University leadership gives updates on finances, in-person activities, faculty and staff vaccinations


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

The Weber Arch. Northwestern obtained “a large number” of Abbott BinaxNOW rapid tests for free use among faculty, staff and students.

Yunkyo Kim, Campus Editor

Senior administrators updated the Northwestern community on return to campus policies, vaccination requirements and more in Tuesday’s “Conversations with the Senior Leaders.”

Northwestern University Staff Advisory Council hosted the event, where vice president and chief human resource officer Manuel Cuevas-Trisán, vice president for operations Luke Figora, vice president for research Milan Mrksich and vice president of student affairs Julie Payne-Kirchmeier answered questions from attendees.

University leadership first gave updates on the state of finances as the campus prepares to open for in-person instruction in Fall Quarter.

Figora, who oversaw the University’s pandemic response in the last year, said it employed over 70 testing staff in the last year, with over 300,000 total tests taken by members of the community. In order to prepare the campus for safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, the University has had to make a $30 to 35 million investment, Figora said.

“Obviously that wasn’t in any kind of initial (budget) and right now we’re looking at just what percentage of those will carry forward through this summer and into fiscal (year) 2022 potentially, when you think about the pandemic running its course,” Figora said. “Some have been a little higher than expected but it’s been a significant investment over the last year.”

The University plans to pivot spending to meet the needs of returning students by dedicating funds for supporting in-person experiences and maintaining pandemic infrastructure, Payne-Kirchmeier said.

Cuevas-Trisán said that the plan to return to campus is a “reverse pivot.” Even though the University is able to resume retirement contributions, it is bound by the terms of the plan and is unable to enact retroactive contributions, he said. However, the University has explored alternative ways to complement this, such as adding flexibility to caretaking options, he said.

As for the University’s plan to roll out in-person expectations in the summer, Cuevas-Trisán said that it will still provide guidelines to the community. Most people will continue to physically show up to their offices, but some flexibility will be granted.

“The one thing that is different now from the (original pandemic) pivot to remote, is that (then) we had no choice,” Cuevas-Trisán said. “As we’re now planning for those post-pandemic environments, we are looking at this policy framework as a set of strategic choices.”

Responding to a question on whether the University considers raising research staff salaries, Mrksich praised the way NU navigated the pandemic.

Almost a third of the University’s budget supports research, he said. Despite the pandemic, the University’s research enterprise has experienced growth, he said.

“I can tell you that the administrators and staff here, they’re working really hard,” Mrksich said. “That’s a testament to everybody, the researchers, the faculty, the students and the staff. And when you really do look at the salaries… we strive to set our salaries so that they’re in the market range.”

The University recently announced it requires students to be vaccinated to return to campus in the fall. Figora said that the administration waited until it was sure there was enough local supply.

When asked why the University has not mandated vaccinations for faculty and staff, Figora said students expressed that they prefer in-person gatherings and the NU also felt an urgency to announce its decision as students prepare to disperse for summer.

NU has yet to make the final decision on faculty and staff, Figora said.

“There’s a strong desire from our students to do more things in person and vaccines are going to be the most effective tool to get us there,” Figora said. “We don’t have quite the same on the faculty and staff side of things.”

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