Officials decided to eliminate staff from several University offices, saying the cuts would help offset an enormous budget gap. Faculty and students are infuriated by the University’s decision to lay off these employees, saying they could have been avoided had officials employed other cost-saving measures. But they need to recognize that while layoffs are undesirable, they’re necessary to keep the University financially afloat.
No administrator wants to lay off staff. But their biggest responsibility is ensuring students receive a quality education this fall, and if that means letting go of staff who are not pertinent to the University’s functions during the pandemic, then they need to make that decision. It’s not a new phenomenon either – more than 200 universities have made the difficult decision to lay off or furlough their employees as the pandemic worsens their financial situation. Before condemning GW for its move, the GW community needs to understand why it needed to happen in the first place.
Some of the employees who were let go are in charge of GW’s events and venues. During a virtual semester, there will be no in-person events hosted by GW, so it doesn’t make much sense to hold on to employees who don’t have responsibilities for the time being. Plus, eliminating staff barely makes a dent in compensating for the amount of money GW is ultimately losing from the pandemic – administrators also needed to take pay cuts and the athletic department was forced to take away varsity programs. On top of the transition online and a decrease in enrollment from international students, revenue is plummeting and staff cuts are necessary to make up some of the difference.
Other laid-off staff includes those in information technology, marketing and career services. Many of those employees have the opportunity to reapply for new, consolidated positions – so the University needed to first eliminate some positions to open up new ones. Chances are when the health crisis has subsided down the line, there will be more work opportunities available at the University. But GW needed to work in the interest of its students and ensure the University’s financial situation is not impacting courses.
Let’s not forget that because we went online this fall, the University is losing millions of dollars. GW can’t tap its endowment, and officials have no more federal funds left. The University is strapped for cash, and proposed alternatives to layoffs from faculty or students are not going to get GW to a better financial state. If faculty’s suggestions to use reserve funds or a line of credit were feasible, the University likely would have already followed through.
Layoffs across University offices were strategic in planning for the upcoming semester. There are no events that need a full events staff, and facilities workers are not pertinent when most of campus has cleared out. Other cut positions are part of a larger reconstruction, so we shouldn’t consider the move a mass firing. Plus, all of the funds GW received from the federal government – which were not a lot – went straight to students. The University is really only working within its limits, which is tight as is.
As GW works to provide a new type of learning environment, officials must adapt and ensure they can accommodate student’s needs before all else. Even though it was not an ideal choice to make, layoffs were necessary as GW faces another unprecedented semester.
Jane Cameron, a sophomore majoring in journalism and mass communication, is an opinions writer.
Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.