The guiding priority of the University, from the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been to protect the health and safety of Penn students, faculty, staff, postdocs, patients, and visitors. Moving to a virtual learning platform and depopulating the campus in a matter of days required an unprecedented effort. We are profoundly grateful to everyone at Penn who contributed to facilitate this extraordinary transition. It was a heroic accomplishment, and it ensures that our core missions of teaching, learning, and research can continue despite the significant disruptions brought about by the pandemic. While many of us are working remotely, we wish to thank and acknowledge the dedicated staff—including custodial, dining, safety officers, animal care, and skilled trades—who continue to come to campus to serve our students, support our faculty and research, steward our buildings, and keep us and our Philadelphia neighbors safe.
Many of you have asked about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the University’s finances. As the end of the semester approaches, we want to share with you the University’s plans for the summer and coming fiscal year, which begins on July 1.
Summer 2020 activities and programs
We are announcing today that all summer courses and in-person programs must be delivered remotely or online. There will be no summer programs offered in-person on campus, including summer camps and summer courses. This extends our previous guidance about the summer to include Summer Session II, which begins on July 2. For undergraduates, please check Penn InTouch for updated summer course information. For graduate and professional students, please consult your Schools and programs. For camps and other noncredit programs, please check with the program for specific guidance. Summer study abroad remains cancelled, along with all other University-related travel, as originally announced on March 13. There will be no changes to previously established costs and grading policies for credit-bearing undergraduate courses in the Summer Sessions.
Fiscal year 2021 budget
The unpredictability and duration of the pandemic requires us to exercise the utmost prudence and caution in the year ahead. We are initiating a number of significant measures to reduce expenses, with the goals of reducing ongoing costs, preserving jobs, and maintaining salary continuity. Many of our financial mitigation actions focus on compensation, which accounts for roughly 60% of our annual University-wide expenses.
- Hiring freeze: There will be a university-wide hiring freeze on all positions, both new and replacement, except grant-funded positions approved by the highest level of the School/Center.
- Limited merit increase program: There will be a limited merit increase program in fiscal year 2021 focused on our employees with a base salary at or below $70,000. For those with salaries above this threshold, including officers, Deans and Vice Presidents, there will be no annual wage or stipend increases for the 2021 fiscal year.
- Temporary positions, acting rates, additional pays, and overtime restricted: No new temporary staff, interns, non-work study student workers, or co-op students are permitted to be hired. No new acting rates or additional pays are permitted without the approval of the Dean, Director, or Vice President and the approval of Human Resources. Overtime should be minimized to the fullest extent possible and carefully monitored.
- Midyear salary adjustments eliminated: There will be no mid-year salary adjustments available in fiscal year 2021.
In addition, we are extending through fiscal year 2021 the implementation of non-compensation actions currently in place:
- Reducing discretionary spending: We urge Schools and Centers to immediately implement reductions in discretionary spending that are not critical to the operation of the University. All University-related travel was prohibited on March 13. Should travel guidance be revised at a future date, we expect travel and entertainment expenditures to be substantially reduced. Other non-essential current expenses should be reduced to the fullest extent possible, including outside services, consulting, conferences, and meetings.
- Pausing capital projects: Capital projects that are already in design or construction and have a fully defined funding plan can continue. However, Schools and Centers are being directed to review their capital planning to evaluate whether they can still commit the same levels of funding as previously planned, especially when utilizing unrestricted funds. No new feasibility or design studies will be initiated at this time. Per Governor Wolf’s executive order, construction projects deemed not “life-sustaining” have been directed to shut down.
- Prioritize use of donor restricted funds: Schools and Centers are being directed to ensure that they use operating gifts and spendable endowment income balances in advance of unrestricted funds, consistent with gift terms, to provide the greatest degree of flexibility in responding to the economic circumstances.
In implementing the steps outlined above, our goal is to preserve the vast majority of staff positions at Penn until we can return to full campus operations, recognizing that no institution, including Penn, can accurately forecast today the full impact of this crisis on our future budgets.
In response to these rapidly changing economic conditions and their impact on our staff and third-party contractors, we have created The Penn COVID-19 Emergency Grant Assistance Fund. This fund will distribute grants to full-time and part-time employees, as well as certain contracted employees in need of emergency financial assistance due to the economic downturn created by the COVID-19 crisis. Eligible applicants who earn at or below $70,000 can receive a tax-free grant up to $1,500 for full-time staff and $750 for part-time staff. Staff and contracted employees are asked to visit https://coronavirus.upenn.edu/content/april-09-2020-information-emergency-grant-assistance-fund for information and instructions on how to apply for these funds. Acceptance of applications will begin at noon on Monday, April 13.
The economic downturn will not affect Penn’s long-standing commitment to grant-based financial aid, sustaining need-based financial aid for undergraduate students, competitive stipends for PhD students, and extensive grants and subsidy programs for graduate and professional students.
While the steps we have taken are difficult and additional financial measures may need to be considered in the future, we are confident that there are better days ahead, and Penn will emerge from this crisis strong. We are inspired by Penn researchers who are working overtime to develop and test a vaccine and ever grateful for the team at Penn Medicine who are passionately and professionally caring for those afflicted and nursing them to health. We will overcome these challenging times because of the talent, resilience, and determination of every member of the Penn community.
Thank you for your patience and support, and we will continue to keep you updated as the situation moves forward.
Communications to students, faculty, and staff: