It’s hard to believe, but we are in the 12th week of the fall semester. The toll the pandemic is taking on each of us cannot be overstated. Between family and work responsibilities, the inability to gather freely and easily with others, illness and financial concerns, and major social crises, we are in a moment of incredible stress. My hope for each of you is that you can find some time next week for a well-deserved respite from your work responsibilities for a few days.
Recent Cases, Community Rates and Campus Operations
Before I share an update about our spring planning, I wanted to share that we have had six members of our community, four employees and two students, test positive for Covid-19 in the last two days. We have reached out to these individuals and have begun the contact tracing process. While the student cases were related, it does not appear at this time that our employees were close contacts of each other.
As you are all aware, the positivity rates in Massachusetts and Worcester are steadily increasing. While we have many health and safety protocols in place, and we continue to have a very low positivity rate on campus, the same cannot be said in surrounding communities where we live and interact. I am asking all members of the Executive Team to review again how and when their employees are accessing campus between now and the end of December. They will have conversations with their teams about working remotely to ensure that only employees who need to be on campus to complete essential functions during this period are coming to campus and all who can work remotely are doing so. It is important that we maintain a de-densified campus so that we can protect the health and safety of those who need to be here.
Before we unplug for the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to provide you with a few updates about our planning for the spring semester. First, I want to thank everyone who has worked so hard to set up the systems and protocols which have brought us this far in the fall semester. Our testing program is running smoothly and efficiently. We have promptly addressed the positive cases we have identified, managed any spread and provided thoughtful care for students who were required to isolate or quarantine. I also want to thank everyone who has been involved in working so diligently to care for our residential students, our off-campus students and our students living at home this fall. This has been no easy feat and I am proud of the work our faculty and staff have done to ensure our students are getting the best experience possible in a challenging time.
As you know, I have communicated with our students and their families that we are inviting all students back to campus for the spring semester. Across campus, there is a deep desire to be together. We will of course be watching the movement of the virus, following the directives of state and local public health officials and adhering to strict health and safety protocols as a community.
As most of you are aware, we had about 15 working groups who worked over the summer and into the fall to get the campus ready for the arrival of students and more faculty and staff. I am so appreciative of the work of all these groups. They have laid an incredible foundation that now allows us, with some updates, to move into spring operations with approximately 2,000 students on campus, and another several hundred living in the local area and accessing campus. For the past two months, we have been transitioning out of that working group structure and back to our pre-pandemic structure with a few changes and additions. The work of the Student Engagement Group will continue and we will, of course, need a Health and Safety Group, as well as supervision of our testing, contact tracing, and quarantine and isolation operations.
I am pleased to announce that David Shettler, our Deputy CIO for Innovation and Security, will be taking on the new role of Director of Covid Response Operations for the next year. In this role, which went into effect on Monday, David will have oversight over our health and safety operations, working closely with an infectious disease doctor we will be formally engaging as our Medical Advisor. David will report up through Dottie Hauver, Michele Murray and Jane Corr. The four of them, plus the Medical Advisor, will constitute the College’s Covid Core Team. David will oversee the logistics of testing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation spaces and the individuals supporting those operations. The Core Team will also be responsible for establishing policies and guidelines for spring operations. I know many of you have questions about various items for the spring. I would ask that you bring those questions to your division heads. They will be able to provide answers, or get answers for you from the appropriate places. Ellen Keohane and Dottie Hauver have developed plans for oversight of David’s previous responsibilities to ensure coverage of his important work in ITS.
Our return to on-campus operations in the months ahead will be gradual and based upon guidance from public health authorities. We will maintain our guiding principle of keeping campus de-densified; however, we will need to ramp up operations in order to appropriately support the increased population of students that will be here. As conditions allow us to return to normal operations, all aspects of our return, including the repopulation of our campus, will be managed to mitigate potential risks. The Executive Team members are working together and within their divisions to determine staffing needs on campus for the spring semester.
Financial Planning Timeline
As we near the end of the semester and 2020 and the calendar turns to 2021, I also want to share an update on the College’s financial planning process timeline and its impact on the setting of salaries and benefits for staff and faculty.
First, I want to say that reinstating the 403(b) contribution and establishing a compensation pool for salary increases for fiscal 2022, which begins on July 1, 2021, is a priority for me. As you know, last July I notified you that because of the financial implications stemming from the pandemic, the employee mandatory contribution and the College’s matching contribution to the 403(b) defined contribution plan would be suspended through the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2021. As I said then, and will repeat here, this was a very difficult decision that was made after many conversations and a balancing and evaluation of all other options. As a reminder, there were no changes to the defined benefit plan for hourly employees this year.
Many factors and variables need to be evaluated in the planning process each year, but especially in these uncertain times. As you know, like most undergraduate colleges, Holy Cross’ revenue is highly dependent on enrollment. Net tuition and room and board fees make up 70 percent of the College’s revenue. And in these times, we have new and different expenses related to our COVID response. We will have a better sense of our financial situation for this year once we get through the spring semester, and know our true expenses for needs like COVID testing and changes to campus operations.
As such, we will likely not be able to make a final determination on reinstating the 403(b) contributions until the last quarter of the current fiscal year. Between now and then, the financial plan for the current year will be updated as actual revenues and expenses become clearer. I will be looking to the Finance and Planning Council for their input and advice on the decisions before us for the current fiscal year before I make recommendations to the Board.
The timeline for establishing a compensation pool for any salary increases for next year is similar. Given our reliance on enrollment and net student fees and financial uncertainties related to COVID-19, salary increases will be determined later than usual, or closer to June 2021. Deposits from incoming first year students are due on May 1, 2021 so it will be shortly after that when we have a sense of next year’s enrollment and net tuition revenue. Later in the spring, we will have a better sense of the potential COVID-19 related expenses for the next academic year. Over the next few months, we will develop a financial plan for fiscal year 2022 to present a tuition recommendation to the Board of Trustees in late January. The financial planning process for FY 2022 also includes meetings with the Finance and Planning Council and the Finance Committee of the Board of Trustees, along with the full Board.
We will still proceed with the annual evaluation process which Human Resources will launch in January. This year has been a different one for all of us, and HR will be working with divisions to incorporate the impacts of COVID-19 on faculty and staff responsibilities into those evaluations.
These are challenging times and I appreciate that not being able to have certainty around these issues is uncomfortable for us all. I assure you that we will communicate any substantive updates to you along the way. I also want to remind you that we have established an employee hardship fund, using a portion of my salary and the Provost’s salary. Employees who need assistance can find more information on the COVID section of the Human Resources website.
Thank you again for your continued dedication to our students and our Holy Cross community. My prayers are with each of you and your families.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.