Senior administrators talk faculty and staff compensation, COVID-19 numbers at panel


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Northwestern senior administrators answered questions Wednesday about faculty retention, COVID-19 and finances.

Nicole Markus, Senior Staffer

Senior administrators discussed faculty retention, the University’s financial state and vaccination rates in a Wednesday panel — part of an event series called “Conversations with Senior Leaders,” which hosts conversations with Northwestern leadership.  

Despite reporting a budget surplus of $87.8 million last fiscal year, Amanda Distel, senior associate vice president for finance and treasurer, said NU has operated under a “constrained financial state” since before the pandemic.

“We have weathered the storm during these last two years, but it is due to the hard work of our staff and faculty,” Distel said. “Senior leadership has developed priorities … and those priorities will guide our resource allocation, even if those resources are limited.”

Lorraine Goffe, vice president for human resources and chief human resource officer, said senior leadership plans to prioritize employee compensation in the 2022 and 2023 fiscal years. NU has a merit-based system for annual pay increases, she said. 

Along with prioritizing compensation, Goffee said the University plans to increase flexibility for hybrid or remote work and have individual conversations with employees to improve faculty retention. 

Despite these efforts, Milan Mrksich, vice president for research, said it is “realistically impossible” to come up with policies that suit all of NU’s diverse faculty.

In June 2021, the University instituted the Diverse Candidate Slates policy as one of several social justice initiatives. The policy addressed concerns that NU was not representative of the broader American population and included steps to identify and present diverse candidates to interview for jobs at the University. 

In response to concerns that the policy prolongs the recruiting process, Goffe said it does not necessarily affect timelines.

Mrksich said in the Office for Research, faculty and administration have had “challenging conversations” surrounding diversity, equity and inclusion. The office has created a new DEI unit aimed at making these conversations a component of regular meetings, Mrksich said.

“We are establishing a more comprehensive plan to diversify the workforce, to ensure inclusion and equity and create that kind of environment that we talked about, which is an environment of belonging,” Goffe said. “I am certain that happens across the University in many ways.We want to make sure it’s happening consistently.” 

Vice President for Operations Luke Figora also provided updates on the University’s COVID-19 case status. Over the past month, the positivity rate has remained steady at about 1 to 1.5%, he said. Though spring break positivity rates climbed to 3.88%, ​​only 1,160 tests were conducted in that period. The rate declined to 1.71% after mandatory testing when students returned for Spring Quarter.

According to Figora, 19 undergraduate students remain in Quarantine & Isolation Housing, which is about 10% of 1835 Hinman’s total capacity of 280 students.

Administrators have prioritized accessibility surrounding COVID-19 testing, Figora said. NU is one of the “easiest” places in the U.S. to get tested, he added.

Figora said one of the main reasons behind the University’s low COVID-19 case numbers is the vaccine requirement: 98% of the NU community has received two doses of the vaccine. Ninety-four percent of faculty and staff received their booster shot, while 90 to 93% of students received their third dose, he said. 

“When you think about that vaccination rate on campus, it’s one of the highest vaccination rates not just in the state, but in the country and really in the world,” Figora said. “It is a very safe environment (in which) to operate.”

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Twitter: @nicolejmarkus

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