Sharing Difficult News Today Regarding Furloughs (9/1/20)

Dear Pomona College Community:

We are writing with very difficult news.

Since the coronavirus pandemic struck earlier this year, we have sought to carry forward our academic mission and support our community in the midst of an unprecedented global emergency.

As the crisis began to have a deepening impact on college finances, we worked to hold off measures such as furloughs and to continue paying all employees. The College was able to do so for six months, even as the pandemic required students to move off campus and some work areas had to close down as a result.

Now the duration and magnitude of this crisis force a step we have sought to avoid. In the face of a budget gap for the fiscal year exceeding $37 million, we will need to put in place temporary furloughs, some for full work hours and others for partial hours, effective Oct. 1.

The furloughs will affect people working in College functions that are closed so that employees cannot perform their work either on-site or remotely, and those working in College functions that are dramatically curtailed so that employees cannot work a full schedule. Earlier today, we reached out to affected employees in the most face-to-face ways possible in the situation.

We report this news with deep sadness, and below we provide more information on why this is happening now and specific steps we are taking—including paying all furloughed employees through Sept. 30 and continuing to provide health coverage through at least Dec. 31—to help affected employees.

At this point, we expect the mix of full and partial furloughs will last until Dec. 31. The different hourly reductions, some full and some partial, have been crafted not only in response to work needs with campus closed but also to minimize loss of income and maximize eligibility to unemployment benefits for our employees.

Our hope is that the public health situation improves to the point that students will be able to return to campus in spring, in which case we expect the furloughs can come to a close. If we must continue remote education through spring semester, the furloughs that are currently partial may need to, in most cases, become full furloughs at that point, as our financial challenges would escalate.

Why This Is Happening Now

In spring, after students moved off campus in the face of the pandemic, we sharply cut non-personnel budgets, froze hiring and salaries, drew on reserves and paused construction projects.

In our monthly town-hall meetings, we began to discuss the possibility of furloughs, since salaries and benefits make up the largest share of the budget.

We moved forward with the hope and expectation that we would be able to resume in-person education in the fall. In July, however, as public health conditions in California deteriorated, we were forced to set aside our plans to resume in-person teaching and continue remote education into fall semester.

Not bringing students back for fall brought the most severe impact of all the financial scenarios we had projected. Without students living on campus, there are no charges for room and board, a factor contributing to the $37 million budget shortfall for the fiscal year. With many work areas now closed, it also leaves many staff members without work to do, or with a sharply reduced amount of work to do.

In our Aug. 5 townhalls with staff, faculty and students, we announced that, regrettably, furloughs may now be necessary. Over the last month since then, the difficulty of the budget picture became more evident as we learned how many students would be taking gap years and leaves of absence, nudging down our enrollment this year and adding to the financial challenge.

Steps to Help Employees During Furlough

Even as the magnitude of this crisis forces urgent measures, we are committed to helping employees in these ways:

  • All affected employees will receive their full pay through Sept. 30, 2020.
  • The College will continue to provide health coverage through Dec. 31, 2020.
  • As additional assistance, we also will cover the employee’s usual paycheck contribution for health coverage.
  • We will continue to honor any ongoing tuition remission obligations.
  • Employees with full furloughs will receive a payout for accrued vacation time.

We expect employees with full furloughs will qualify for unemployment insurance, and we also are seeking participation in the California Working Sharing Program, which could allow partially furloughed employees to receive partial unemployment benefits as well. We also will assist eligible employees in applying for the State of California’s Lost Wages Assistance Program, which provides additional financial support of $300 per week beyond standard unemployment insurance. Our Human Resources Department will work with affected employees on gaining access to these benefits.

Under this temporary furlough, we will keep employees on our payroll system with the intent of returning them quickly when our operations begin again. We want to make sure that we can bring people back to work as fast as we can.

President Starr and the vice presidents who report to her will take a pay cut for as long as the furlough lasts.

We will continue to provide updated information on our furlough FAQ page and in one-on-one sessions available by contacting Human Resources. Please do not hesitate to reach out with questions in this difficult moment.

We are deeply grateful to our talented and hard-working staff—and we deeply regret having to take these temporary steps in this crisis. We all look forward to the time when every member of our staff, faculty and student body can be back together again on campus.

 

Sincerely,

G. Gabrielle Starr, president
Seth Allen, vice president for strategy & dean of admissions and financial aid
Christina Ciambriello, chief of staff and secretary to the Board of Trustees
Robert Gaines, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college
Robert Goldberg, vice president, COO and treasurer
Avis Hinkson, vice president for student affairs and dean of students
Mark Kendall, assistant vice president for communications & strategic content
William Morse, vice president and chief information officer
Maria Watson, vice president for advancement