Northwestern plans to cut up to 200 more employees through buyout program


Daily file photo by Catherine Buchaniec

Rebecca Crown Center. Northwestern plans to cut more workers through a buyout program after experiencing budget shortfalls due to COVID-19 revenue losses.

Isabelle Sarraf, Copy Chief

Northwestern plans to cut 150 to 200 employees through a buyout program as a result of financial shortfalls caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

These cuts come after the University furloughed 250 staff members in May. These people were employees whose workloads were “significantly reduced” in the wake of the pandemic, read a May 11 email, and who were “unable to substantially perform their duties remotely.”

Craig Johnson, senior vice president for business and finance, said at the May Faculty Senate meeting that the University was initially planning to furlough 1,000 staff members, but instead decided to suspend contributions to retirement plans.

About 4,000 workers are eligible for the buyout program, but faculty are not, University Spokesman Bob Rowley said in a Crain’s Chicago Business article. The 150 to 200 figure is an estimate, Rowley said, because the University won’t know how many employees apply for the program until the end of June and won’t know how many are approved until mid-July.

“We have made this decision because, despite signs of renewed economic activity, we still anticipate reduced revenues and additional expenses next fiscal year related to the pandemic,” Rowley said in an email to Chicago Business. “In this context, a voluntary separation plan supplements the cost-containment measures we have taken already, allows us to manage staffing levels to match our outlook and reduces the possibility of potential actions such as further furloughs or involuntary layoffs.”

The University has the right to accept or reject an employee’s application in the separation plan. The offer, made on June 8, was sent out to certain full- and part-time employees who’ve worked for the University for at least two years and were eligible for benefits during their employment.

NU has over 6,500 full- and part-time employees, so if 200 staffers were to take the buyouts in addition to the May furloughs, that means about 7 percent of the University’s staff would be out of commission.

According to a June 2 document obtained by Chicago Business, the University was planning to offer the buyouts to over 5,000 employees. That number was later reduced, Rowley said, because the school decided to exclude employees who’ve worked for the University for less than two years.

The document said the buyouts were “intended to increase financial capacity in FY 2021, offer schools and units the flexibility to reorganize locally and reduce the scope and reputational impact of any potential involuntary layoffs,” according to Chicago Business. It added that the fact the buyout is a voluntary package means it will be “more generous than what would be offered for an involuntary separation.”

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