Message from the President

COVID-19 Update: The financial and staffing realities of a pandemic

Dear TRU Community,

I write to provide an update on TRU’s current and ongoing work to ensure the financial sustainability of our university. I know this topic has been on the minds of many, as we see other sectors of the economy affected by losses and closures. I wish to reassure you that our situation, while a matter of serious concern, still allows us some time to think and plan.

Recent days have brought a little more clarity about the future, though a great deal of uncertainty remains. The province’s Go-Forward Strategy, and news from other universities about their fall terms, are consistent with TRU’s announcement that the fall term will be primarily by alternate delivery, with in-person experiential learning where possible. Enrolment, however, remains uncertain – domestic student applications are down for the fall, and international enrolment may be significantly affected. Not surprisingly, and like other universities, we face the possibilities that major revenue sources could be affected this year and next: international tuition revenue, domestic tuition revenue, and even earnings on our endowments and savings. These factors will gradually become clearer in coming months.

In late March, we took the unprecedented step of asking our Board of Governors to approve a provisional university budget for the first six months of the new fiscal year. This request was directly related to COVID-19, the impacts of which were already beginning to be felt in our university operations. As Vice-President for Administration and Finance Matt Milovick told the board at the time, the potential impacts of a global pandemic, including on our enrolment, made finalizing a budget extremely difficult. What was to be a projected surplus for our current fiscal year (of April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021) had been revised as a budget shortfall.

To address this, we immediately put a halt to discretionary spending, temporarily rescinded the majority of corporate credit cards, froze several significant capital projects and put a hold on hiring for all but a few new or vacant positions deemed critical to support our response to COVID-19. A COVID-19 fund was established on an emergency basis to purchase items to assist with the university’s response to the pandemic including the shift to alternate delivery and remote working.

These steps, while successful to date, will only take us so far, and now, seven weeks later, it is time to consider what other steps may need to be taken to address the reality of our time – both in terms of our budget, and the fact that some of our employees’ work has been directly impacted by the pandemic.

Over the past week, TRU has approached CUPE, TRUFA and APA (the association that represents our administrative staff) to discuss options. We know that some employees’ work has been reduced by COVID-19, while for others, the demands have grown. Our discussion with our employee associations has included the potential for temporary unpaid leaves of absence (known as furloughs), reassignment of work, as well as layoffs.

While no decisions have been made, we don’t know what the future holds and we do need to be prepared. I am sharing this information with you as I want you to be aware should things change. We have strong concerns about our financial situation. We also have a strong desire to continue to provide a high-quality learning and research experience while finding solutions that preserve jobs for employees in the long term.

I want to stress that some of the most important pieces of the puzzle, such as enrolment, which will have an impact on future decisions, will remain unclear until fall.

In the coming days, Matt Milovick will share a video message with you to provide more information on our fiscal reality.

Should you have questions or suggestions, I encourage you to speak with your supervisor, or your union representative.

Sincerely,  

Brett Fairbairn
President and Vice-Chancellor