Let us first express our deepest gratitude for the hard work you are all continuing to do in this challenging time. As noted in our message to the community earlier this month, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but there are still uncertainties about the final chapters of the pandemic. We know the growing optimism has raised many questions about how things will change at Tufts over the next several months. In this message, and at the upcoming town hall on March 31, we want to try our best to broadly answer some of these questions.
When will staff return to campus, and will there be increased flexibility for how and when work is conducted?
There are two important issues to consider when planning for the future of work at Tufts.
First, we must follow the science. The health and safety of the Tufts community and our host communities remain our top priority, and it would not be wise for us to permit the large-scale return of staff to our campuses until it can be done with a high degree of safety. This means most staff members will continue to work from home until September at the earliest. As more people get vaccinated and as we learn more about the effectiveness of the vaccines against new variants, we will have a better sense of when a full return to our campuses is more realistic.
Second, we must make important decisions about the future of the Tufts workplace. We have an opportunity, based on what we have learned over the past year, to formalize a flexible workplace model as part of a long-term strategy. An internal work group has been assembled and a consultant with experience in these issues is being hired to provide guidance on this transition. Among the factors they will be evaluating are the types of work that can be done remotely, the tax and benefit implications for staff members who are remote, the value of in-person interactions, and ensuring that flexible work policies are equitable. We will provide an update on this group’s efforts by May 1.
Will the schools be operating in-person next fall?
Broadly speaking, our plan is for our schools to fully return to in-person teaching this fall. However, the final determination will be based on specific metrics as well as official guidance from the CDC, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and our host communities. There are a number of elements to consider, including the vaccination rate in our community, the effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing virus transmission, the effectiveness of the vaccines against new variants, and the results of studies on the long-term efficacy of the vaccines.
In addition, each school has specific challenges and opportunities, including laboratory, studio, and clinical training, that they must consider when determining their operating status. Similarly, research labs are currently reviewing new guidance about work that can be done in person. More information about school-specific and research plans will be shared with the school and research communities as it becomes available.
What is the status of the university’s budget and will there be merit increases this year?
As you know, due to lost revenues and new pandemic-related expenses, we had to institute several measures to keep the university budget in balance. Among these were a curb on discretionary spending, slowdowns on capital projects, a hiring moratorium, the elimination of merit increases for the current fiscal year, voluntary salary reductions of senior university leadership and deans, and some school-specific actions aligning expenses to lost revenues.
We are happy to report that these measures were successful, and we were able to avoid the university-wide layoffs, furloughs, and reductions to benefits that some other universities had to institute.
As we look toward the next fiscal year, things appear much brighter. Though we anticipate that budget restrictions will begin easing, the pace and the scope of this easing will depend on the path of the pandemic and how it affects our operations moving forward. Importantly, our budget planning includes a faculty and staff salary increase, a gradual lifting of the hiring moratorium, and the start or continuation of capital projects. More specific information about the merit pool will be shared by Human Resources next month.
We invite you to register for the university-wide town hall for faculty and staff on March 31 at 9:30 a.m. During that session, we hope to provide more depth on these questions and address other issues that have been raised. (A hyperlink to register for the town hall was included in the original e-mail sent to faculty and staff)