FAIRFIELD — Sacred Heart University has laid off 31 employees at the same time it is working to absorb part of the University of Bridgeport.

In a letter to the campus community on Monday, Sacred Heart President John Petillo blamed the pandemic, along with the related financial crisis, for the workforce reduction.

“This decision was made by the respective senior leaders in each area and was not made lightly,” Petillo wrote. “However, this measure is part of a larger initiative to reimagine how we operate as a university in the face of anticipated financial and enrollment challenges ahead and, more importantly, remain regionally and nationally competitive.”

Petillo goes on to say the UB absorption is not the reason for the layoffs. Petillo last week denied Sacred Heart was having money problems and was anticipating its largest freshmen class ever.

Sacred Heart is planning to take over UB’s graduate level engineering, chiropractic and nutrition programs and some school of education programs, about 1,000 students in all.

Goodwin University in East Hartford is getting most of the rest of UB’s catalogue with Paier College of Art in Hamden taking over UB’s school of design.

“I hope you can understand that both decisions were made to help ensure the university’s strength into the future,” Petillo said. “The acquired programs provide us opportunities to extend and diversify our academic offerings without spending any additional operational dollars.”

At least some of the laid off staff had been furloughed in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic forced all college classes online.

Petillo said UB staff and faculty in the programs Sacred Heart University intends to acquire will have to interview for their positions and that some backoffice staff may not have to be duplicated on both campuses.

“Picking up 1,000 students doesn’t require much more ... in back office,” Petillo said. “You won’t have the (extra) infastructure costs (UB) has.”

lclambeck@ctpost.com; twitter/lclambeck