Staff Feedback on Financial Update - 6/9/2020

Employee Assembly Meeting
June 9, 2020   |   3:45-5:00PM
Financial Update Presentation: Mary Opperman, Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer & Paul Streeter, Vice President for Budget and Planning
A recording of the meeting and presentation may be found on on the Meeting Detail page.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University is facing financial difficulties that include a projected increase in undergraduate financial aid, an anticipated decrease of undergraduate and graduate tuition revenue due to lower student enrollment, and a reduction in state appropriations. Today's presentation from the administration will provide an update on what further steps will be taken to address the financial challenges.

  • Members of the staff community are invited to provide feedback and comments to the presentation and discussion provided during today's Employee Assembly meeting.
  • The EA will collect the feedback to share with the reactivation committees in advance of their reports that are due on June 15, 2020.
  • Feedback and public comment are welcomed through 5:00 PM on Monday, June 15, 2020.

This page contains comments posted by members of the staff community in response to the presentation made during the EA meeting on 6/9/2020. Before posting to this forum, please read the comments below to make sure that the information you are providing is pertinent to the discussion and has not already been addressed before. Comments containing inappropriate language, including but not limited to offensive, profane, vulgar, threatening, harassing, or abusive language, are subject to removal.


** Commenting is closed.

Measure twice - Cut once

Submitted by Andrew Joseph Darrol on Fri, 2020-06-12 16:20

We don’t know the number of individuals that may take the early retirement incentive and the savings of continuous remote work (reducing utilities / rent / value of unutilized footprints if sold) - those savings amounts are not incorporated into the 3 scenarios (-$98M, -$226M, -$314M). 

The current planned mitigation actions derive over half of the savings from Workforce related actions, some could say the staff is being overly targeted prematurely without truly considering additional options.

Suggesting that we maintain the current initiatives that are already in place (Capital spending restriction / Salary freeze / Hiring pause) and wait until the dust settles with regards to Fall enrollment.  At that time it could be determined which of the 3 scenarios are we are actually in / have a better understand of the working remote cost savings / realize what the workforce size may be after early retirements & continuous attrition / have the ability to further vet additional cost savings or revenue generating ideas.....before additional actions are taken that financially impact the staff.


Shared sacrifices should mean shared rewards in good times

Submitted by Jamie Rosner Duong on Fri, 2020-06-12 16:16

If the staff are to make another sacrifice for an economic crisis as we did in 2008-09, there should be more done to improve salaries/benefits when the economy and Cornell's finances are doing well. Staff did not see any significant raises in all the years between 2009 and 2020 despite record growth in the stock market (which should translate to the endowment) as well as a 50% increase in operating expenses from a decade earlier. Hopefully we can avoid cuts to salaries or benefits but if those are necessary, a better committment from the University to make up for those cuts in the future would alleviate a lot of stress that employees are feeling right now. Cuts to retirement, especially at a time when the market is likely to be at another low point would be very harmful to staff financial security in their retirement. Some kind of formulation that protects workers earning at or below the median salary would be a good way to protect those who can least afford cuts.

Perhaps if salary/benefit cuts are absolutely required staff could receive some kind of "store credit" that could be used by them or their family towards Cornell tuition etc. While not perfect, it woudl lessen the blow and keep Cornell dollars within Cornell.


Work from home option

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 16:05 (user name hidden)

Someone asked about how long-term working from home might result in savings through ability to reduce rent or shuffling departments and groups. Mary Opperman answered but her connection was poor. I got the sense that the university doesn't think working from home would save money but that answer flies against everything I've read. I know it results in savings for me personally and if I continued to work from home, I could more easily take a pay cut. I understand CIT has made the decision to continue to work from home indefinitely. Why did they make that decision if there was no cost benefit? Just the savings from not having to install sneeze guards etc. in offices would be significant. And isn't it costly when staff are out sick? Keeping us distanced is beneficial for the time being.


Hardship on older employees

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 15:50 (user name hidden)

Sorry if this sounds like a rant but I totally oppose your across the board retirement plan pause. Being in the latter part of my career, a 10% hit in retirement contributions, plus no SIP, plus a crash in my retirement account, all within 5 years of retiring makes for the appearance of fairness of an-across-the-board retirement pause, but in fact it is completely unfair. I am out of time to make up that kind of money. If you have 20-30 years of service in that should count for something. I feel you are taking the easy way out. At the very least a sliding scale of a %decrease for people in certain age brackets should be taken into account.  for example 55-65 get 7%  45-54 get 5%, 35-44 get 3% under 34 get 0.  If you want to add another dimension for years of service, go for it! Why not take back some vacation time? I would even favor a 5% pay cut to get the after tax retirement money in my account. It would be a lot fairer to those of us who have put in the time and make Cornell the great place it is.  I also favor cutting jobs, even if they make for tough decisions.  The President's goal of keeping jobs at all cost is a luxury we simply can't afford. We can't keep living beyond our means. Leave it to the academic units to make the tough decisions on where they want to prioritize and where they want the cuts to come. Rethink your plan, it needs work.


Retirement poll

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 15:45 (user name hidden)

Could you send a poll and find out who may be interested in taking the early retirement incentive before deciding to cut salaries on the contract side? If enough eligible employees are interested, it may not be necessary to reduce people's pay.


Well stated.

Submitted by Christa Downey on Fri, 2020-06-12 15:27

Thank you for this. It is well stated.


Are we truly all in this together?

Submitted by Rhonda H. Velazquez on Fri, 2020-06-12 15:23

I appreciate the herculean efforts being made to avoid a large number of layoffs, and realize it is a very complex and uncertain situation. Would faculty be called upon to make similar sacrifices to staff in terms of salary freezes and not receiving university payments into retirement plans?


Shared sacrifice and realities

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 14:57 (user name hidden)

I understand that Cornell is working hard to retain our positions and is thoughtfully evaluating all options. However, this is not like the 2008 crisis and those making decisions are likely in a different situation than most staff. We are at home. We have school age children who we are teaching. We are working early or working late or working weekends because our partners are also working full-time jobs (if we are lucky). Or we have less income and are faced with difficult choices daily. Some of us work to bring the best and brightest students into the university so that faculty have people to teach. Some of us work in development so that the endowment grows. Some of us work in facilities so that faculty have functional labs, equipment, and classroom spaces. 

We worry about our job security while we are being asked to give more, to do more with less, and to continue to support faculty needs when they are not sharing the sacrifice. 


Difficult Decisions Ahead

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 14:28 (user name hidden)

First and foremost I want to express my thanks for the presentation to the Employee Assembly and to the University administration for not rushing into any decisions and for soliciting comments from staff. Peer institutions announced their decision to stop funding retirement accounts a few weeks ago; those decisions were so quick that I wonder if their staff were able to comment.

As a follower of the news, I know a pay cut would be hard for many. When the pandemic started the need for food assistance grew faster than since the Great Depression. News of the number of people who were only one paycheck away from not being able to feed their family and pay for housing or make their car payment could be weighing on the minds of University administration who are making suggestions for the steps the University should take. The proposal to stop the University contributions to retirement rather than reduce pay for the same number of work hours would be the easiest way to not put some staff in a more difficult financial position today.

However, as an endowed employee who is closer to retirement than not, I too am concerned about missing the University contribution to retirement and being able to "catch up" from missing a year of contributions. I would be in favor of a pay cut similar to that proposed for the Contract College side. When looking at the options, has the University factored in the lower employer contributions to retirement, Social Security (and I believe Medicare) that would be required of the University if there were pay cuts causing overall payroll to be lower?

If not contributing to retirement is determined to be the best course of action on the Endowed side, I ask for a few things that would not place a large financial burden on the University. 1) when the University is speaking with our elected representatives at the State and Federal level, please ask them to consider legislation to allow anyone who does not get an employer match into retirement to be able to contribute more on their own to their retirement account (similar to how the CARES Act allowed retirees to not take a distribution this year); it is unclear if the current legislation for those who do not have employer-sponsored retirement benefits would apply to those whose employers do not contribute to retirement accounts for one year.  2) ask the benefits office staff to create a template letter we can use to ask our elected representatives to propose/consider the same legislation.  3) ask the benefits office to communicate other ways that staff can contribute to our retirement savings/reduce our taxable income, especially if additional legislation is introduced to assist workers across America (I am thinking of communications similar to the "Vested Interest" brochure the Office of Trusts, Estates and Gift Planning recently sent to alumni about the CARES Act).

When all of the hard decisions are made by the University administration are complete I will be grateful if there is as little job loss as possible. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to find another job in this region if there are many talented people completing for the same small pool of jobs that might become open.


Might NYS reduce contributions to retirement plans

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 14:20 (user name hidden)

Paul Streeter indicated that reducing or pausing retirement contributions for employees of the Contract Colleges isn't an option b/c it is a NYS obligation to maintain these contributions. First, it's important to note that salary cuts to Contract College staff and faculty will lead to reductions in retirement contributions, since those contributions are based on the employee's salary. I'm not aware if any of the funds for the Contract College's retirement contributions come directly from the State, or if they all come from Cornell, but if all or some of the funding comes directly from the State's budget, isn't there a risk of additional cuts to the State's retirement contributions, given the financial state of NYS? We've heard some members of the U.S. senate say they do not want the Federal government to "bail out" NYS and other coastal states during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the retirement systems of these States have been mentioned specifically as reasons why the Federal government should not provide funding to States' governments. Therefore, I'm concerned Contract College employees might be at risk of cuts to their retirement contributions in two ways, as a result of cut to their salaries and direct cuts that NYS might be contemplating to account for its large budget deficit. Thank you.