Frequently Asked Questions

On May 11, 2020, Western Michigan University held a virtual town hall focused on the COVID-19 health and financial crisis and the pandemic's economic impact on the University. It was an opportunity to learn about WMU's financial outlook and submit questions. Many of the questions submitted were identical or addressed similar themes. The information below represents frequently asked questions and also provides answers. This page will continue to be updated.

Posted May 14, 2020

  • WMU anticipates a $45 million to $85 million gap. Why are we targeting the higher number rather than the lower number?

    The potential size of the challenge we face even under the most favorable of circumstances is significantly bigger than we have seen in recent memory. To meet that goal would still require cuts touching every aspect of the campus. The University's collective bargaining agreements and Human Resources policies also require advanced notice and multiple steps before action can be taken. If we wait until we know precisely the size of the deficit in the fall, it will be too late to make the adjustments needed in the worst-case scenario.  But if we plan for the worst likelihood and do better, I think everyone would welcome the challenge of how to utilize additional resources.

  • Is this crisis an existential threat to WMU? I've heard that some universities may close. Is that a possibility here?

    The University will endure this crisis. WMU has existed for some 117 years, persisting through the Great Depression, wars and in more contemporary times, the Great Recession. Those times required that the University not take its eyes off the ball—educating students. In those times, University leaders made difficult decisions that were painful, but ensured Western’s future. The same is true today. We can and will survive this threat, but not without the measures we are discussing today. Though hard to imagine at this moment, the University can emerge from this even stronger than before when all is said and done. But that means making hard decisions now and operating much differently in the future than we do today.

  • Is it possible that programs or departments —academic and otherwise—will be eliminated? How will academic programs be affected?

    It is possible that there will be units that look and operate much differently in the future than they do today. While a given service, function or unit's work may be mission critical, that doesn’t mean that it must be delivered or operate in the way it has in the past. We must determine the essence of the service, unit or office and decide how to build it into the campus experience in a way that still achieves the needed impact and experience, but does so at less cost.

  • Does the University's budgeting anticipate a cut in state support and by how much?

    Our estimates account for a downturn in state funding. We should have more precise estimates soon, but preliminary indications suggest a $2 to 3 billion deficit for this current fiscal year and an equivalent shortfall in the coming fiscal year. You may recall in 2011 shortfalls at the state level led to a $11 million cut in our budget

  • Is WMU moving forward with the new budget model as originally planned on the original timetable?

    Yes. This crisis has, if anything, demonstrated how crucial it is that we align our scarce resources with our current needs and priorities. While we want to be mindful of our capacity to adapt to or implement the new budget model, our current and future reality needs to be the basis of our decisions and investments.

  • Why are we making cuts when we have an endowment?

    The University's endowment provides some $11 million in support each year, including for scholarships, lectures, arts performances and faculty or program support. There is a common misconception that the endowment is a great big savings account into which universities can dip as needed. In reality, it is a collection of thousands of different pots of money, each created to support a very specific set of activities for both current and future generations of our community. The vast majority of the endowment dollars are in these donor-designated funds,  and the WMU Foundation signed binding agreements to use the money for a stated purpose—not only today but into the indefinite future. We are not free to ignore our agreements.

  • The federal government has provided higher education with stimulus money? How much will WMU receive as an institution? How will this help?

    The CARES Act—known as the federal stimulus package—will help our students and higher education. Our portion is a little more than $15 million. Half of that will go to student relief, as directed by the Act itself. The remaining $7.7 million will help, but only covers a small portion of the potential $85 million gap we are facing.

  • Why are some construction projects continuing while others have stopped?

    While we are finding substantial savings by suspending or canceling some construction projects, we will finish projects where completion is necessary to preserve our preexisting investments and mitigate rising construction costs.

  • Will the University lay off more employees? Is anyone protected from the possibility of being laid off? Would temporary pay cuts prevent layoffs?

    Given the magnitude of the challenge that the COVID-19 crisis has presented and with about two-thirds of our budget consisting of compensation, additional reductions in personnel are, regrettably, unavoidable. As departments work through their plans, we anticipate decisions and notifications to come in phases.

  • Will you be following the staff reduction plan outlined on the HR website?

    The University will follow layoff policies and procedures outlined for each employee group.

  • When will the timeline of layoff phases be announced/released?

    As we are expecting a significant personnel reduction, decisions about which are being made at the department level. Decisions and notifications will come in phases. We endeavor to create a schedule of notices and decisions that is somewhat predictable.

  • Do you anticipate those employees laid off may be called back?

    There are a lot of variables involved here, including some that are outside of our control, such as state appropriations as well as the progression of the pandemic. What post-pandemic life  will look like and when we will get there is so up in the air right now. Unfortunately, no one can say with any certainty if and when all of our in-person activities will return to their former levels. Without that knowledge, we would just be speculating about when or if laid-off workers will be recalled.

  • Can we avoid RIFs with campus-wide pay reductions?

    We have examined this question from every point of view.  We have implemented the across-the-board pay cuts that we believe are sustainable—10% for the president and senior leaders, 5% for next-level administrators, and 2.25% for staff.

    We came to these numbers by following our current bargaining agreements and identifying a cut that we felt was manageable for our staff. The 2.25% is equivalent to the pool increase last year.All told, the pay reductions will total $4 million. That’s a lot of jobs spared. Ultimately it comes down to arithmetic: When facing a 20% budget cut, there is no feasible across-the-board approach that will enable us to compensate individuals at levels that would keep them coming to work.

  • How is athletics impacted?

    Athletics, like every department, is required to meet a 20% reduction in its budget.

  • I have budget-reduction ideas, how can I share them?

    Yes. We welcome all ideas. While some may not be feasible today or suitable for large-scale implementation, others could represent or stimulate additional ideas that help us to take a step forward. Brick by brick, all ideas could add up to a big impact. Please send them to info@wmich.edu.