Board of Trustees member calls for ‘firm action’ in the form of layoffs

Bailey Tomlinson, News Editor

“We need to set our concerns about employee welfare aside and maintain the priority of university welfare,” said Board of Trustees (BOT) member Gladys Gillis at the livestreamed March 31 meeting.

Board of Trustees member Gladys Gillis.

The comment was made following discussion of CWU’s financial resources diminishing in the foreseeable future. Joel Klucking, the BOT treasurer, explained that normally, CWU is “effectively a

institution,” depending on student enrollment and staff employment numbers. This can bring challenges, such as a financial deficit if enrollment drops significantly. 

Josh Hibbard, vice president of enrollment management, said enrollment for spring quarter was facing a drop for what is projected, but that he can’t predict how severe it will be. 

Klucking said over the past 29 years, CWU has been building a reserve fund. The university may choose to use funds from that reserve to cover expenses that are difficult to cut, such as infrastructure and staff pay. 

According to Klucking, 80% of the university’s expenses goes towards staff pay. All staff, including “most” student employees, have remained employed by the university.  

Gillis, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee to serve on the Board of Trustees in 2019, encouraged her fellow BOT members to cut university costs by laying off employees. 

“We’re two months into this problem in Washington state,” Gillis said. “And … I was astonished to hear that we haven’t started taking firm action, that we have not laid off people.”

Gillis said the Washington state unemployment program would support laid off employees, and that the Washington Apple Health program would provide them with medical insurance during any time they spend unemployed.  

“There are payroll protection efforts … open to replacing salaries up to $100,000. So it isn’t like you’re asking people to go home and live on $700 a month,” Gillis said. “I think Washington state needs to be applauded, and we need to set our concerns about employee welfare aside and maintain the priority of university welfare.” 

Gillis reiterated a need for “firm, clear leadership,” and that action must be taken as soon as possible for layoffs to be an effective means of cutting costs.

“We do not have time to call everyone into the room and discuss the actions that we need to take, because these actions that we take are still reversible. But getting your rainy day fund back, or replacing funds that have been spent, that is not reversible behavior,” said Gillis. “We have a mission redefinition in front of us right now. We’ve long known the mission of the university. In a state of emergency that we’ve found ourselves in, I think the mission redefinition is to stay alive as a functional enterprise.”

President James Gaudino said that prematurely laying employees off would not leave the university with the amount of staff it needed to effectively close down. However, he added that moving forward it would be something the university would have to think about. 

The decision was made by the board to meet again mid- to late next week to assess options and plans going forward.