IT Town Hall meetings will continue bi-weekly and virtually through May. Below, you can review submitted questions and John Barden’s answers from the April 24 virtual IT Town Hall meeting.
How much additional money did ITS and the University have to spend to get the entire course catalog online?
I don’t know. Let me answer that in a broader context: You have to think about the amount of time and effort that was spent by all of the staff between both DSPs, IT Help Desk, everybody else who chipped in to help the Poorvu Center get things online, all the website creation, all of the help that was provided to actually move offices, equipment orders…it’s been a huge effort. I don’t know what that number is but I’d say we’ve had a pretty big impact. Think about what’s happening in terms of the medicine world—for the first time in kind of national history were allowed on a large-scale basis to do telemedicine, which again took effort to get there, but also has enormous long-term potential impact to the healthcare delivery model. There had been a bunch of short term costs standing up the field hospital. I could go on and on, but I think what I think we’re trying to do as a leadership team is make sure that we’re being thoughtful about where we’re making those investments and how do we maximize the outcomes from those, some of which could have really long-term impact to the way the institution works.
Will you will be offering any retirement incentives in light of the budget concerns?
Blanche: I hope everyone appreciates the complexity of the matter. There are ongoing conversations with regard to incentives. We should know something more by the end of the month regarding PTO and especially PTO maximum and what extensions will be applicable there. I am not aware of any discussion about payouts of PTO maximum. I think we’re looking more at an extension of time, but all those things are under discussion and more to come.
John: One of the sub-communities I didn’t mention, (and which sits underneath that Operations Group) is what they call the Workforce Advisory Committee. That group is specifically looking at questions of these kinds of HR policies. I don’t have any facts to share today because that committee is just beginning its work, but I am confident that they will be talking about the potential option to offer some incentives around retirement of some kind. And again, “looking at” doesn’t mean there will be an offer along that lines; I’m just saying that I know that there are at least talking about that topic.
Is there any thinking around additional compensation or bonuses for those who went above and beyond?
Blanche: Regarding incentives, according to Peter Salovey’s comment on that in earlier emails, it is being reviewed. It’s a very complex situation and we hope to know something soon, but it’s not off the table - it is being looked at. In terms of other compensation opportunities, I’m unaware of anything at this time other than the bonuses for those folks that were on campus.
Will benefits be preserved, given that pay increases will not be happening?
I do not know.
There is a question about a rumor that ITS is moving to West Campus to promote more social distancing. Do we know if that’s under discussion?
If it’s happening as a conversation, it’s not a conversation that is yet involving me, which would seem odd. So, no. I have no facts to back that up. Let me answer that in a broader context. As you’ve heard me say on this discussion before, I think it’s very likely that the relatively-positive experience (and I recognize this has been a mixed bag for people) and demonstration that we can work from home does open up a whole series of conversations about space utilization in general and flexible work arrangements. Right now, you all are doing a phenomenal job at proving that it is at least possible for a significant segment of the IT work force to entertain that conversation. So that may change our kind of thinking and direction on on-campus space. I don’t know where that might take us but right now, to your specific question, I have no evidence of that conversation, taking place. I think a lot of things about space will get reconsidered as many groups, not just us, are starting the conversation about how effective this is, what other things need to be in place to make it effective, and over what period of time we could formalize the policies, technology needs, and other pieces like that that would make it possible to be to be a part of who we are. Not to replace obviously the on-campus experience entirely.
Are you familiar with the breakdown of how the 5% reduction will be shared across departments?
So that’s a very complicated question. I wouldn’t look at it department by department so much as I think I kind of rattled off a few things. Our first line of defense on meeting the budgetary objectives for next year was to look at projects. Projects are the thing we always have the most discretion over and represent new work. Oftentimes that new work has new continuing obligations for expense around operating, whether that’s software or additional incremental headcount. First and foremost, myself and the rest of the people who we look to in the IT Governance Committee, (the PPs, the Vice Provost, and Vice Presidents) who helped me with that part of our work looked very carefully at those projects and made a very significant cut in the number of new initiatives that we were going to start next year.
Secondarily to that, as you all know from their earlier notes, is because our budget is 65-70% labor, that merit freeze was intended to make it more realistic for all of the planning units across Yale to be able to meet their target of a significant reduction in operating costs. While that doesn’t feel good to anybody, recognize that the intention there is the trade-off between we all take on a little bit of pain versus we have to make some discrete headcount reductions, which is something as I’ve said to you before, I very much want to do everything in our power to avoid. Beyond that we have held a bunch of positions open. We had thirty-five open positions when this thing started. We’re still moving forward with eight. That leaves a fair number that are still not filled, I know that puts additional work on many people’s backs. It also is intended to not make employment commitments to people who are not yet here. And thereby potentially put us in a much more financially difficult position in the out years, should this economic recession deepen and be more protracted. We’re being very cautious about how we move forward with those things. Each of those maneuvers together accounts for probably 80% of the reduction in our operating budgets for next year. Then we’ve got things like travel, which looks like will probably come in under budget for the remainder of FY20 on travel. Or things where concessions could be made, which were less directly impactful or easier to pull off in the current environment. I feel like for FYI 21, we’re really in pretty good shape and we’ll see how long and how challenging the situation is.
There are people asking if there’s any chance to come back to campus to collect some of the things they might be needing in their offices (e.g. monitors) - do we know if that’s an option?
It’s pretty tough right now to do that at this stage. I’d wait and see how much longer we go before we consider this. I prefer not to entertain that at this point.
Think about it the other way: we have that same kind of concern being expressed by thousands of faculty members who are all being told the same thing: if you’re not on the essential personnel list, you shouldn’t be in the building.
I can’t be in a position where we’re starting to make significant accommodations in that regard at the moment.
When will we know what the FY21 budget is?
Even in the best of years, I would say we don’t know what the fiscal year budget is until the fiscal year begins. I’m not trying to be cheeky about it—that’s just the reality of mid-June board meeting where those things typically get authorized and then processing time to figure out how it all fits. Usually we’re right up to the beginning of the line. At this point, we’re pretty settled, and our submission is complete. At the senior leadership team level, we know what the expectations are, as we’ve submitted them. What will formally be approved will occur through mid-May budget advisory group review discussion. I’m sure there’ll be some follow up and subsequent conversations. After that, in preparation for the June board meeting and approvals.
Do we know if the new cohort of new Early Career Development Program (ECDP) interns will be starting in July?
For all these kind of programmatic activities, whether it’s the ECDP program, the college hiring program, internship programs, or New Haven programs - none of those programs have been stopped. In all cases, we’ve been asked to think about how to moderate the counts. If any ECDP person is already here and part of the team, there’s no expectation that is changing. We will continue to be entertaining new participants in those programs. Those things are too important to our long-term health and our long-term recruiting model to shelve it. I’ve been very firm about that around the operations team as have many other leaders.
Have there been discussions with the unions at Yale to forgo C&T raises for fiscal year 2021?
Individuals in the Clerical and Technical union have pay structures and provisions that differ from Managerial and Professional personnel, as is true with each of the collective bargaining units across Yale. I am not aware of any specific discussions associated with revisiting provisions of the current contract at this time.
For the few positions that ITS is moving forward on filling, was thought given to moving existing employees into those roles rather than bring on additional people?
We continue to look at both internal and external candidates for each position, and I expect we will continue to do so. This is in everyone’s best interest to assure internal personnel looking for a change or new responsibilities have that chance, as well as assuring we continue to be open to assessing the need to add new headcount where workloads require it.
Will the University increase pay raises when the economy returns, and the balance of the endowment increases? The rates have been low since the last time.
I don’t have any information on how we might adjust future compensation programs.
What, in real dollars, has the University lost in revenue?
I am not privy to the details of this, though suffice to say, it is in the hundreds of millions - so far. Virtually all sources of revenue on which the university depends have been slowed or stopped. Most research has stopped, most non-urgent clinical care has stopped, most areas have slowed any form of incoming revenues, and the endowment has a reduced ability to generate income. All of this is expected to improve over time, but until we return to a more normal state, it will remain significantly suppressed.
Do you have any further information on allowing employees to continue to work from home after the campus reopens if schools and summer camps haven’t opened?
Not yet. There is a “workforce planning committee” which is being led by Janet Lindner that is looking into these questions, and I would expect improved clarity on our options and choices soon.
Assuming we return, and not all return at once, there may be some splitting work between home and office. Will there be a way to pay for part-time parking?
I don’t yet have any information on that but will take that question forward.
We always talk about how to keep our work tied to the mission. What can we be doing to help the University the most in the next few months?
First, take stock in how much your work is appreciated by the community and the deep sense of gratitude they continue to express for the work you are doing. While the transition has been immensely challenging for faculty, students, and staff, most are keenly aware that it would be infinitely more difficult - perhaps impossible - if each of you were not rising to the occasion and assuring the technology on which we depend was working as well as it is.
Second, read broadly on how institutions globally are responding and technology support options, and keep in contact with any peer relationships you might have at similar institutions. Each function of the university is working through planning now, and concepts of how this may evolve are developing daily. Being well-versed will help us shape strong technology responses.
Lastly, our strategic anchors are critically important right now. In particular, your emphasis on our Service Quality and One IT goals are immensely important to maintaining the high level of support that the institution needs from all of us right now.
Are there any issues with using Zoom for group training exercises?
No, after all, we are using it for online classes throughout the university.
John closed the Town Hall thanking everyone for the good work they are doing and with a reminder that, based on feedback received, these virtual IT Town Halls will continue on an every-other-week basis in May. If the new frequency doesn’t feel right, please let him know.
Remember, you can submit time-sensitive “Ask John” questions through the virtual IT Town Hall meetings through May. Other questions submitted through Ask John
will be held for future editions.
Note: Questions previously answered in earlier Virtual IT Town Halls will not be republished unless new information is available.