The University of Montana on Monday placed 63 employees on temporary furlough, saying the financial strain brought on by the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the decision.
The university reached out to the individuals on Monday and issued a campus-wide memo later in the day announcing the decision. The workers will remain on furlough through Aug. 1.
“These are employees who have been working in the university’s auxiliary functions, such as housing and dining,” UM communications director Paula Short told the Missoula Current. “Those services rely heavily on the students being physically present on campus, but because the vast majority of our students aren’t here, we needed to do the furlough.”
In his campus memo, UM President Seth Bodnar said the pandemic has forced the university to make dramatic changes to its programs and operations to prioritize the safety of campus employees and that of the general public.
But it also has forced the school to face the financial realities of the pandemic. The employees impacted by Monday’s announcement will remain on the job for 30 days before the furlough takes effect.
Short said the employees will continue to receive their university benefits, including medical insurance. They will also retain their employment status.
“This furlough is not considered a break in service,” said Short. “It won’t affect their longevity, their seniority or their benefits. They’ll retain their status, but will be on furlough.”
Bodnar said the decision to move forward with they furloughs was difficult, and he called the employees vital to the university’s mission. But with so few students on campus, he said the temporary furloughs became necessary.
“As you can imagine, these decisions have created significant financial strain as we have canceled events, issued refunds for housing and dining, and halted the numerous activities that typically happen on our campus this time of year,” Bodnar said. “Nowhere have these impacts been felt more acutely than in our auxiliary operations.”
The university has worked over the past month to keep as many workers employed as possible during the shutdown, even as campus dorms empty and classes move to the Internet.
UM recently assigned those employees whose job is on hold to other areas of the campus where help is needed. Bodnar said the school also is working to identify projects that can be completed while the campus population is at a minimum.
With Monday’s memo, Bodnar said he’d donate 25% of his salary back to the university, and other senior members will do the same.
“I acknowledge that no rationale or expression of gratitude erases the hardship this decision creates for our impacted colleagues,” Bodnar said. “These are challenging times, both for our colleagues across campus and for our students, and there will no doubt be difficult days and tough decisions ahead.”
Short said the university is still planning to see students return to campus for the fall semester. The workers given notice on Monday will return in August to resume their work.
“Before the virus, we had about 2,100 students living in our on campus dorms, and now we have about 80,” said Short. “There just aren’t any students here.”