uchicago sign

The University of Chicago's sign at Blackstone Avenue and the Midway Plaisance.

University of Chicago President Robert J. Zimmer announced Wednesday afternoon that the school would temporarily furlough some staff and implement other cost-cutting measures as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. 

In May, Zimmer wrote that the school was facing a deficit of $220 million for this academic year. He announced then “it has become evident that additional cost saving measures will be required in the coming months.” 

On Wednesday, he wrote that the school would be implementing both voluntary and mandatory furloughs for staff. “We will take measures to mitigate the impact of a mandatory furlough, including an increase to 100% of our coverage of health care insurance premiums,” he wrote. “As the University implements a phased approach to returning to campus operations, our hope is to recall these employees as soon as conditions allow.” 

He also wrote that he and other administrative leadership would be taking a 15 percent reduction in their salaries, and with one-third of that reduction going to the school’s low-income scholarship program. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Zimmer’s base salary in 2017 was $1.192 million — a 15% reduction would leave that number at a little over $1 million.

The school will also temporarily suspend its contributions to employee retirement plans, and make “additional non-personnel expenditure reductions.” 

Indirectly, Zimmer also addressed criticism from some students that the school should use its endowment to help it weather the crisis. 

“While it is fortunate that the endowment remains in a good position to provide support long into the future, those funds cannot address the scope of our current challenge. One reason is that the endowment relies heavily on gifts that support education and research at the University in perpetuity,” he wrote. "We cannot legally repurpose restricted funds for different needs, at the expense of future students and faculty, and we must adhere to the intent of the donors who initially gifted these funds.” 

In an April op-ed in the Chicago Maroon, students argued that even “legally restricted” funds could be repurposed, provided the school received permission from donors. 


Christian Belanger graduated from the University of Chicago in 2017. He has previously written for South Side Weekly, Chicago magazine and the Chicago Reader.

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