As the Virus Deepens Financial Trouble, Colleges Turn to Layoffs

“What might happen in the next 10 years is that this school no longer exists as it is now,” Professor Nicholas said. “It might become a branch campus at the margins for a bigger school like Ohio State University.”

Even at universities that were in better financial shape before the pandemic, personnel costs have become increasingly urgent, underscoring the labor-intensive nature of higher education even as more and more classes are conducted remotely.

The chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, wrote this week in a message to the campus that “workforce-related actions,” including retirement incentives, voluntary separations and faculty reassignments, would have to be taken to help cover a projected $340 million loss from the pandemic.

More common in recent weeks, however, have been layoffs like those at the University of Michigan, Flint, which let go of scores of lecturers, citing the pandemic on top of existing budgetary problems.

A majority of the student credit hours on the Flint campus are taught by lecturers, who are contractually ineligible for tenure-track professorships, said Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization union. At the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, about 9 percent of lecturer positions were cut, while 14 percent were cut at the university’s Dearborn campus, Mr. Robinson said.

In May, more than 100 nontenured faculty members at Northern Arizona University lost their jobs after the state school, citing a decline in enrollment amid the pandemic, chose not to renew their contracts, said Gioia Woods, the president of the university’s faculty senate.

“These were the most popular, passionate kind of teachers, who make magic in the classroom and keep the students coming back,” Ms. Woods said. “They’re our colleagues, and they’re kicked out in the middle of a global pandemic with no health insurance. It’s just absolutely unconscionable.”

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