COVID-19 Update: Report from Employee Forum, May 14
Dear Kenyon staff and faculty,
Many of you were able to join me yesterday for a video conference in which I reported on the state of the College at the close of this most unusual semester. When I look back on all that we have accomplished over the past two months — the transition to remote teaching, learning and working — the ways in which we have kept our community connected even at a distance — how we have stretched to meet an entirely new set of needs with existing resources — I am awed but not surprised. Kenyon’s strength has always come from the hard work, dedication and outstanding performance of its people. For this, I thank you.
As challenging as this spring has been, we are only at the beginning. Yesterday I began to lay out how the College intends to approach the work ahead, and I will recap our plans here, as there is much to digest. The questions we seek to answer go beyond how to manage through the next few weeks or months, or what we need to do for the fall semester or even next year; rather, we are defining how Kenyon will operate in a COVID-19 world, which will be with us for at least as long as it takes to develop a vaccine. Our goal is unwavering: to carry out the mission of the College — to build strong foundations for lives of purpose and consequence — while protecting the health and safety of our community, supporting our students and employees, and stewarding the long-term health of the institution.
WORK OF THE SUMMER
Working in close coordination with state and local health authorities, we will take the summer to assess and adapt our spaces, protocols and habits, gradually reintroducing campus activities so that we are ready to welcome students back for in-person instruction this fall. I hesitate to use the word “re-open” to describe this process, both because the College never closed and because our day-to-day work will be different from what it was before the pandemic. For example, we know that keeping the density of people low is one way to reduce the risk of transmission and therefore some of us will continue telework; and yet we also know that some work is best done in person, here on campus, and we need to find ways to do that as safely as possible. It will be a balance.
We will put in place measures to reduce the risk of transmission, using as a baseline the public health standards for offices (PDF) and services (PDF)issued by the state. Our measures include:
Masks. Employees, students and visitors will wear masks inside campus buildings, except when alone in an office or other private space. Employees and students should plan to supply their own facial coverings; we will have masks available for visitors.
Physical distancing, gatherings. Desks, meeting rooms and occupancy rates will be set to allow a distance of at least 6 feet between people. Employees, students and visitors will be expected to respect physical distancing guidelines in their everyday interactions. Currently, gatherings are limited to 10 people in the state of Ohio.
Personal health monitoring. Employees should check their temperature before reporting to work and stay home if they have a temperature of 100.4°F or higher, are experiencing other symptoms of Covid-19 or been in contact with someone who is suspected or confirmed of having Covid-19. By reporting for work, employees certify that they meet these criteria.
Enhanced cleaning regimens. There will be regular, thorough cleaning of bathrooms and public spaces. Employees are encouraged to clean high-touch surfaces within their own workstations.
Shared, high-touch equipment. The use of public computers and printers may be discontinued.
Public health hygiene. Employees, students and visitors should practice good public health hygiene: wash their hands regularly and for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching their face; cough or sneeze into their elbow or a tissue that they responsibly discard. The College will provide hand sanitizer in high-traffic areas.
Travel. Currently, non-essential work-sponsored travel is restricted in the state of Ohio.
Testing, tracing, treating and isolating or quarantining. The College will work with Knox Public Health to manage suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19.
Operational plans and timelines.
Because our work varies a great deal across campus, a one-size-fits-all approach will not serve us well. Instead, division heads will work with department directors and managers to develop operational plans for their areas by June 1, including timelines for implementation by August 1. The senior staff will review the plans together to ensure that divisions are in alignment and to facilitate coordination. Plans will consider:
Office modifications. What physical modifications need to be made to open offices or shared workspaces? For example, offices may require shields for reception areas; a reconfiguration of furniture or traffic flows; or signage about physical distancing, the wearing of masks and other practices.
On-campus work schedules. What work is best done in person, on campus, when and by whom? Should teams consider staggered arrivals or other schedule rotations? How will this be communicated?
Public and shared spaces. We will end the use of communal kitchens in offices across campus, but we will need some local rules on other shared spaces and equipment — conference rooms, copiers, printers, etc.
Managing visitors. What protocols need to be in place to manage visitors? When will offices be ready to receive them?
Accommodations. We recognize that some people are at higher risk for Covid-19 complications. Employees who fall into a high-risk category or who have other concerns should talk with their supervisor or contact the Office of Human Resources.
What employees should do now
Unless required to be on campus to perform essential functions, you should continue to work remotely (or, if you are unable to telework, to record your hours as “college closed”) until your office reopens or your supervisor instructs you otherwise.
PREPARATIONS FOR FALL
Planning for the return of staff and eventually visitors is an important step in preparing the campus for the return of students and in-person instruction. Provost Joe Klesner is leading the planning for next academic year and has formed a set of faculty and staff working groups to address key considerations. These include: academic calendar and schedules; programming for students if the semester is delayed; restarting lab experiments and lab work; protecting vulnerable faculty and staff members; health and safety issues in the classroom; supporting students who need to study remotely; modifying study spaces, residential spaces, dining practices and social events; welcoming visitors; and testing strategies. If you have thoughts or suggestions on these or other considerations, or would like to participate in one of the groups, please contact Provost Klesner. The working groups will report on their progress throughout the summer; watch for more information.
New guidance for schools and residential programs is being developed regularly, and we will draw on the best science available as well as the collective wisdom of experts in the field as we develop strategies for the fall. Members of senior staff meet regularly with the Knox Public Health Commissioner, and we are in active conversation with the Ohio 5 colleges, members of the Great Lakes Colleges Association and Ohio schools in general as we seek to develop and share best practices in a Covid-19 world.
As you have read, our operational planning is aimed squarely at a safe and sustainable return of students to campus this fall. And while preserving the in-person, residential dimension of a Kenyon education is a top priority, it would be fiscally irresponsible for us not to make provisions for future disruption given the number of variables outside of our control. More than 80 percent of Kenyon’s annual revenue comes from tuition, room and board; 40 percent of our expenses are in salary and benefits, and another 25 percent in financial aid. Thanks to a history of prudent fiscal management, we were able to absorb revenue lost this spring without making painful cuts to our support of students or employees. It will require even greater prudence to buffer against an extended global health and economic crisis.
Fortunately, Kenyon’s financial health is fundamentally sound. I am pleased to report that our enrollment projections for next year are on target. Indeed, the Class of 2024 is enrolling on or ahead of projections in a number of ways — in number, academic profile, and racial, ethnic, and geographic diversity. It comes as no surprise that the financial need of the incoming class is somewhat greater than we projected. In fact, building up our financial aid reserves is one of the ways we can prepare ourselves for uncertainty in the year ahead. We also must be prepared to manage the fiscal pressures that would come if state or federal restrictions on residential programs, dining, gatherings or travel were reimposed in the wake of a second or third wave of the pandemic.
For this reason, we have adjusted our 2020-21 operating budget to manage the potential volatility that may arise from the Covid-19 crisis. Our reallocations seek to preserve the priorities reflected in our existing budget, which put the education of our students first. We have reduced reserves for building and equipment improvements (beyond those needed to ensure safety) and will see some operational savings in our new ways of working. We will manage our vacant positions to yield additional savings, while maintaining the flexibility to make critical hires. At this time, we do not need to take the painful step to reduce staffing levels; however, we will not go forward with a general salary increase this year. And we have made the difficult decision to suspend the College’s contributions to 403(b) retirement and retiree health care programs, effective July 1. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and will make additional adjustments if necessary. I recognize that these moves have a tangible impact on every one of our employees, and we do not make them lightly. If you have questions about what any of this means for you, please reach out to the Office of Human Resources.
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The questions of how to move forward in a new Covid-19 world are big, and daunting, and there are no perfect answers. So much remains uncertain. And so we must focus on what is clear, certain and manageable. And in that category I would put the following: I am confident that we will find solutions that will be informed by science and the best guidance available from public health authorities. I know that our process will be a close collaboration with local and state health officials. I am certain that we will be flexible in accommodating the health needs of all members of our community. And I trust that we will draw from the insights and expertise that Kenyon faculty, staff and students bring to these issues. And for that I am grateful.
We will host another employee forum on Wednesday, May 20, 10–11:30 a.m. EDT to answer follow-up questions you may have; watch your email for viewing instructions and please do not hesitate to submit questions in advance here.
With deep appreciation,