Summer Furloughs, May 20, 2020
Dear staff, faculty and students:
As we have written previously, we hope to bring our students back in the fall and we continue to plan accordingly. However, we must also plan for other scenarios in case public health guidelines suggest that it is not safe or prudent to have students return until later. To ensure that we are prepared to weather continued disruption and uncertainty, we must be careful stewards of the college’s financial resources. To date, we have continued to pay all regular employees, even those who cannot do their work remotely. Now that we have cancelled all summer programs, there will be more employees without sufficient work to do. As we explained when we wrote to you on April 20, the need to place some staff on summer furlough, a temporary unpaid leave, was likely; we write today to detail the next steps in the furlough process.
As you may know, in ordinary times, Smith has more robust summer programming than many liberal arts colleges; those programs include the full residential operation of our School for Social Work, our executive education and pre-college programs, and rental of the campus by outside camps and conferences. In addition, in an ordinary year we would have hundreds of undergraduates living on campus to participate in summer research. With the campus in remote operation and on-campus summer programs canceled, summer revenues have been erased.
Later today, managers will notify 231 staff members that they will be placed on partial or full summer furlough. These employees are in departments throughout the college and are distributed nearly equally across administrative, administrative support and union roles. Most furloughs will begin June 1. Furloughed employees will be eligible for conventional unemployment benefits plus an additional $600-per-week Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation supplement through the end of July. Some furloughed employees may elect to use accrued vacation rather than seek unemployment benefits. Smith will continue to fund key benefits for furloughed employees, including health insurance and tuition assistance. The college will also cover the employee share of health insurance premiums for the first two pay periods of furlough.
To those staff members who will be on furlough, please know this: a furlough is in no way a reflection on your value as an employee or the value of your work. Further, it is not a separation from Smith College. Rather, it is a reflection of the unavailability of sufficient work during our current limited operations. You are still a Smith employee and a member of this community.
We know that many of you will have questions. Human Resources has created personalized packets of information for furloughed employees and a list of frequently asked questions. HR stands ready to answer any further questions you have; they are available at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your managers, too, have been trained to support you during this challenging time.
Some members of our community have written to us to suggest we solve the financial challenges we face by using the endowment as a solution. This is, in fact, a step we have already taken by allowing our endowment spending rate to temporarily increase, a measure approved by the board of trustees for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Please know that 81 percent of the endowment is restricted to sources identified by the donor; examples are the library, endowed faculty chairs and financial aid. The remaining 19 percent is used to fund academic programs and needed additional financial aid.
As we wrote at the beginning of this letter, we hope that it will be safe for students to return to campus in the fall. When we know more about the fall semester, we will re-evaluate furlough decisions. Managers will stay in active contact with furloughed employees and we will keep the community informed of our planning. Further, all staff members are invited to meet with us via Zoom from 2:00 - 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 27. Please look for the meeting invitation in a separate message.
We value the contributions of every Smith employee. Our campus is a community, and the bonds that link colleagues, coworkers and friends are what make Smith strong. The decision to enact summer furloughs was not an easy one, nor one we reached lightly. We recognize the stress this action will place on our community, especially those staff members who are directly affected. At the same time, COVID-19 has posed significant challenges for all colleges and universities, Smith included, and these steps are needed in the short term to protect our strength and longevity in the uncertain times ahead.
Vice President for Finance and Administration