Over the past five weeks, every aspect of life at Holy Cross has been impacted by COVID-19. We have taken dramatic steps as an institution in accordance with our priorities of protecting the health and safety of our Holy Cross community and supporting the continued academic progress of our students. While we have had to adjust our own lives by staying at home, caring for high risk family members, or supporting our children’s online learning, we have moved the majority of our students off campus, revamped our courses to an online format, transitioned to working from home where possible, and modified operations to safely support the few students who remain on campus. Each of you have contributed to this effort in significant ways, and your work in continuing to support, advise, engage and pray with our students, faculty, staff and alumni is remarkable. Our Emergency Response Team continues to monitor the situation, ensure that we are caring for the students residing on campus and our employees whose roles require that they be on campus, and work with the greater Worcester community on how the College can support its efforts in responding to the pandemic. Through your extraordinary dedication and collaboration, we have accomplished feats that we would have never imagined even a few months ago.
We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, and whether and when there will be a resurgence of infections. We also don’t know what the full impact will be on Holy Cross. We do know that we will sustain a significant financial impact in this fiscal year. As outlined in my letter with the executive team on March 25, we have provided approximately $7 million in partial room and board credits to students for this semester and we will experience additional revenue losses from conferences, catering and athletics. At the same time we have committed to paying all of our employees their full compensation through June 30, the end of this fiscal year. In the coming year we face uncertainty about key sources of revenue including tuition, charitable giving and the endowment. We also expect to see increased need for financial aid as the economic impact of the pandemic affects our students and their families. All colleges and universities are finding themselves in this exact place.
It is essential that we act now to safeguard the financial health of the College. This will involve some difficult, and possibly painful, financial decisions. We will persevere and grow in strength, but it will require cooperation, discipline and shared sacrifice.
In the March 25 letter, we highlighted a few of the initial steps we are taking:
- In order to reduce our accrued vacation liability for fiscal year 2020 and beyond, we will require salaried administrators and hourly staff to use an amount of paid leave, equal to their annual vacation accrual, between April 16, 2020, and June 30, 2020. Leave not normally available for use until July 1, 2020 will be made available for immediate use. Human Resources will be following up with more details on this policy and process shortly.
- As of March 25 and until further notice, the College has instituted a hiring freeze. This hiring freeze includes all faculty and staff positions, with very few exceptions made for certain critical or strategic hires.
- Salaries make up one of the largest components of the College’s budget. We will not be offering salary increases for the next fiscal year for administrators or hourly staff. The Executive Team and I are responding by either reducing our salaries or making a meaningful contribution to the Holy Cross Fund in support of financial aid. Faculty, whose contracts for next year were finalized on March 1, may voluntarily decline their increase for Fiscal Year 2021 by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org to receive a revised contract or choose to contribute to the Holy Cross Fund in support of financial aid or the College’s Emergency Relief Fund.
- We will defer all non-critical purchasing and discretionary spending. All purchasing needs should be carefully considered during this period of modified operations, and discretionary spending should be discontinued or deferred until further notice. All existing capital projects will be evaluated to determine how they should proceed, and no new capital projects will be approved. Please work with your department head and divisional vice president to discuss any needs.
- We will continue to limit College-sponsored travel, both domestic and international, until further notice. When it is safe to travel again, only essential travel will be permitted.
Some have asked why we can’t withdraw funds from our endowment to cover anticipated shortfalls. The purpose of the endowment is to provide sustainable financial support to existing operations as well as to provide for future generations of students, faculty and staff. The majority of our endowment is invested in funds to provide returns for future use and is restricted, dedicated to specific purposes by donors, and cannot legally be repurposed for other uses including to make up for shortfalls in our budget. While we may choose to draw some additional funds from the endowment to alleviate the economic challenges of the pandemic, we must recognize that spending today must be balanced against the needs of tomorrow.
The uncertainty related to the coronavirus is not limited to the financial impact. While we do not know when our community will be able to return to campus or what our enrollment might look like, we are beginning to plan for different scenarios. We must consider how we will return to campus safely and what changes might need to be implemented when that time comes. We are paying close attention to public health leaders, our state and local government leaders and, of course, our own Dr. Anthony Fauci ‘62, as we think about what the summer and fall will look like for our campus community.
Given the projections for when the virus will peak in different areas of the country and the possibility of a resurgence once restrictions are lifted, we will be cancelling all in-person events and programs scheduled to be held on campus in June and July 2020. This includes summer research, summer courses, reunions, orientations, camps and conferences. Summer session courses and Summer Gateways will be held online, and many across campus are working on remote options for the other events and activities.
I know that this has been a difficult time for everyone. The pandemic has disrupted our daily lives, impacting our work and our families. These new demands, along with the sadness and uncertainty, have brought with them stress and anxiety. The steps we are taking will help us to support our current students, faculty and staff and to continue our mission of educating thoughtful and ethical leaders long into the future.
Our annual day of giving, which will occur on Friday, April 17, could not be more appropriate or important at this time. On this day the Holy Cross community will come together virtually to celebrate the power of community and importance of a Holy Cross education. We are fortunate to have alumni, friends and other donors who value the education we provide and want to support our students, faculty and staff by donating to the College. Every gift to the Holy Cross Fund made through June 30 will be dedicated to supporting students and the campus community by addressing needs created by COVID-19. A key focus will be on financial aid.
I am deeply grateful for the incredible work that has gone into supporting our students over the past five weeks. Holy Cross has weathered many challenging periods in our long history through the dedication that defines our community. While we cannot be certain of how the future will play out, I am certain that this community will continue its mission to educate students of conscience, character and courage.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J