Demonstrations demanding justice for George Floyd have continued throughout the District. Faced with heavily-armed federal police and National Guard units and the continued threat of COVID-19, protesters have remained undeterred in their pursuit of change.
But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic poses another risk to the jobs of GW workers. Officials signaled that layoffs are unavoidable as the University teeters on the edge of financial crisis.
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Protests are ongoing throughout D.C., demanding justice for Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the countless other Black Americans who have been killed by law enforcement. Protesters have needed to brave not only the threat of coronavirus but a heavily militarized police response.
Despite being confronted by National Guard units from the District, New Jersey and Ohio, demonstrators persisted. Eventually, at Mayor Muriel Bowser’s behest, President Donald Trump ordered National Guard units Sunday to stand down and withdraw.
The fact that demonstrators are risking their personal safety and have outlasted what resembled a military occupation of D.C. is a testament to their bravery and tenacity – and is indicative of the importance and validity of their cause. Popular outrage over the murder of yet another Black man has sparked a nationwide movement demanding police reform and racial justice. Protesters’ efforts to end the epidemic of police violence are forcing long-overdue changes in the way the country views law enforcement and race.
As the coronavirus pandemic drags into the summer, officials have been weighing how to keep GW financially afloat for the upcoming semester. Despite the Faculty Senate’s request that layoffs be considered only as a last resort, LeBlanc conceded that letting go some of GW’s workforce will be necessary.
Having to take this additional step demonstrates the risk the pandemic poses to the University’s financial standing. Other cost-cutting measures have been taken by officials – LeBlanc and other administrators will receive a pay cut, and capital projects have been frozen – but the University still refuses to dip into its endowment.
Officials claim they have a fiduciary obligation to preserve the long-term financial well-being of the University and that drawing money from the endowment would jeopardize that goal. But with a looming revenue shortfall as high as $320 million, difficult fiscal choices are inevitable to preserve the quality of instruction.
Specific details are sparse about potential layoffs, with information slated to become available in the next few weeks. But even if letting employees go will improve the quality of students’ education, the necessity of layoffs does not negate the devastating effect they would have on workers and their families. Officials should keep that in mind when charting a course forward.
Andrew Sugrue, a rising junior majoring in political communication, is the contributing opinions editor.