Financial Challenges and Issues

April 16, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff,

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented us with significant challenges as a university community over the past several weeks. I continue to be inspired and grateful for the ways we have come together to support our students, transition to remote learning and care for one another during this extraordinary and unprecedented time. The challenges are ones all universities are facing and, in many ways, we have been a leader in charting the path forward because of your dedication, creativity, imagination and hard work.

I am writing to you at this time to update you on some difficult financial decisions we are in the process of making. The pandemic has created nearly $7 million in revenue losses for the university in the Spring Quarter. This includes unexpected revenue losses from student housing, fees, enrollment and auxiliary services such as parking and events.

We have already taken some significant steps to contain costs for the Spring Quarter, including implementing a hiring freeze, working with each division, college and school to find additional savings and reducing discretionary spending for the remainder of the fiscal year ending June 30. The institutional relief for universities and colleges in the recently passed federal stimulus package, or CARES Act, provides some additional support but is far short of what is needed to make up for the unexpected and substantial financial losses across all higher education institutions, including ours.

Additionally, it is important to consider these decisions in the larger context of the current reality, the considerable uncertainty that remains at this time and the university’s long-term financial health and well-being. There is a high level of uncertainty beyond this academic year because of the pandemic and resulting economic downturn, including its impacts on students and their families, as well as the need to have in place extraordinary containment measures prior to returning to in-person classes and co-curricular programs, which we hope occurs this fall but cannot yet know.

I will share the pending decisions for this fiscal year with you prior to May 1 after they are finalized and steps are in place, if needed, to communicate personally with those who may be most impacted.

Together with others, I have been considering a range of measures such as furloughing some staff for the next three months, voluntary or mandatory reductions in pay for staff above a certain salary level for a period of time, delaying some approved expenses and other measures of this nature. These are tough choices in front of us and any decisions we implement must be done so with care and consideration for our colleagues who are most impacted.

As we look ahead, we are developing three scenarios for the FY21 budget. We will be seeking Board approval at the end of the month for the scenario planning with an intention of post-postponing approval of the FY21 budget until November when we have a better understanding of the impacts of the pandemic in the fall and heading into 2021. With that said, we anticipate a wage freeze for faculty and staff at the beginning of the next fiscal year on July 1 and will plan to reevaluate at the first of November whether we can identify funding for a compensation increase in FY21. We are also reviewing the university’s retirement contribution as an area that may need to be reduced for a period of time.

I want to again express my appreciation for your understanding and patience as, together, we continue to navigate this unprecedented situation and all its uncertainties. We have sought to be guided by our mission and values in addressing the challenges and difficult choices thrust upon us. We have worked to consult as broadly as possible under the circumstances on a range of issues, including our finances. Let me extend a special thanks to the Budget Advisory Group, which includes representation from Academic Assembly, the Deans Council and Cabinet, and to leaders across our colleges, schools and divisions for your engagement with your areas within the university, as well with Academic Assembly and the Staff Council.

One thing we do know amid the heightened uncertainty is that we have an exceptional faculty and staff and we will continue to deliver a high-quality education and experience for our students. Seattle University’s Jesuit education and mission are critically important at this time for addressing the challenges and realities of the crisis, shaping the way forward as a globally connected society, supporting those on the margins and ending the housing, health and other disparities and inequities that the pandemic has made more evident.

The challenges now before us are unlike any we have encountered as a university, but the care, commitment and spirit of our campus community gives me faith that we will come through this a better and stronger university. As president I commit to you that I will confront these challenges with as much care for all the members of our community as is possible and guided by our mission and our colleagueship. I will also communicate with you openly and clearly about the decisions taken and the rationale for them. I ask now and as we go forward that we continue to support and care for one another, especially our students, and that we keep in mind and in prayer the suffering and loss that so many experience. May God bless us and our shared endeavors.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.