On April 17, 2021, a statement was released regarding the financial state of the university following an academic year burdened by COVID-19. Jim Quinn, director of Financial Planning and Analytics and Warren Loller, director of the Budget Office, who relayed this information to Lehigh’s Faculty Senate on April 2, said the 2020-2021 academic year will end with an estimated budgetary surplus of $10-12 million.
This surplus comes after a year of budget cuts to account for estimated COVID-19 related losses. Those cuts included faculty and staff furloughs, the suspension of retirement benefits, the elimination of all raises, a hiring freeze and pay cuts up to 10 percent for administrators.
In an effort to compensate for a hindered student experience, the annual student tuition raise, which averages at approximately four percent annually, was frozen and a ten percent discount was offered to students who opted for a remote experience, waiving all access to campus facilities.
It has since been announced that tuition will be increased four percent for the academic year.
Despite sacrifices made by the entirety of the university community, Urban announced that the expected surplus will be reinvested into Lehigh’s “strategic initiatives.”
According to Lehigh’s Investment Office Overview, strategic investments are historically made from the university’s over $1.7 billion endowment fund, a fund that, due to its nature, was not able to be accessed for COVID-19 related losses.
A petition has since circulated among faculty and staff to urge the university to reconsider the allocation of these funds.
“When the cuts to retirement funds and salary freezes went into effect, faculty and staff questioned why the University endowments could not be tapped instead. We accepted the answer that endowments needed to remain focused on future growth and strategic initiatives,” the statement attached to the petition said.
Now however, members from the university community are urging the administration to allocate this unanticipated surplus to partly compensate for over a year of significant financial impact.
As of April 17, the petition has amassed 107 signatures from Lehigh personnel.
This is a developing story. Please return to The Brown and White for continued updates.