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No decisions have been made about possible cuts to faculty or staff, and Lincoln University is not on the brink of closing, according to the university's president.

LU's President Jerald Jones Woolfolk spoke Friday with the News Tribune after she and other LU administrators met in a closed-door meeting with the university's faculty union to discuss the institution's declaration of financial exigency.

Financial exigency is an unusual course of action for a college or university — similar to declaring bankruptcy — that makes measures such as cuts to tenured faculty possible.

LU's administrators said, however, the declaration — while indicative of financial problems — is not an indicator that the university's financial problems are imminently catastrophic or much different than other institutions' problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The pandemic has already led to state budget restrictions for colleges and universities in Missouri this spring, and LU had approximately $1.4 million withheld from its budget through June 30.

That led to a freeze on hiring and spending.

State lawmakers Friday passed a budget for next year that hopes federal money will come through to avoid budget cuts to four-year universities. If that funding doesn't pan out, colleges and universities face a 10 percent cut in state aid, according to the Associated Press.

Significant declines in student enrollment have also been projected for the summer and fall, based on where those numbers were this time in 2019 — which would mean significant declines in the collection of tuition and fees.

The pandemic's uncertainty about the immediate future of in-person college education comes for LU after several years of enrollment declines at the university.

The university depends on state appropriations and tuition and fees for the vast majority of its revenue.

While the declaration of financial exigency means the idea of cuts is up for discussion, Woolfolk said the university had to give notice of the declaration to the faculty union — the Lincoln University Missouri National Education Association — to have that discussion, whereas non-unionized universities can go in and immediately make cuts.

Woolfolk said the university is not reducing any academic programs, and "Lincoln is not about to close its doors."

Jacqueline Shipma, LU's legal counsel, said the administration welcomed the opportunity to meet with the union, that the situation is not confrontational and a "joint problem-solving approach" is a good approach.

Now that the university has presented its situation to the faculty union, the union has the opportunity to make recommendations about what to do — including ways intended to avoid faculty cuts.

Michael Scott, vice president of the union, did not immediately respond Friday to the News Tribune.

Woolfolk said whatever next year's budget looks like, the university's Board of Curators will vote on it in June.

As for any immediate words to faculty or staff, Woolfolk said, "I'd like to say something hopeful, but the landscape of higher education will be changed forever as a result of this pandemic."

She added LU will do its best to continue serving students and the community, and "I am confident Lincoln will come through this."

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