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.

Use of endowment funds

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 11:12 (user name hidden)

I understand why you wouldn't want to tap into the endowment funds but, FY2019 the fund gained 5.3% to reach a record high 7.3 billion, thats around 370 million increase in 1yr. From FY2014 - FY2019 the fund gained 1.6 billion.


Consider multiple approaches for Faculty and Staff Cuts

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 11:08 (user name hidden)

I appreciate the efforts of all the university leaders during these difficult times.  This is not new, but much deeper issues for those of us who have been here for a long time.  What I am hopeful for is that leadership will direct faculty cuts first (pay, benefits) and not just the staff as we have been hit hard since 2008.  In addition, the university had implemented processes to not increase headcount and yet they went out the window.  Look at how many positions have been added; no spans and layers have gone out the window; and now the staff are going to be cut again (potentially).  I URGE the university to give options to staff if cuts are imminent.  For example, if you want the higher paid staff to take cuts, allow the pay to be cut but not the effort.  Effort reductions will totally affect years of service credit towards retirement (pay cuts do too) AND if you don't reduce their effort we can still accrue full time benefits to offset the pay decrease.  This gives at least some incentive and really doesn't hurt the university.  Also, if you push to reduce pay AND effort, it hurts NYS employees with their sick (HAP) balances which we can use towards retirement health insurance payments. 

I urge the university to give some options.  Staff have been a part of many new efficiencies in processing and have taken on a lot since 2008, been good citizens to keep our wonderful university prestigous and a wonderful place to work, but please do not hurt just the staff.  There are so many faculty who do not work to their full capacity and would like to see a drive to retirement programs for faculty to allow for new faculty hires and not hurt staff by cutting them.  How will you address union staff as I doubt they can be cut, how is that fair?


There must be a better way

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 11:01 (user name hidden)

I was here in 2008 when cuts had to be made...and it was the staff / non-exempt that took the biggest hit, learning how to do more with less. is not the faculty/ those with the highest salary's that are asked to take a cut or reduction in order to save the Uniiversity funds so they can continue to is the staff /non-exepmt employees...the ones who have the most to loose that are being asked to give up more.  I understand that SIP needed to be taken....we never really saw that come back to what it was before fact it doesn't really amount to a cost of living increase.  But now to sugguest eliminating CURP...even for a year...that's not only raises many deep concerns...first and can those close to retirement hope to recover what a year of those contributions would have been....not only in the contributions themselves...but in the investments and returns.  There is not enough time for many to absorb that loss and rebuild.  That's quite a cut you're asking us to take..  If you care about your employees...then perhaps you should try to find other solutions to solving the financial problems that Cornell is facing, and look to those that have more expendable money.   Maybe it's time to ask Faculy to think enough of Cornell to step up and do their fare share as well.    We are all supposed to be in this together...aren't we?


Difficult Decisions

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 10:32 (user name hidden)

I don't see how the salary reduction of 1-5% in the contract colleges is equivalent to no retirement contribution (last I checked 10% of my salary) and the corresponding future earnings for endowed employees. I would like to hear more about why this is considered equitable and compareable. I understand that difficult decisions will have to be made. Our students, their parents, and our faculty, have very high expectations of our services. We will have to start doing less with less. We can't continue to be expected to do more, or even the same, with less. 


Leadership in scope reduction

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 10:13 (user name hidden)

I appreciate Mary Opperman's observation that we are a community of highly creative people with ambitious ideas for things we want to do (it is one of the reasons I value being part of this instutition), and also her observation that we need to right-size our ideas, and therefore the size of our staff, to our true, sustainable financial capacity. However, in every cycle of cuts I have navigated in my 30 years here, I have yet to see true leadership around right-sizing the scope of our initiatives to match the realities of our resources. The difficult decisions about cutting staff are made out of budget necessity, but I have yet to see a leader who can make the equally difficult choices to reduce our scope of work accordingly. Doing the same with less is just as unsustainable, even if the numbers on the budget sheet look great, as doing more than we can afford. I truly hope every dean and every vice president is being held accountable for demonstrating not just what staff they will cut, but what work - initiatives, ideas, projects, events - they will ALSO cut, so that those who survive the cuts can have realistic, attainable goals to be achieved. Without this, we will be in this situation again, and again, and again.


A few thoughts

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 10:08 (user name hidden)

Some of us have been around for a while and have a somewhat cynical view of how often promises are fulfilled. Can we get a guarantee, in writing, with a penalty to the University should they choose to break that guarantee, that the proposed "temporary" cuts to salaries/retirement will be restored in FY2022?

Asking everyone but faculty to sacrifice, once again, is making the repeated "we're all in this together" messaging a bit hard to swallow. Perhaps they could consider making similar sacrifices that they're expecting of their support staff. Unless they'd like to handle all of that work themselves.

Long-term, perhaps having the Ithaca campus's fortunes be less tied to the performance of the campuses in New York City (the medical hospital and the tech campus) is something to consider. I'm old enough to remember when we were "promised" that the New York tech campus would not take any resources from Ithaca.


Earmarking savings

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 10:05 (user name hidden)

I was hoping that the presentation would also include some explanation of any sort of earmarking that is being done for specific cost-savings strategies. For example, when the voluntary salary cut by senior leadership was first announced, it was stated that every penny of that savings would go toward student financial aid. While I understand that choice from the perspective of our mission, it also sends a message to staff that preserving jobs is not a driver for that particular cost-saving action. If other actions are being similarly earmarked (e.g. to cover student financial aid) I would like to see those choices disclosed transparently. Those choices are a reflection of our values as an institution, and the specific choice cited here did not align fully with my own values, an area where I very much hope that I will find common ground with my employer.


judiciously using a bit of endowment?

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 09:58 (user name hidden)

I believe it is mission critical to remain a "need blind institution" and thus find ways to make up any gap for financial aid that might be caused by the current economic, viral induced, climate. To support the mission of Cornell and retain my rewarding job I am willing to share in the financial responsibility. There was no salary improvement this year, so I (we) have contributed ~2-3% in real dollars. Further I am willing to take a 1 year salary reduction to support Cornell (and thus honestly my future employment). I believe there should be a salary cap under which there is no salary reduction (e.g. ~$50-70K/year) and also agree with a graduated decrease, i.e. make more = a larger cut. Lastly I understand that future earning from the endowment should be preserved and that much of it is restricted in use.

However, I think if there has been a time for a one time use of some of it prudentely for financial aid this might be it; with some use in all three budget deficient forecasts.

I encourage examining a model where a sustainable, small portion of the endowment is used to help offset salary reduction (not elminate them). For example, if there is already a 3% loss of SIP and someone stands to loose 3% more how about using the endowment to the extent this person looses only 1.5% of salary, i.e. a total fiscal year loss for this person of 4.5% instead of 6%? The other examples at the 1-5% reductions are obvious.

If the math works it appears that shared individual and instiutional accomdations could work for Cornell, individual employee work satisfaction, and in fact likely the benefit of the entire economy (esp. Tompkins Co. and neighboring ones where Cornell employees live).

Thank you for all your thoughtful and hard work to face this challenge to the best of our ability.



Retirement elimination for low-paid staff - financial hardship

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 09:33 (user name hidden)

As a staff member who is in a lower band of pay, I already pay 60 percent of my salary in rent. I can barely afford to live and work here already. Taking away Cornell's retirement contribution for a year is a significant reduction in benefits, and the benefits are the only thing keeping me even just barely able to survive here. Please consider other options, and consider skipping elimination of CU retirement contribution for low-earning staff. As another commenter noted, very highly paid faculty are not getting reductions and their lives won't be severely affected like ours will if you reduce some of their income/benefits/extras. While I realize you want to ensure faculty retention, faculty will understand that cuts are happening everywhere, so it's not like Cornell is singling them out. Also please consider urgently adopting more energy efficiency measures that could significantly reduce what Cornell spends on heat, light, and so on. For example, the building I work in is consistently greatly overheated and there are incredible inefficiences everywhere. LED lighting would also help, and auto shut-off lighting. Closing some buildings overnight and reducing heat or cooling. Better insulation and windows could help. Geothermal. Green buildings/roofs/walls. There are so many more measures that could make Cornell a leader in this area, and there are even grants that could help accomplish this. We could be saving millions in operating expenses.


It is entirely inappropriate

Submitted by Anonymous authenticated user on Fri, 2020-06-12 08:56 (user name hidden)

It is entirely inappropriate to be having discussions regarding permanent long-term income cuts to employees (i.e. no CURP contributions) while simultaneously demanding that those employees all take on significant additional responsibilities due to a hiring freeze, attrition, and rapidly shifting self-contradictory direction from above with impossibly short deadlines.

The University must address the reality that the current crunch-level workload being required of all staff is unsustainable, and expecting us to maintain that level while simultaneously reducing compensation is patently absurd. The concept "Do more with less" is a nonsense corporate platitude that has no business here. At some point, we must do less with less. At the very least, maintain status quo without continuing to pile on "initiatives" on increasingly smaller and more stressed single points of failure, or risk disaster when those points decide it's no longer worth the stress at the newly reduced compensation.