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Duke freezes hiring, halts new construction as part of financial response to COVID-19

Spending and salary changes are coming to Duke as it tries to counter COVID-19’s financial cost.

The University's response includes a staff hiring freeze on employees not “essential for the operation of the university” and a moratorium on salary raises for many employees, President Vincent Price announced in a news release. Duke also suspended all new construction projects indefinitely, though there are exceptions to that ban. 

The move comes amid financial challenges for Duke. Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, has previously told The Chronicle that difficulties around COVID-19 would end up “almost certainly worse than the financial crisis of 2008.” 

Price wrote that the University expects to see a fall in all of its major revenue streams, including tuition, philanthropy, the Duke Endowment and income from Duke’s investments—among others. He also suggested that the new guidelines are an immediate step in a longer process that will include a comprehensive review of Duke’s strategy and finances. 

Apart from the Duke University Health System—which is exempt from the restrictions—all Duke schools and programs will have to pause non-salary spending, which includes travel, equipment and renovations to their spaces. Nearly all new hiring is also delayed, except for positions that are approved by select Duke administrators or fully funded by outside grants. 

For many employees, salary raises starting July 1 are also on hold for those making more than $50,000, aside from a few academic promotions. Employees will now receive one-time, $1,000 payments for satisfactory performance evaluations. Benefits for employees will not be affected, Price wrote, though Duke is still looking into its 403(b) program, which covers employee retirement plans. 

The ban on new construction does not include projects related to safety, infrastructure or virus research. 

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