BOSTON, MA- May 31, 2019: UMass President Marty Meehan attends the 51st UMass Boston Commencement Ceremony on May 31, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Staff photo By Nicolaus Czarnecki/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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BOSTON – The decisions to move to mostly remote instruction at four University of Massachusetts campuses this fall “significantly increased” the system’s projected budget shortfall, prompting difficult choices to confront what will likely be a multi-year fiscal challenge, UMass President Marty Meehan said Tuesday.

Meehan said at a UMass Board of Trustees meeting said the fiscal 2021 shortfall — which system officials tallied at $335 million — prompted “very tough expense reductions,” including some layoffs he described as a “last resort.”

Lisa Calise, the UMass senior vice president for administration and finance, said the system’s adjusted $3.3 billion budget involves a projected $291 million in expense reductions.

Those cuts, according to figures presented to the UMass Administration and Finance Committee Tuesday, include almost $161 million on the workforce side — a combination of leaving vacant positions unfilled, a voluntary separation incentive program, short-term furloughs, salary reductions, temporary layoffs or long-term furloughs, and permanent layoffs.

“The COVID pandemic does not come with a timeline for when things will return to normal, and there’s still significant uncertainty for us as we manage through FY ’21,” Calise said.

Anneta Argyres, president of the Professional Staff Union at UMass Boston, asked trustees to consider the effects of their budget choices. “At a time when students need more support, more contact with faculty and staff and more access to campus jobs, your budget has resulted in larger class sizes, fewer graduate assistantships, fewer support for staff, and fewer jobs for our students,” she said. “We’re told you’ve made these budgetary decisions in order to protect UMass, but instead, these cuts are hurting the very institution that you, our trustees, have the responsibility to steward.”

Defending the spending cuts, board member Stephen Karam called deficit spending “irresponsible,” said the system’s endowment is restricted by donors for long-term use, and asserted that raising reserves would leave UMass “defenseless.” He said UMass enrollment was down slightly but above projections.

This is a developing story.