May 7 Update from the President - University Response to COVID-19 Disruptions

Email header for the President with Villanova seal

May 7, 2020

Dear Members of the Villanova Community,

Next week, the Class of 2020 will graduate from Villanova University. It will be a graduation unlike any other in our 178-year history, with degrees conferred via an online ceremony for the first time ever. A virtual conferral is just one example of the numerous disruptions to University life we have experienced due to COVID-19. In some way, shape or form, we have all been impacted by this pandemic, and I continue to be awed by, and grateful for, your efforts from home to serve our students and deliver on our educational mission.

The COVID-19 pandemic has created considerable challenges. It forced us to close campus, to move spring and summer courses online, and to cancel all events, summer conferences and camps. Governor Wolf’s recent announcement that our area of Pennsylvania will partially re-open on May 25, indicated that there is some progress toward returning to campus. However, what that re-opening will look like, and how it will work, as we move through the summer is not entirely clear. Many considerations remain unknown.  

With this continued uncertainty, and due to the numerous operational disruptions over the past several months, some difficult decisions need to be made. As we approach the end of this highly unusual spring semester, I want to provide an update on some of the challenges we are currently facing and detail the measures being taken to support all members of our community and protect the University’s future.

Financial Impact of COVID-19
Despite our sound footing at the start of the pandemic, COVID-19 has had significant financial ramifications. Governor Wolf’s directive to close PA educational institutions brought an abrupt end to Villanova’s residential living, and we subsequently refunded students more than $16 million for room and board. Another financial stressor has been the cancellation of all spring and summer on-campus events and activities, which led to a considerable loss in expected University revenue.

Additionally, in this time of unprecedented unemployment, many families are facing financial hardships. There is speculation that colleges and universities could see a 10 to 20 percent reduction in their fall enrollment as a result. Like most higher education institutions, Villanova is heavily dependent on tuition for operational expenses. Therefore, any foreseeable decrease in enrollment is particularly concerning as we look toward August.

I also want you to know that, at this point, we have every intention of holding a traditional, on-campus fall semester, barring any directives that prevent us from doing so. I anticipate announcing our plans by the beginning of July. However, we need to proactively evaluate and plan for several different scenarios, which could have further financial implications. Given these factors, I believe it is imperative to undertake certain measures now to protect our employees and our students in the long run.

Decision-Making Considerations
During the past two months, my primary concern has been the health and safety of our campus community. Villanova leadership also has been closely monitoring budgets and our financial situation—in both the short- and long-term. We have been evaluating various scenarios to address the financial pressures before us. Numerous directions and plans were discussed. Ultimately, our course of action was determined with the following considerations in mind:

  • Significantly cutting costs while preserving jobs
  • Providing students and their families with support during this time of unprecedented unemployment
  • Holding true to our Catholic, Augustinian values by placing the needs of the community above the needs of the individual

In the spirit of full transparency, furloughs were being considered for June and July. However, after reviewing all possible options, and with the aforementioned considerations in mind, I have taken forced furloughs off the table for June and July. As an institution that prides itself on community, I believe it’s vitally important that we continue to support all of our employees during the summer regardless of workload.

University-Wide Measures to Reduce Spending

After considering various options, the following measures will be put in place starting June 1:

No Salary Increases for FY21
There will be no salary increases for fiscal year 2021. As you may know, a significant portion of the University’s budget is comprised of salaries, wages and benefits. Therefore, when trying to mitigate the financial disruption caused by COVID-19, it would be irresponsible for us not to carefully review spending in these areas.

Augustinian Stipends
The 23 friars working at Villanova collectively receive a monthly stipend as employees of the University. These stipends support our local Augustinian communities, the work of the Province of St. Thomas of Villanova and our friars living in the monastery who require healthcare. Fr. Michael DiGregorio, OSA, Prior Provincial, along with his Council, have approved temporarily reducing the stipend by 10 percent.

University Leaders’ Compensation

To help address the current financial challenges, the Cabinet, Deans and I, along with approximately 60 senior staff and administrators, will have our pay reduced by 10 percent for the months of June and July. I will communicate separately to the individuals affected by this reduction.

Base Contribution to the 403(b) Retirement Savings Plan
The University’s base contribution to the 403(b) Retirement Savings plan will be reduced by 20 percent for the next year. Additional details will be forthcoming from the Office of Human Resources.

Hiring Restrictions
As I noted in my March 23 communication, the University will continue its temporary hiring freeze with very limited exceptions.

Reduced Spending
All University new construction and renovation projects are suspended for the time being. I have also asked all offices and departments to carefully review their operating budgets and to immediately limit non-essential expenses to the fullest extent possible. This includes discretionary spending that is not critical to University operations—travel and conferences, as well as consulting, outside services and entertainment.

Moving Forward
These are challenging times for our entire campus community. However, I continue to remain optimistic that better days are ahead, and that if we work together and share in the sacrifice for the good of the whole, we can weather these extraordinary times.

We will continue to make decisions based upon the health and well-being of our community while also taking steps to mitigate the financial impact of COVID-19. We will closely monitor how the situation evolves over time to determine the effectiveness of our efforts. Based upon this information, we will reassess our actions to ensure that we are reacting appropriately. I promise we will continue to thoughtfully evaluate the situation and make decisions based upon what is best for our community members and our future.

Finally, I want to again express my overwhelming gratitude to all of you. The magnitude of this current challenge is unlike any we have encountered, and to get through it, it will require sacrifices from all members of our University community. Nevertheless, I have no doubt it is something that we can—and will—overcome together.

Your resilience in the face of adversity is palpable, and I am humbled by the grace with which you are facing these troubling times. Your fortitude is reminiscent of Villanovans who came before us—rebuilding after fires, reopening after war, and weathering other financial downturns—all while continuing to deliver on our University mission of Veritas, Unitas and Caritas. Please know how truly grateful I am for your efforts on behalf of Villanova.

These next several months will be difficult, but I have no doubt that as Villanovans, we will rise to the challenge. My thoughts and prayers continue to be with you and your loved ones.

May God continue to protect you and your families,

A shorthand signature for Father Peter

Rev. Peter M. Donohue, OSA
President