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University of Wisconsin–Madison

UW–Madison research community furlough memo April 29, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

I want to provide comments on the recent furlough policies. The furlough requirements will be applied uniformly to all funds, including research grants. Yet some leadership decisions about furlough implementation have been made to account for economic inequalities. Graduate students and postdocs will not be furloughed, and progressive furlough requirements will be used for employees at higher salary levels.  Let me share the reasoning behind these decisions.

We have overcome uncertain times throughout our university’s history. We will persevere through this, as well, because of our response as a UW-Madison community – faculty, staff, and students.

As we think about our own research groups, our considerations must extend beyond specific research teams. Our research projects require support from custodial staff, security, IT, grant services, administration services, grounds keepers, building managers, data services, and more. The people providing those services ultimately enable the research enterprise to thrive and we need to remember the need for this infrastructure as we implement furloughs, including an understanding that grant funded work relies on the campus infrastructure, which will be stretched thin by employee furloughs.

Employee salaries are paid from many sources, which will be affected to different degrees by COVID-19 impacts.  Tuition revenue and fee-for-service income are already dramatically reduced, putting nearly all institutional funds at risk of deficit spending during the coming year.  Earnings on gift and trust fund balances will drop, and we expect to see reductions in grants and contracts from industry partners and foundations.  Reductions to federal grants over the coming months and years are harder to predict, but some loss is likely and the federal government may shift investments from some fields to provide funding for new, critical priorities.

We need a consistent approach to providing payroll as we implement furloughs. Individual employees and work teams (such as lab groups) are often paid from multiple sources.  Inconsistently applied furloughs for these individuals and entities would be problematic.  We want to avoid complex and differential implementation (i.e., effects on employees with split funding, limitations to changing funding sources to avoid furloughs, retroactive cost transfers, potential overspending on grants, etc.)

Previous furloughs were a response to very different financial situations. There is much greater uncertainty now in terms of the financial impact of Covid-19, as well as eventual recovery; there are limits to lab accessibility, which may continue in some way for a longer term and perhaps in waves; there are potential domino effects on core services, maintenance of facilities, etc.; and there is the priority of protecting the health of everyone who works at UW. As with social distancing, we must work together as a community to meet these challenges.

I ask that you recognize the necessity for us to face this crisis together.

Thank you for your work.


Steven A. Ackerman

Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education

Professor of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences