Kelton Holsen, Editor-In-Chief
Update: Since the publication of this article, more information has come out regarding what kinds of employees will be laid off. No faculty have been laid off, and Pribbenow has announced that a significant number of the cuts will be to the Augsburg Advancement department, which handles alumni relations.
Update 5/15: The paragraph discussing President Pribbenow’s salary has been updated to reflect a discrepancy between the numbers reported by the President and those reported in the Star Tribune.
Augsburg will be laying off approximately 20 employees and putting 40 more on furlough within the next couple of weeks, according to information released at the All Hands Meeting on April 1st and the student town hall on April 2nd.
According to President Pribbenow, the furloughs have been instituted due to the COVID-19 pandemic both temporarily reducing the need for some workers on campus and the pandemic’s financial impact on the school. The layoffs, however, have been in the works since before the outbreak reached Augsburg, according to statements made by President Pribbenow.
Pribbenow has stated that administration is currently in the process of contacting workers whose employment will be affected by either the layoffs or the furloughs, and he says all workers affected by the layoffs and furloughs will be informed by April 24th at the latest.
When Pribbenow spoke about the cuts in the student town hall on April 2nd, he stated that the layoffs are part of “work that we’ve been doing for the past three and a half months around our administrative staffing table”. However, in a statement to the Echo, Pribbenow revealed that the cuts are part of a larger effort to “reduce [Augsburg’s] cost structure” which has been in progress for about three years.
“It was a challenging decision, but we concluded that delaying these planned layoffs in light of the outbreak would not help anyone,” said Pribbenow. “It wouldn’t help affected employees to delay, as unemployment benefits are significantly enhanced for this period through state and federal stimulus legislation; and delaying does not help Augsburg, as the pandemic is already adding additional layers of financial stress for the institution.”
For confidentiality reasons, Pribbenow was unable to comment on the methodology being used to determine what faculty members should be laid off or furloughed, but he said that the list of staff facing layoffs and/or furloughs “has been carefully analyzed by our legal counsel to ensure that we are not discriminating against particular groups of staff members.”
Pribbenow also announced at the April 2nd town hall that he and his leadership team have agreed to take “mandatory voluntary furloughs” until the end of May. According to the Star Tribune, Pribbenow receives compensation of $496,200 per year, having received a 30 percent pay raise since 2018. Pribbenow has since contested this number, stating to the Echo that his salary is currently $345,000 per year.
Faculty Senate president Milda Hedblom supported the decision to cut staffing in a statement to the Echo. “It seems to be more a matter of a necessary choice given the grave uncertainty of so much,” she said. “It is encouraging that the furlough path looks toward a return.”
Augsburg’s Staff Senate declined to comment on the layoffs and furloughs.
Augsburg is not alone in reducing staffing during this difficult time. An article on insidehighered.com details how many universities are implementing furloughs and, sometimes, layoffs during this time. Marquette University, in Wisconsin, is furloughing 250 employees and Guilford College, in North Carolina, is furloughing 133 employees–“more than half of its nonfaculty [sic.] employees”. According to the article, faculty have generally not been affected by many of the cuts compared to other university employees.
“The sorrow we’re all feeling is profound, and it will take time to work through both individually and collectively—a process made all the more challenging by the distance between us in this unprecedented time,” said Pribbenow.