Campus Scenes

Students head to and from class using the stairs at Brooks Hall near Woodburn Hall at West Virginia University in 2017. The university is furloughing employees in the wake of the school shutting down much of its operations to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

CHARLESTON — West Virginia University is furloughing employees in the wake of the school shutting down much of its operations to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

The university said 875 employees will be furloughed starting May 24. Some will return to work June 28, while others will return July 26.

WVU said 28 of those furloughed are at the Potomac State College campus in Keyser, 50 are at the Institute of Technology campus in Beckley and the remaining nearly 800 are either at the main Morgantown campus or in connected locations elsewhere in the state, such as Extension Service employees.

WVU estimates the furloughs will save about $4 million.

Two weeks ago, WVU Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Rob Alsop said the university was considering furloughs, but President Gordon Gee said as late as Wednesday that a decision on moving forward hadn’t been made.

Alsop said Friday no instructional staff members are part of the furloughs. He noted that most faculty members are on nine-month annual contracts. But he said “there were employees (furloughed) from just about every unit or organization on campus.”

“We have every expectation that they will be coming back,” Alsop said.

He said in a video to the campus community on April 23 that a program was being designed that would provide “complete wage replacement of an employee’s annual base salary through unemployment compensation, and that would be a key factor in determining which staff would be considered for the furlough.”

A federal coronavirus relief law has increased the amount of money unemployed people normally receive in West Virginia. Furloughed staff also will be able to continue receiving health insurance benefits and would be required to pay only the employee share, Alsop said.

He confirmed Friday that no furloughed employee would make less money while furloughed.

“We are facing an uncertain fall (semester),” Alsop said in April. “If enrollment drops, we’re going to need to take some employment actions.

“There are no guarantees that this federally enhanced unemployment will be there in the fall,” he said. “If we do this program now, we can save several million dollars. It allows the university to minimize our losses and the impacts to our employees.”

Earlier this spring, WVU began closing its campuses and shifted instruction to entirely online for most students through the start of the fall semester. Gee said the school’s staff is planning for students to physically return to campus this fall, accompanied by measures to prevent the virus’s spread — perhaps including a mask requirement and moving large lectures online.

The safety measures that ultimately will be used have not been announced.

Reach Ryan Quinn at ryan.quinn@wvgazettemail.com, facebook.com/ryanedwinquinn, 304-348-1254 or follow @RyanEQuinn on Twitter.