Reply to May 8, 2020 Letter from Faculty and Staff

Dear Colleagues,

Many thanks for your letter, dated May 8 and signed by 52 members of faculty and staff and an additional 74 anonymous individuals, concerning issues arising out of the current COVID crisis, its financial implications for the college and individuals, and the way we have organized ourselves to facilitate decision-making with regard to fall planning and college finances. I appreciate the engagement in issues vital to the future of Bates reflected in the letter, and I will do my best to address the concerns raised.

I share the conviction expressed in the letter about the importance, as we make decisions, of considering equity and the differential impact of actions taken on various members of our community, particularly those most vulnerable with respect to compensation and job security. For this reason, the first order of business for both teams that comprise the Working Group was to discuss and adopt the following principles:

In developing recommendations for action, the teams will be guided by the following principles. Proposed actions should:

  • Sustain the college’s mission, including, in particular, providing outstanding educational experiences for our students;
  • Embody the principle of shared sacrifice wherever possible;
  • Consider the differential impact of decisions on various members of our community, including our most vulnerable employees, bearing in mind our shared commitment to equity and inclusion;
  • Preserve organizational capacity for a return to operations following the pandemic;
  • Balance responsibility for the current Bates community with the needs of future generations.

These principles serve as an important reference point in the ongoing discussions of both teams and they will inform proposed recommendations as they are developed.

Both teams are committed to considering the full range of voices and perspectives from the Bates community, and they have in place a variety of mechanisms for encouraging input. When we announced the formation and membership of the two teams, we specifically asked for feedback and included a button on the website for anyone to use to write in and express their views. Information coming in from the community through this means is available to all team members and discussed at each meeting. Members of both teams are also frequently in conversation individually with colleagues.

With respect to the composition of the Working Group teams, as I mentioned at the town hall for faculty last week, Malcolm and I sought to put together teams that draw on faculty expertise from a range of academic disciplines and staff expertise in operational specialties relevant to the work of each team. To align the work of the teams with faculty governance, we also included the full membership of the Academic Affairs Council and the co-chairs of the Committee on Faculty Governance. In determining faculty representation, we made a considered decision not to include faculty without the protection of tenure, given the nature of the issues with which the teams are engaged. In keeping with this judgment, and given how large the teams are and how far advanced they are in their work, we do not intend, at this point, to revisit the membership of the teams.

Your letter expresses a desire for greater transparency regarding the ongoing work of the teams and the impact of decisions that have already been made. I am in full agreement that transparency is crucial to sustaining the trust that will be necessary to move the college through the difficult decision-making and ongoing uncertainty of the very challenging situation in which we find ourselves. To that end, I have written messages to the community outlining in detail the rationale for every important decision to date – beginning with asking our students, on March 13, to leave campus and complete the semester in remote learning. All of these communications are posted prominently on the college’s website.

With regard to increasing the procedural transparency of the Working Group teams, I will work with Malcolm and the team chairs to explore what we can do to improve visibility into the thinking of the teams and the scenarios they are considering, as it seems we are not yet hitting the mark. More on that soon.

Meanwhile, we will be conducting our second faculty town hall this week, and I and others continue to have open meetings with staff colleagues from a range of departments across the college. The purpose of all of these interactions is, as your letter suggests, to share thinking about timelines and scenarios, invite feedback, and entertain any questions, concerns, or alternate viewpoints that arise. We will continue to hold these open forums as we move toward an announcement, by June 30, of plans for the fall semester, and on an ongoing basis over the summer as long as there are decisions to be made about our adaptations to this new reality.

Finally, your letter asks how funds captured from salary freezes and retirement contributions will be used, “as well as the impact of this recoupment on the current and future budgetary shortfalls.” Geoff Swift, our vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, addressed these questions at the first faculty town hall last week, and I know that he would be happy to return to this topic if needed. The short summary is that the measures referred to in the letter pertain to the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2020, and runs through June 30, 2021, and specific allocations of savings have not yet been made. As Geoff explained, the actions were taken, first, to account for losses already incurred, and second, to position the college to deal with significant financial challenges in the coming academic year, which are readily predictable, but uncertain in magnitude. Specific examples include a projected increase in financial aid because of the economic downturn, reductions in single fee income if we are not able to open in person in the fall, and increased expenditures on health and safety measures related to COVID. You can find more information on financial decisions here.

Many thanks once again for taking the time and care to write, and I look forward to the ongoing engagement of all faculty and staff as we wrestle with unusually challenging decisions in the weeks and months ahead.