish I could say something to alleviate that stress, but all I can say is that we will go about the decisions and consolidations in a way that is respectful of the employees. In many cases, they have dedicated their professional lives to the University. We will be very carefully examining the recommendations from the Administrative Review, and we are going to do our business in different ways. We're going to remove the redundant and dated approaches that have made all of us less efficient because we were following tradition. There are areas that we're going to have to evaluate carefully and do away with, if it makes sense for the University to become more effective.
Also, if individual employees have concerns about their workload, they are encouraged to talk to their supervisors. Supervisors are understanding and want to work with you. It may be that there are things that we have to stop doing. It’s important to have that open line of communication.
What kind of federal relief is the University receiving and are our employees eligible for any government relief similar to what's being seen and what's being experienced by small business employees?
The University System will receive, as part of this current stimulus package, about $34 million. Half of that, which is $17 million, will be provided directly to students who have the greatest need. The other $17 million will be spread across the four universities and the system. In terms of the support provided to small businesses as part of the CARES Act, there is nothing similar for universities. While we are making a strong and compelling case to the legislators to include the University and the hospital in this type of relief going forward, there's no indication that that's going to occur. As CFO Rapp stated, we're evaluating our situation almost on a daily basis to see if there will be further cuts from the state, whether there will be additional stimulus money and to ensure that we have a strong opening this fall.
Are we still moving forward with the NextGen Precision Health Initiative and Institute?
Yes. We are a system of four public research universities. Mizzou has been an AAU institution since the early 1900s, and research is a primary criterion for membership. The research that is currently and will be performed for NextGen, in the building itself and throughout the four universities, will make an impact for Missourians and beyond. That impact might be related to the development of isotopes for cancer treatment, or developing newer ways to address neurological diseases like traumatic brain injuries or helping children with autism. These are the types of research that have direct benefits to society. For that reason, the building project and programming related to research and faculty hiring are going to continue.
It has been communicated that there will be budget decisions in the coming weeks. As many employees are nervous about layoffs and furloughs, when will those decisions will be made?
We face a lot of uncertainty when it comes to our three main revenue sources. These are state funding, tuition and inpatient revenue. We've already provided some guidance in the short-term by restricting hiring, reclassifications and salary increases. We've also limited our non-personnel spending systemwide. Most importantly, we want to make sure that we focus on providing students a high-quality education and supporting student retention and recruitment. We also want to continue research and scholarship at the institutional level, as well as maintain our response to the public health crisis. From there, we will focus on supporting activities that can grow or maintain revenue for the University.
In all our plans, continuing to engage with and retain our students is critical. We are developing plans to cover the deficits for both FY20 and the projections for FY21. We want to do that transparently, but also as quickly as possible. Our goal is to stay calm and focused, but act with a sense of urgency, so we've moved to a 60- to 90-day planning horizon. Until we know how long the public health crisis will last and what final fall enrollment will look like, we will be in a monthly process of resetting our budgets and evaluating how we need to adjust our costs to match expected revenues.
Restructuring has been mentioned as a way of managing the financial situation. What does that really mean? Is that code for layoffs? Also, is now the time to fully implement the 2018 Administrative Review?
There are four pillars that drive the University forward: operational excellence, revenue growth, academic productivity and resource utilization. Organizational consolidation and restructuring are part of these pillars, and something that we will have to continue to do. Right now, we're trying to do two things at once. First, we are turning down our burn rate on expenses to deal with immediate financial consequences. Then, at the same time, we’re looking at plans for how we restructure. We certainly will look to things we learned through the 2018 Administrative Review. We were already moving forward with many of those recommendations, and I think the speed at which we were moving down that path is going to be greatly accelerated by this crisis.
What are other universities of similar size are doing to address budget issues?
We are monitoring how other institutions in the midwest and across the country are responding. We look at what SEC schools are doing, as well as Big 12 and Big 10 schools. Many of them have implemented similar measures to those that we've already taken. Some of our actions were taken earlier than those at other schools, while everyone is trying to gather more information. We all have the same degree of uncertainty around what the pandemic might mean for us. That’s really why we're looking at things on a weekly/monthly/daily basis and why we’re moving to a 60- to 90-day planning horizon, and then continually adjusting our budgets for this year and next year.
What if all employees took a pay cut? Would that be enough so that we would not have to use furloughs or layoff employees?
Systemwide, we spend about $1.6 billion on salaries and wages. That means that every 1% decrease in salary would save $16 million, just on the salary and wages side. But across-the-board pay cuts and actions at this point in time wouldn't necessarily make sense. We need to understand the full effect of the pandemic, and the other thing we have to think about is that workload isn't evenly distributed across the organization. You can also lose some of your best and brightest faculty and staff with an approach like that.
We will consider that option if we get to that point, but we're going to continue to look for other avenues to match our expenditures to revenue. We do understand that these personnel decisions have huge consequences, both in the short- and long-term. That is why we started with significant non-personnel restrictions on spending and voluntary pay decreases for leaders. We will have other hard decisions in front of us in the coming days and weeks.
Should we expect more uncertainty in the coming months?
Until we know the full duration and impact of this public health crisis and what fall enrollment will look like, the short answer is yes. What we are doing now is taking careful, but decisive, actions in the short-term that allow for flexible options in the long run. As we continue to get more information and clarity, I think the uncertainty will decrease over time, but I don't expect that to subside in the next month or two. I think it will probably clearer as we get closer to the fall term.
As we've moved into this new environment of working from home, some departments might find that it's doable for them to continue to do so. Will options be available in the future to continue to work from home?
In many cases, work from home arrangements may be expected as we move forward. Having flexible work arrangements is a key part of budget planning, as space reduction is going to be required across our entire system. We understand that we'll have to think differently about the work that is directly related to the University’s mission. I'm really speaking to where our administrators and staff are located, as that will be a key part of our budget planning as we look at FY21 and beyond
Please explain how the University defines furloughs. If an employee is furloughed, will that time eventually be paid out? What happens to a person's benefits during a furlough period?
Policies and resources for both supervisors and individual employees are available on the UM System website. Each page includes policies, guides, FAQs and additional resources.
A furlough is a university-required leave of absence for a limited period of time. Depending on the type of furlough, it may be unpaid or may require the use of accrued vacation. If you’re benefit eligible on either short-term or long-term furlough, you'll be able to continue to participate in the University's benefit programs like medical, dental and life insurance. The University will continue to pay its share of the premiums and the employee will pay their share of the premiums at the same cost. You'll continue to pay your current rate as an employee, and as an employer, we will continue to pay ours. Employees who are furloughed will not receive retroactive pay for that period.
Have you considered furloughing every single employee for one week, let's say in May? Then we could use that staggered approach and still cover core responsibilities to avoid longer layoffs for some employees. Also, are furloughed employees eligible for unemployment?
We will remain open to different approaches, focusing on how to continue to achieve the mission of the University while making choices that are least impactful to employees. For unemployment, I would recommend that employees apply for it if they find themselves in that situation, but it is the state who decides whether someone is eligible for unemployment, not the University. I caution leaders from advice about unemployment because it’s an evolving field right now as a result of recent changes to federal and state regulations. Our best advice is to encourage employees to apply if they're in a situation like this.
If an employee took a voluntary pay reduction, what would be the impact on retirement pay?
In the Defined Benefit Plan, a furlough will not count toward vesting. If an employee is vested, the first 30 days of a furlough count for service credit in the Defined Benefit Plan. Voluntary pay reductions for individuals that are planning to retire within the next five years could result in an impact to the overall pension benefit. It's really difficult without getting into much detail to know whether it would impact an individual or not. We have a really great retirement team and they can review individual’s specific situations, especially for folks that might be thinking about taking a voluntary temporary pay reduction.
As an employee going through a furlough period, do you lose all of your accrued sick and vacation leave?
No, if an employee is placed on either a short-term or long-term furlough, they'll maintain their paid time off, like sick leave or vacation time. Depending on the furlough, they may be required to use accumulated leave. For example, an employee on a short-term furlough, which is defined as one-week, is not eligible to use their PTO, but employees on a longer-term furlough, as defined in the policies, will be required to use their accumulated vacation before moving to unpaid status.
What are the criteria for determining who will not be a part of the furlough process and will the guidelines be consistently applied across the system?
In making staffing decisions, units are really being guided to continue to achieve the University's mission in the short-term and best position the University for long term success. There may be individual units that use a variety of measures to reduce costs to achieve a similar amount of reductions. As an example, some units may be experiencing a really high demand of work right now and having employees furloughed would not be a viable option. In other units, there may be less demand than usual, on either a short-term or continuing basis. Different measures would be used in the situation to continue to achieve the mission of the University, while having similar amounts of reductions. To the extent that options are equally effective in achieving the University’s mission, units should choose actions that impose the least impact on employees. We really are balancing those two primary and guiding principles to achieve the mission of the University and trying to choose options that have the least impact on employees.
How can we obtain the supplies and equipment we need to continue working at home (e.g., repair or replacement for keyboards, monitors, etc., as well as basic office supplies)?
Discuss with your supervisor to coordinate equipment and supplies needed to support telework.
Please explain what measures are being taken to make sure that we have a secure process for Zoom?
We’ve worked hard over the last couple of months to ensure students as well as faculty and staff can access the resources they need to continue learning, teaching and work activities.
We have also fielded a number of questions but the two most predominant issues have been around Zoom security and Virtual Private Networking, usually referred to as VPN.
I’ll address Zoom security first:
- Zoom as a corporation has been acting quickly to address privacy and security concerns. Because Zoom seems to be the most popular of conferencing and collaboration tools, Zoom is a target for hackers and others who simply want to be disruptive.
- Zoom has added a number of security features, many of which are available to the meeting host.
- You, as a meeting host, can take steps to secure your virtual meeting room as well. Some best practices include:
- Don’t share meeting links on public forums or social media
- Enable waiting rooms for attendees and let them in once you confirm identity
- Lock your room once everyone has arrived
- The default setting for UM System is that only the host can screen share or allow participants once they’ve confirmed the identity of all participants.
- In order for a given individual to use new Zoom features, your Zoom client needs to be current.
- You can obtain Zoom client updates on Zoom.com
- Zoom has been a little slow in updating Linux clients that aren’t broadly used.
Working with the eLearning team, we will continue to keep updated the information about tools and resources on keeplearning.umsystem.edu.
Does the current pandemic and economic downturn require us to invest and not cut back on some business and technology capabilities? If so, what might those new capabilities be?
The answer is yes, but I don't think it just applies to current events. I think the current events have given us an opportunity to change our technologies to support both current events, events of this kind in the future and, in general, a more mobile workforce. We are actively planning on investing in more mobility options, so that students, faculty and staff will have more flexibility. I think we've all adapted to remote work fairly well and that's given us an opportunity to continue in that service mode, no matter what issues we’re dealing with. So yes, we will be focusing more on investments in tools, techniques and hardware devices that provide more mobility.
If I'm an employee and I'd like to access my work files, is the only way to do that through the VPN?
The answer to that depends on where your work files are. As everyone can imagine, we have beefed up our VPN infrastructure. VPN service is used to tie people who are not on campus to the services that are on campus. Before the current events, peak utilization for VPN services was 382 users with a throughput of 600 megabits. I'm giving you this data just for comparison. Currently, our high-water mark in the current events was 2,940 users. That's more than 7.5 times the number of users.
The primary concern with VPN service is that our students, faculty and staff are using VPN when it’s not needed. VPN is not needed to do email, connect to myHR, Peoplesoft in general, Canvas, Zoom, Box or most other services. VPN is needed to access:
- Remote Desktop Access to workstations that remain on campus
- Lab computer/computing sites, which were recently added in response to our current efforts
- Network File Share/network drives
- You should connect to the VPN service periodically because currently, for University computers issued to faculty and staff, that’s the best way to get operating system and software updates which are really important.
- You should also use VPN if you are on an insecure WiFi network because VPN encrypts your connection where an insecure WiFi network doesn’t.
If you need more information on VPN services and when you need to use it, go to doit.missouri.edu and search for VPN, or you can call the help desk at (573) 882-5000.