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Universities Continue Their Pandemic-Related Layoffs. Ithaca College, Duke, And The University Of Memphis Among The Latest

This week brought more bad news about the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on higher education’s workforce. Exhibit A was Ithaca College, which on October 6, announced it would be forced to terminate approximately 130 faculty members because of decreased enrollment.

The college must cut $30 million from its budget, largely because of plunging enrollment in the 2020–21 academic year. Laurie Koehler, vice president for marketing and enrollment strategy at Ithaca reported that 4,957 undergraduate students are enrolled for Fall 2020. That’s a significant slide from 5,852 undergraduate students in Fall 2019 and 6,101 in Fall 2018.

The projected faculty cuts come on the heels of the termination of at least 167 staff positions – the majority in facilities and dining services – that were announced in April. Those layoffs were due to both the pandemic and the college’s strategic plan.

Although Ithaca has not finalized its faculty reduction plans, its officials acknowledged that entire departments may be discontinued and that some tenured faculty may lose their jobs. It plans to recommend which faculty members will be terminated by Dec. 31, and those identified will be notified in March, 2021 of their nonrenewable for the 2021-22 academic year.

Ithaca was not alone. On Wednesday, University of Memphis President M. David Rudd announced the university would be required to lay off staff to help cover a budget loss $50 million due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The reductions, the exact number of which the university did not disclose, were to occur in facilities management and support services along with the several auxiliary groups, such as  housing, dining services, and parking and transportation services. In making his announcement, Rudd said the university would not raise tuition to offset the losses: “We have made a strong commitment to containing costs given that the single greatest barrier to success our students face is financial.”

Also this week Duke University reported plans to cut 75 positions in what was termed a “major restructuring” brought on by the pandemic.The layoffs will occur in the Duke University Talent Identification Program, or Duke TIP, an effort that has served more than three million academically gifted students in grades four through 12 since beginning in 1980. 

Michael Schoenfeld, Duke’s chief communications officer, told the  Triangle Business Journal the restructuring was the direct result of Covid-19, “which forced the cancellation of the TIP residential summer session on the Duke campus and other colleges in 2020 and likely again in 2021,” creating an unsustainable financial position for the program. The layoffs are expected to begin Jan. 6.

This week’s announcements illustrate the magnitude of the continuing pandemic-related disappearance of higher education jobs, which are now estimated to number in the hundreds of thousands of layoffs across pubic and private education sectors. The job losses are not confined to staff, nontenured adjuncts, athletics or auxiliary services. Full-time faculty –