Commissioner Santiago’s Letter on Financial Exigency

June 25, 2020

Dear MSCA Librarians and Faculty,

Earlier this afternoon I became aware of a letter Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago sent to the nine state university presidents.  MSCA Board Director Margot Hennessy from Westfield State University alerted me to the letter when outgoing Westfield State University President Torrecilha references it during a Board of Trustee meeting today.

I would like to thank Margot for alerting me to the letter’s existence.  I was not sent a copy.  I received a copy of the letter after contacting the Department of Higher Education.

I understand that you may be concerned by the letter when you read it, but I find the letter to benign.

The letter does not declare financial exigency for any state university.  Each university’s Board of Trustees would need to make such a declaration. The BHE could not prevent the declaration, nor could it require such a declaration.

The letter does not authorize any university to declare financial exigency.  The university Boards already have that authority.

The letter does not authorize furloughs of unionized employees.  The letter states that if a university wanted to negotiate furloughs with a union, then the BHE (as the “employer or record”) will then delegate to that university the authority to negotiate with the union on the BHE’s behalf. This has always been the case.

The letter does not initiate the retrenchment procedure in the day collective bargaining agreement.  The university president must initiate that procedure.

The letter does not authorize the presidents to initiate the retrenchment procedure in the day collective bargaining agreement.  The presidents already have that authority.

In some respects, the letter is a good thing.

The letter does put the presidents on notice… of how they must proceed should one of them or one of the Boards of Trustees decide that they want to go down these (detrimental) roads.

The Association of Professional Administrators (APA) was sent the letter when it was sent to me. I don’t know if AFSCME is aware of the letter.

I have inquired with the Massachusetts Community College Council, the union representing faculty and professional staff at the 15 community colleges, to find out if their presidents received a similar letter.

CJ O’Donnell
MSCA President