President Iuliano updates employees on steps the College is taking to manage the financial impact of the pandemic.
As I have often said over the past few weeks, the dedication and agility our community has shown amidst the many obstacles presented by COVID-19 has been remarkable. The ability of this College to recalibrate, to adapt, and to push forward with rigor and creativity has been inspiring, and yet very characteristic of the Gettysburg I have come to know. I hope that each one of you takes as much satisfaction in the transformation that has occurred as I take pride in what all of you—faculty and staff—have accomplished.
And that is my starting point for this letter. The strength of this institution is grounded in its people. People who have shown time and again their dedication to our mission to advance knowledge and to unlock in our students the wonder of intellectual exploration and self-discovery. In twelve short years, we will celebrate our bicentennial. To endure, indeed to flourish as we have, over such an extended period is not a result of accident, but of character—the very character we have shown in our response to the pandemic. There are challenges ahead, but none beyond the collective will of this community to surmount.
To that end, recognizing that certain of our full-time, benefits-eligible employees cannot effectively work remotely by virtue of the nature of their job, the College will further extend their full pay and benefits through at least April 30. I will say more about that decision in a moment.
Just as the campus has rallied to create an effective remote learning environment, we will also need to draw on the community’s strength as we navigate many other issues relating to the pandemic. Simply put, all of higher education, including this College, is facing a period of substantial uncertainty—about the duration of the pandemic, the length of its economic dislocation, and how those factors may influence the way families consider their educational options.
At a time when the community has responded so magnificently to the transition to a remote campus, I necessarily pause about introducing a set of more sober considerations into our conversation. But the current and potential implications brought about by the virus are real, and we best approach them with the openness and determination that has been so vividly on display the past several months.
As I turn to the issues before us, I would like first to articulate a central organizing principle: Given all the unknowns, we must steward existing resources as carefully as possible. Having financial capacity and flexibility is likely to be essential beyond this academic year. This means that we cannot defer decisions with meaningful financial implications too long.
The need to preserve resources is a byproduct of facts we already know. Most significant are the room and board credits we have extended to students and families. For these and other reasons, the College is likely to incur more than $7 million in unexpected costs or lost income this fiscal year. Included in these costs are the decisions we have made relating to the continuation of student wages through the rest of the term, as well as the extension of the support provided to employees through at least the end of April.
Some of these expenses promise to be offset by the stimulus package recently enacted by the federal government. We are still working to understand the full import of the legislation. At the moment, it appears to offer some relief—roughly $1.6 million, plus the ability to delay certain other expenditures—but it will not be sufficient to address the full economic impact occasioned by the pandemic.
As we look ahead, we must also prepare for the possibility of other forms of financial pressure on the College, whether relating to the significant endowment losses that have already occurred, a less certain philanthropic climate, or the duration of the pandemic. We have just admitted a truly phenomenal class—one that has the potential to be among the strongest and most diverse in the College’s history. In this unsettled environment, however, we cannot be confident that prior yield and financial need patterns will hold, presenting the possibility—unlikely, we hope—that the class may be smaller than budgeted or need more financial aid than anticipated.
In this context, given the impact the pandemic has already had on the College and the significant challenges that may be ahead, we are taking the following steps:
- As we moved to remote instruction and began working from home, the jobs of certain of our benefits-eligible employees were substantially disrupted. The College originally extended their full pay and benefits through April 3. As I noted earlier, the College will continue to provide full pay and benefits to these employees at least through April 30. While this represents a meaningful financial commitment from the College (employee salaries and benefits comprise over 60% of our operating budget), we believe it is an important and responsible step for us to take at this time. We are not in a position to make a commitment beyond April 30, and we know that will generate some understandable concern. But we will be using the coming weeks to see more clearly the full range of implications brought about by the pandemic, including aspects of the government’s response, in reaching longer-term judgments.
- We are suspending most capital projects.
- We are suspending the increase in compensation for employees that was scheduled to go into effect on June 1.
- We have established a strong presumption against any new or replacement hires, whether academic, administrative, or support, other than for those searches that are effectively complete (e.g., an offer has been extended or terms negotiated). If a position is viewed as essential, the relevant department must seek approval through either the Provost or the Vice President of the respective division.
- We will continue to work from home at least until the Governor’s order is lifted, requiring all non-life sustaining businesses to be closed.
These are first steps, ones that respond to existing circumstances while permitting us time to take stock of the changing landscape as we make decisions about the future.
In the meantime, please continue all you are doing to support our students. Their educational and personal well-being is our highest priority and a responsibility shared by everyone on the campus. For faculty, please continue engaging students with your characteristic energy and enthusiasm, recognizing that the remote setting heightens its importance and that our commitment to fostering an inclusive community is as important as ever. For the rest of campus, continue to do great work in service of our students and this institution’s essential mission.
As I said at the outset, the College has thrived because of the commitment and determination of its people. We have seen many such examples over the past several weeks, including in the more than $85,000 raised to support the Student Emergency Fund. As we confront a new set of challenges, ones we could not have anticipated, I am confident that we will find an effective path forward precisely because of the dedicated people who make this College what it is.
With warm regards,
Note: this letter has been updated since its original distribution to clarify the College’s decision to protect the pay and benefits of employees whose capacity to perform their job has been disrupted by the remote learning and remote working environment in which we are currently operating.