Details on the U's voluntary leaves of absence

Yesterday afternoon I posted that the University of Minnesota is offering voluntary leaves of absence to help cope with the state shutdown.

I called in for details, and today the U’s VP for human resources, Kathy Brown, ended up talking to MPR colleague Tim Post.

This is apparently a narrowly tailored program designed to help out a small number of employees whose salary comes entirely from grants and contracts run through the state — and thus is cut off by the state shutdown.

Faculty members, whose pay is not dependent on such state contracts, are not included in the program, Brown said. Those eligible would tend to be tech support personnel, administrative support, junior researchers and so forth.

Practically all of the U’s academic departments receive such grants, she said. Although she said she didn’t know how much state contract money is being disrupted by the shutdown, she said the U deals with about $125 million a year in state grants and research projects.

She told Post:

“State agencies begin to inform us that payments would discontinue on those grants and research projects. That caused us to take pause and say, ‘Let’s look at the situation, and if we’re receiving the funding to run those research projects, what are we going to do?’ … It’s a program to help a unit or project that wasn’t getting state money and wanted to keep the project going in the future but (needed) to take a time out till state funding returned. This was an opportunity to give employees on that project … a timeout.”

So far the number of people who have signed up for it: One.

That could be because of the July 4 weekend, Brown said, or because people are still waiting to see whether the shutdown will drag on. Either way, she told Post:

“I don’t know that we’ll have a broad need for it, because a lot of peple work a small time on one project and a small time on another project, or may be working on several projects at one time — or have a regular job, and this would be a small percentage of the work they do. So they may be able to be carried (by) their (other) employment…in this interim period.”

It’s the first time the U has done this sort of thing for a select group of people, Brown said. That said, for the past 18-24 months it has does have a leave-of-absence program for special cases — but which doesn’t pay benefits, as this one does.

In a sense, the program is as up in the air as the shutdown, since no one knows how long it will last — and so there’s no real deadline by which to apply, she said.