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University to enact salary, wage freezes for upcoming Fiscal Year 2021

Brown joins peer universities in enacting hiring salary freezes, some faculty are exempt

By and
Metro Editor and University News Editor
Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The University will freeze regular salary increases for faculty and staff for Fiscal Year 2021 beginning July 1 as one of many measures to alleviate the financial strain of COVID-19, according to a community-wide email sent by Provost Richard Locke P’18. 

While “there will be no increases to existing salaries through merit or performance bonuses,” Locke wrote in the email, “the performance evaluation process is expected to continue.”

In spite of the freeze, “our salaries are very competitive” relative to peer institutions, Locke told The Herald.

In a period of unprecedented unemployment across the nation, “people just understand that the economy has collapsed, … and everyone realizes that they have to lean in so we can take care of people who are really in need and maintain employment.”

Locke added that some faculty members stepped forward prior to the announcement, “volunteering … to take a pay cut,” in hopes of maintaining employment for staff. 

Two categories of faculty have exemptions from the pay freeze, Dean of the Faculty Kevin McLaughlin told The Herald. 

First, faculty who have already “been promoted or will have been promoted by the end of this academic year” will still receive their promotion, McLaughlin said. 

Second, “salary increase related to retention” will be “honored,” McLaughlin added. This means that faculty members who received an employment offer from another institution this year that was subsequently countered and then accepted by Brown will still receive their associated pay increase. 

But these two categories do not encompass many of the University’s faculty, said McLaughlin, estimating that 30-40 faculty members would be exempted from pay freezes.

“Faculty input on this matter is always through their elected reps on the URC,” Locke wrote in an email to The Herald. “All budget decisions are ultimately the decision of the President and the Brown Corporation.”

The belt-tightening extends to University administration: President Christina Paxson P’19 and Locke will each be taking a 20 percent pay reduction this fiscal year, The Herald previously reported. Other members of the senior administration have volunteered to take 15 percent reductions in their salaries, though their identities have not been made public.     

The University is not alone in its decision to freeze salaries for the upcoming fiscal year, Locke emphasized. Brown joins Yale, Cornell and a number of other colleges and universities nationwide who have enacted similar hiring and salary freezes in announcements to their respective communities.  

Locke wrote that the University will engage in “good faith bargaining” with those employees to whom the University has promised contractual salary increases. In doing so, he wrote that the University “will reserve our right to reach equitable arrangements with our unionized staff to ensure we can achieve this commitment for all our employees.” 

University Human Resources will engage in conversation with union leaders to discuss wage freezes for unionized staff, Locke told The Herald. Furthermore, he added that there are clauses within such contracts that account for “unusual circumstances,” in which case “one can go back and reopen the negotiations.”

The Department of Facilities Management and Dining Services are two groups which had negotiated wage increases in their contracts for this coming year, said Karen McAninch, the business agent for the United Service and Allied Workers of Rhode Island union. The University “is basically asking us to forego that increase,” she said. 

Formal bargaining discussions between the University and the union have not yet begun. “We still have to think about the best way to proceed, although we are acknowledging that the University does seem to be taking some very good measures in terms of protecting against people being laid off and paying people who are not able to work,” McAninch said. 

For many, this has served as a reminder of the financial wounds of the 2008 financial crisis. “We assume that it is a one year, temporary measure, just as it was then,” McLaughlin said of the faculty pay freezes.

“The truth is that we just don’t know how long this health crisis is going to last,” he added, “and because we don’t know how long it is going to last, we don’t know what the impact is going to be on the budget.”

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