Marquette faculty group calls on administration to reinstate recently cut staff positions

A group of Marquette University faculty is calling on the administration to reverse its recent decision to lay off 39 staff members.

Our Marquette, a group that describes itself as “concerned tenured and tenure-track faculty,” said in an open letter that the university should draw on its federal coronavirus relief funding to save the affected jobs.

Marquette president Michael Lovell announced last week the elimination of the 39 staff positions are part of “strategic, structural changes” at the university to address long-term budget challenges. He did not specify which jobs were affected but said they don’t involve any tenured or tenure-track faculty.

“Our Marquette is deeply dismayed to hear that the university has commenced laying off employees as of today,” the group said in its letter published Jan. 22. “Some have given decades of service above and beyond their job descriptions, and they hold the institutional memory that makes daily life run smoothly. All provide critical support to our students, faculty, and administration.”

The timing of the layoffs – at the beginning of a new semester – is particularly concerning, the group said, noting that remaining staff will have heavier workloads and less support.

“The consequences of their absence – confused students, exhausted staff, and unsupported faculty – will be felt far and wide,” the letter said.

The faculty group argued that the university should save jobs using some of the $9.7 million it was recently awarded in new COVID-19 emergency funding. The relief is part of a $21.2 billion funding package signed into law at the end of December.

“Some of these funds are clearly intended to save jobs in the midst of a pandemic and an economic crisis. It is unconscionable to fire staff without considering the impact of this, and potentially future, federal funds,” Our Marquette said.

Of Marquette’s allocation, $3.3 million is designated for student aid, and the remaining $6.4 million is apportioned for the institution, according to U.S. Department of Education data.

Marquette said the federal funds are not intended to address long-term financial changes.

“These one-time grants are limited to specific uses and a portion must be used to support students,” a university spokesperson said in an emailed statement. “They are not permanent revenue streams and cannot be considered for the purpose of funding ongoing operating or structural costs.”

Our Marquette also said faculty have expressed interest in a stratified furlough system, in which the highest-paid employees would take furlough days instead of cutting staff.

“We call upon the university to reexamine these decisions, as they are being carried out without fully vetting other financially responsible pathways, and will have a terrible impact on our collective mission of delivering educational excellence to the students,” the letter said. “Terminations should cease and terminated staff should be restored to their positions immediately, pending a thorough financial analysis and consultation with faculty and governance bodies.”

Marquette has implemented several cost-cutting measures over the past year to address budget holes, including suspending employer contributions to the university’s retirement plan, reducing leaders’ salaries, reducing discretionary spending, modifying its tenure buyout policy, implementing a voluntary incentivized retirement program, and transitioning positions to endowed funding sources.

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Lauren Anderson
Lauren Anderson covers health care, nonprofits, education and insurance for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism, history and African studies. In her free time, Lauren enjoys spending time with family and friends and seeing live music wherever she can.

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