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Union Institute & University hasn't paid its employees in nearly a month

Union Institute & University employees say the school has not paid them since February. Staff members claim the university located in Walnut Hills has asked them to continue working without pay until the end of April, but the financial debacle has raised many questions.

According to emails to staff obtained by WVXU, President Karen Schuster Webb said the university did not have enough money to make payroll for the past two pay periods. Webb says this is because Union Institute is waiting until the end of April to receive money from federal grant funds and loans to cover its costs.

In information obtained by WVXU, Webb told staff the school's financial problems were in part caused by an increase in students not paying tuition. According to the president, Union had not been enforcing its tuition policy that would disenroll students that could not pay their tuition. This resulted in a more than $1 million budget shortfall.

Even with the explanation, the missed paychecks have employees questioning Union Institute's transparency and financial future.

Last year in December, a similar situation occurred when funds given to Union were not processed in time to make payroll, resulting in employees not receiving their paychecks. The university told employees this was a "glitch" with the payroll software.

Now, the issue has returned and Union employees are left wondering what will happen next.

According to Union Institute, the school has been approved for a line of credit that will cover payroll until federal funds arrive. It may allow for employees to be paid at the end of this week, but the lack of transparency about the university's finances in recent months has some questioning if that will happen. Others are anticipating more missed paychecks as it appears the school is just scraping by.

"Until we can see some sort of action, there is no faith that this isn't going to happen again, and again, and again," Union employee Leslie Hamilton-Bruewer told WVXU. "I think it's likely to happen again and we won't know about it until it's too late."

To address the issue of unpaid tuition, president Webb told staff that Union Institute will once again be enforcing its tuition policy on students and will not allow students with unpaid bills to enroll next semester. Webb is also considering lowering tuition costs for its undergrad programs so more students can afford to pay their tuition, and hopefully increase enrollment.

Still, some employees say students have made attempts to partially pay their tuition, but have had trouble reaching personnel in the university's business office because of a lack of staffing.

Additionally, students receiving federal financial aid have not received their refunds from Union and employees say university leadership has not encouraged transparency which has left staff without any clear guidance on what to tell students.

The situation at Union Institute has some of its employees searching for new job opportunities and questioning if they should continue working for a school that can't pay them.

For now, Hamilton-Bruewer says she will continue to work for the sake of the students, but that's not something every staff member can afford to do.

An emergency fund called Union Strong started by a group within the university plans to give employees that need it an interest-free loan. The problem is, they are expected to pay that money back and the employees themselves are being asked to donate to the fund.

Employees say they have not been given further information on how to donate or apply to receive those funds.

The mood is pretty bleak. It's pretty grim. People want to trust. They want to believe and we have not been given any good reason to do so," Hamilton-Bruewer said.

President Webb says the university has no plans to close.

Leadership at Union Institute & University did not agree to an interview.

Zack Carreon is Education reporter for WVXU, covering local school districts and higher education in the Tri-State area.