I am writing today to inform you of several difficult decisions made by the College’s Board of Trustees during their spring meeting. We are experiencing an historic coronavirus (COVID-19) global pandemic, the effects of which continue to unfold for all of us. During recent Town Hall conversations with the faculty and staff, I shared the financial challenges the institution faces as a result of the ongoing public health crisis combined with pre-existing demographic and economic headwinds. To address these financial challenges, we will be implementing a series of operating and personnel cost reductions to best prepare for the upcoming academic year and to ensure a strong North Central College after the pandemic. We are not alone in taking these actions as organizations throughout the country, including many colleges and universities, are addressing the financial challenges resulting from the global pandemic.
Operating Budget Reductions
Before committing to any changes in staffing, we first made reductions in operating budgets, which will affect all areas of the College for the remainder of this year as well as the upcoming academic year. Importantly, despite the COVID-19-related revenue loss, immediate austerity measures already taken will result in our 49th consecutive balanced budget for the current year. While we entered the pandemic period in a position of relative strength within higher education, there is considerable uncertainty about the next academic year. The budget actions we are taking are imperative to positioning the College for ongoing financial health.
The College’s Faculty and Staff 403(b) Retirement Plan
In addition to these operating budget reductions, we are making a temporary 1-year adjustment to the College’s 403(b) plan, which distributes burden-sharing amongst faculty, staff and administration toward helping the College maintain its financial health. As a result, retirement contributions to individual employees will be reduced for fiscal year 2021. The College will suspend the matching contribution of 3% for employees that started their employment after December 31, 2018. For all other employees the College will reduce its contributions by 3%.
As a result of COVID-19, some of our employees cannot effectively perform their job responsibilities – through no fault of their own – either on campus or remotely, or their work responsibilities are not needed during a time of reduced College operations. Painfully, we are furloughing approximately 33 employees; a return to their roles will be reevaluated prior to August 1. These employees will be contacted personally by the Office of Human Resources regarding the furlough details no later than Friday, May 8. I regret that this action is necessary, and I wish the circumstances were different for those who will be furloughed this summer.
Furloughed employees are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits, and the Federal Government’s CARES Act also provides up to an additional $600 per week to individuals qualifying for state unemployment. This increase is available through the end of July.
Reduction of College Workforce
It is heartbreaking for me to share that the financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will also necessitate a reduction in workforce that will affect 16 staff across all divisions of the College. There are also 13 vacant positions that we will not be able to fill. In addition, we are suspending half-time and 1-year visiting faculty contracts for the 2020-21 academic year. No full-time ongoing (tenured/tenure-track, or renewable non tenure-track) positions are affected by these cuts. While necessary for the continuing financial health of the institution, these reductions are not a statement of the affected individuals’ job performance, and in some cases affected staff may be eligible for remaining vacant positions.
I give my heartfelt thanks to these individuals for their service to the College. They have faithfully served this institution, contributing to its success as valued members of the more than 600 staff and faculty who make North Central a college of destination for our students. This decision was extraordinarily difficult, and I sympathize with them and their families. Employees affected by the College’s reduction in workforce will be personally notified by their supervisor and/or respective vice president no later than Friday, May 8, and the Office of Human Resources will follow up with additional details.
The Federal Government’s CARES Act also applies to those who are affected by the College’s workforce reduction. Additionally, some individuals who have received their entire 26 weeks of regular unemployment benefits may be eligible for more weeks of benefits under the stimulus package.
Work Schedule Adjustments
Several staff positions (both exempt and non-exempt) are being revised to be more aligned with the cyclical nature of the position responsibilities throughout the academic calendar. While the affected employees will remain full time, and thus continue to receive their current full benefits, their hours of work and compensation over the year will be reduced.
Revised Job Responsibilities
Some staff members’ positions are being redefined to enable them to absorb additional responsibilities of those whose positions have been eliminated, or those of vacant positions not filled.
You may be experiencing a variety of emotions as you receive this painful and difficult news. I wish to highlight that there is support available through the College’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for those directly affected by furlough or job loss, and for those who will continue to serve the College moving forward. I encourage you to utilize the EAP. The Office of Human Resources has also prepared a series of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), which can be reviewed on the CardinalNet Human Resources COVID-19 Resources Page.
The global pandemic has upended our lives and has required us to enact measures that we could not have imagined a few short months ago. These decisions will deeply affect each of us, causing pain and grief. Unfortunately, the circumstances of the global pandemic are significant and the challenges are real. We’ve been handed the responsibility, during this moment in time, to steadfastly care for and preserve North Central College and its rich history. It remains my commitment, with the support of the Board of Trustees, that we will safely guide this extraordinary institution through the pandemic turbulence, much as those who came before us have repeatedly done through myriad challenges since the College’s founding.
Troy D. Hammond
Professor of Physics
North Central College