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Bradley Eyes $40M Cuts As COVID-19 Further Strains Bottom Lines

Bradley University President Gary Roberts said the institution is preparing to potentially slash operating expenses by 25 percent, or $40 million, as the COVID-19 pandemic deals a blow to the already financially-struggling school. "As you know, the university faced financial challenges before the coronavirus struck, driven primarily by declining demographics and rapidly rising costs. Our current experiences and those following this crisis will magnify those challenges enormously," wrote Roberts in an e-mail to faculty and staff Monday. "Along with a roughly $5 million refund to students for unused housing and meal plan fees, the largest impact will be on our ability to generate revenue."

As salaries and benefits constitute nearly two-thirds of the university's total expenses, Roberts said workforce reductions will be addressed in the weeks ahead.

"I am sorry that we have to make these decisions. Please know that we are doing all we can to preserve as many jobs as possible while we preserve our university," wrote Roberts.

The university is likely suspending Phase II of the Business and Engineering Convergence Center construction after Jobst Hall is demolished; imposing hiring and spending freezes; restructuring summer teaching contracts; suspending all sabbaticals for the 2020-21 school year; and re-examining all special appointment and in residence faculty contracts for potential cuts.

Bradley University was weighing options to pare down an $8 million budget deficit before COVID-19, which included eliminating or consolidating several majors and programs. That program prioritization process is now suspended. Roberts said the current situation may require faster decision-making than a campus-wide discussion allows.

Roberts said Bradley is preparing for significant enrollment declines as current and prospective students are unable to attend for financial or health reasons. Test-optional admissions will be re-examined and likely applied for incoming students, many of whom will not have test scores due to the cancellations of the ACT and SAT exams.

Currently, Roberts is hashing out Bradley's financial future with provost Walter Zakahi, chief financial officer Pratima Gandhi, and the vice presidents for enrollment management and student affairs, Justin Ball and Nathan Thomas, respectively. Roberts said looking down the road, this situation will force Bradley to consider what kind of university it wants to be.

Incoming Bradley University President Stephen Standifird is joining those conversations via phone. He starts June 1 upon Roberts' retirement.

For students, a pass-fail option for the spring 2020 semester will be implemented. Online classes are now stretched through the summer. The last day to drop a class and still receive a "W" is now May 6.

Employees will continue to work at home at least through the end of April.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WCBU will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WCBU can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

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Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.