April 13, 2020
Dear Knox Community,
The past few weeks have posed extraordinary challenges to all of us at Knox, whether we are working online from home or coming to campus every day to serve our students and keep our campus safe. And yet the faculty and staff of this remarkable College have risen above and beyond these challenges. In the midst of a global pandemic and a statewide stay-at-home order, you have re-created the Knox experience for this unprecedented time with creativity, determination, and exceptional work. I am happy to share that the winter to spring retention rate shows 99 percent of our winter students are still studying with us this spring. Your commitment to our mission is genuinely inspirational.
I know many of you have been anxiously awaiting news from me and senior staff as to how the financial implications of the pandemic may affect you personally. You know that before COVID-19, our efforts to rein in a growing structural budget deficit were already necessitating difficult decisions. In the past month, we have also seen our endowment values decline significantly because of volatile stock market conditions and the economic slowdown stemming from the stay-at-home directives. The most significant and unforeseen immediate impact on the College’s finances came from not collecting room and board revenue for the spring term from nearly 1,000 students. This has added almost $3 million to the budget deficit projected earlier for the current fiscal year. It is clear to us that we also need to plan for the probability that fall enrollment will be depressed by the global economic downturn. Over the past few weeks, we have continued to explore opportunities for small business loans, but at present, it appears that Knox may not be eligible for many of the loans you have heard about in the media.
At Knox, we have sought to protect our workforce over the past month while we assessed the extent of the economic impact of the pandemic. But, as the crisis lengthens in duration, it has become clear that we do not have the resources to keep everyone on the payroll, particularly since all but 165 of our students are off campus. Painful adjustments are occurring across the U.S. economy, and many colleges and universities are now announcing new measures.
As a direct result of these challenging circumstances, this week we will undertake a reduction-in-force that will affect approximately 55 hourly, salaried, union, and non-union staff. Additional budget measures will also be necessary, including the possibility of a reduction in 403(b) contributions and graduated pay reductions for both faculty and staff. We will share more details in the coming weeks as we refine these plans. Personnel affected will receive notification from supervisors no later than April 14, and most of the resulting reductions will be effective beginning April 18. Decisions on who will be affected take into account the College’s needs to serve the educational program directly (curricular and co-curricular), maintain essential business operations, retain and recruit students for the fall, and continue outreach to donors for both operating and capital gifts.
As a result of recent legislation, affected employees could be eligible for enhanced unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 crisis, and the College will not contest unemployment compensation for workers laid off or furloughed. The timing and extent of callbacks of employees will depend on projected fall enrollment, the availability of federal assistance, and the extent of Knox fundraising and endowment levels in the coming months.
In the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing is clear: Knox would not be the extraordinary institution that it is without your loyalty and your dedication to our mission. I cannot tell you how deeply I regret these measures. I understand the impact on all of you and your families, but these circumstances are bigger than Knox. I am confident that we will win this fight against the pandemic as a nation and as the Knox community. And I promise you that we will do everything in our power to safeguard the future of this College and the remarkable faculty and staff who are our heart and soul.