The economic downturn is taking its toll on San Francisco State University.
On Wednesday, the university announced that it will lay off 131 people, about 8 percent of the total staff workforce. Most of the layoffs are for IT, administrative, and university operations positions, whose final day will be November 9. The layoffs do not include academic faculty.
“Despite cost-cutting measures, slightly better-than-projected fall enrollments, and a decision to use a more optimistic figure for expected revenue, it was still necessary this week to take the painful step of laying off staff members,” SFSU President Lynn Mahoney said in a statement, adding, “Pending meet and confer with unions, our hope is we can reduce the number of layoffs.”
The California State University campus received a $22 million cut in its funding from the state this year, out of about $300 million in cuts to the whole system. SFSU is also expecting an enrollment drop of approximately 1,900 students — less than the university had initially projected, but still representing a major decrease in tuition revenue.
Representatives of California State University Employees Union (CSUEU), which represents 120 of the laid-off staff members, say they will begin negotiations with the university in the hopes of avoiding as many layoffs as possible. But they’re also frustrated by the lack of consistency and transparency when it comes to the university’s financial situation.
Specifically at issue is CSU’s $1.5 billion rainy day fund, which was the subject of a state audit last year. CSUEU labor relations representative Nick Wirz says union members are still angry that this pot of money was not used during the previous state budget crisis in 2009, when CSU instituted systemwide furloughs. “If it’s not raining today, when would it ever rain?” Wirz says.
The state legislature in June directed CSU to dip into its financial reserves as part of its revised 2020-21 budget agreement. As of 2019, $459 million of the rainy day fund was reserved for economic downturns.
SFSU communications representative Kent Bravo said that the university is already tapping into its rainy day fund in the current fiscal year. “SF State plans to use one-third of its reserves over each of the next three years to offset reductions in state funding and declining tuition revenue based on lower enrollment. This also helps to lower the number of workforce reductions,” he wrote in an email.
Katie Murphy, an academic office coordinator in the department of communications and a CSUEU representative, is not being laid off, but is concerned about the layoffs’ impact on her colleagues as well as the university’s functioning. She says that SF State has long had difficulties helping students navigate campus bureaucracy when it comes to housing, course selection, and academic advising, contributing to issues with student retention.
“It’s only going to increase SF State’s reputation as a place where students can’t get help,” Murphy says. “And students need more help than ever.”