Coronavirus (COVID 19) Employee Update – March 23, 2020

Coronavirus (COVID 19) and Economic Virus Guidelines for Employees 

Dear St. Kate’s Colleagues,

Technically, today is the start of our spring break. With confidence, I believe I can safely say that we shall all remember it...forever!

Together, we are battling two horrible viruses: a health one (COVID-19), and an economic one (unemployment and recession). We are entering a period of time when the news of the effect of both viruses will continue to be worse and feel worse. With that as reality, how do we save the spring, summer and fall semester for students, keep everyone employed so we don’t add to the  pain, and do it as safely and responsibly as we are able?

As regards COVID-19, our plans assume the following:

  • There will be some form of  “a shelter in place” directive in Minnesota.
  • Higher education institutions like ours will be classified as “essential” businesses and allowed to keep running, albeit with as many people working remotely as can perform their duties related to the education of students. Faculty and staff needed to keep the mission operational will be allowed to do that work on campus if that is where it is best performed, and can be done safely.

In regard to the devastating economic virus, whose impact is severe, we do not want to add to the stress in your lives or the lives of those you love by immediate thoughts of furloughs, layoffs, or reductions in force at St. Kate’s, if we can possibly avoid that situation.  While we don’t control the economic virus in the larger economy, we do control our destiny. Yes, we will operate differently, but we can maintain our business, which we know is not true for almost one-third of the U.S. economy. Let’s take that as a huge blessing that we never take for granted, and do all we can to protect it.  

St. Kate’s remains open and operational. 

We are guided by our strategic plan, and as I shared in our February 12 Operational Update, we are investing in three key strategies in the FY21 budget process which remain our focus and are even more important now: implementing the Academic Master Plan, increasing new enrollment and retention, and fundraising.  

In light of the current situation, we are making the following assumptions for planning purposes:

  • We will be online for Spring 2020 and likely online for summer 2020 classes.
  • Faculty and staff will work remotely, for the most part, for the duration of this semester (through May). 
  • Fall 2020 will resume a more normal operating structure. This may not mean large in-person events, but rather that classes could resume and people would be able to be back on campus with stringent expectations on how to stay healthy in this environment.
  • Expense management will be more critical than ever.

Based on these assumptions, we are making the following adjustments: 

  • Implementing the Academic Master Plan – We have made great progress on the direction and content of the Academic Master Plan, which will be used to set strategic initiatives for programs and outcomes for students focused on incorporating career readiness and enhancement. All decisions and investments we are making about how we adjust to the rapid move online is being done in the context of achieving our academic vision.
  • Increasing new enrollment and retention – The recruitment, admissions, and financial aid teams are working remotely and continue to increase our engagement with prospective students. A few essential staff continue to come in periodically to work and process mail and application materials as needed. We are increasing our virtual recruitment opportunities, and have expanded our follow-up and call campaigns with prospective students and admitted students. This includes transitioning the work of those historically on campus to virtual recruitment efforts like increased call campaigns, notecard writing, and testimonial gathering. Throughout the spring, we will continue to grow our ability to show prospective students the strong community that exists here at St. Kate’s, as well as seeing our beautiful campus, even if that means through video content we’ve created. Our goal is to keep everyone engaged and participating in new student enrollment, and negate any negative impact to enrollment as a result of COVID-19. We are also issuing refunds to students for meal plans and housing on a prorated basis for spring (read message to students and parents). 
  • Fundraising – All of the annual fund and major gift staff continue to work remotely. Alumni Relations is finding ways to build a virtual community and offerings to sustain the alumni as a community in this time. SPREE continues to manage existing grants and explore opportunities for grants in support of the campaign priorities. We have an ambitious goal and are making the case that now more than ever we need to support students financially, faculty in their important work moving online, the sciences, and the Katie Fund (which allows us nimble, unrestricted dollars). Messaging is being reworked to reflect this time of economic stress.

We are committed to keeping employees working. 

Our success relies on our strength, performance, and existence as a community. Our guiding principles for faculty and staff decisions are these:

  1. We recognize that our move to fully online classes and a virtual campus has caused changes in what work needs to be done. In some cases, it drastically increases the demand on our historic usage (think IT) and in other cases it has drastically decreased the demand on our services (think University Events).
  2. Our goal is to keep all faculty and staff fully employed with salary and benefits.
  3. Given 1 and 2 above, we may need to deploy staff talent from currently under-used services to high demand services.  
  4. If  we experience a decline in numbers of students enrolling or returning in summer or fall semester, we will need to review our ability to maintain all employees at 100% capacity, salary, and benefits. 
  5. Performance  expectations remain the same as do consequences for violation of University standards and policies.

Human Resources is gathering the data from across the University to account for the work of every faculty and staff member. Specific instructions will be forthcoming to the Senior Leadership Team, the Office of Academic Affairs, and their respective teams.

We will use these principles to determine how we can be flexible and to the best of our ability, strive to ensure employees have work, or where they can be redeployed, to provide support in other areas. In this new normal, we all need to remain flexible and open to working outside our comfort zone. This also means responding to the needs of our employees, whether that be creating alternate work hours for those caring for children or a family member, identifying technology and resources to remain connected and engaged, or putting employees in touch with resources available through our Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 

Technology Needs and Support  

When moving to working remotely, one new challenge is the difference in capability between home offices and St. Catherine University offices. Since our working assumption is that this is temporary, we are not using University resources to make changes to home offices (e.g., chairs, ergonomic devices). The guidelines are in the online FAQ

Closing Thoughts

The thought I am holding close to my heart and remembering in every decision we make  is the inscription on the altar in Our Lady of Victory Chapel--BEHOLD I MAKE ALL THINGS NEW.

Each of you is making NEW every moment you are figuring out how to be a leader in whatever sphere you influence. There is every reason to believe and commit that we can emerge even stronger than we were before. It is in our DNA that comes straight from the CSJs that we can adjust and learn to thrive in the situation the world finds itself in.

Our students have always been the driver for our decisions. They need our comfort and encouragement so they have the confidence to finish the goals they have embarked upon. Our leadership will be what they remember many years from now when this story is being told.

I know how stressful it is for all of you to know that next several weeks may be a bit “clunky.” If we remember how it felt when we learned to ride a bike, learn a second language, drive a car, or turn on the first computer we ever used, we should also remember that we learned and soon were very confident in our skills. I believe that this will soon feel like that, too.

Let’s write and live a good story! While these next weeks and months may be the most challenging of our careers, they also could  be our proudest moments. 

Take very good care. You want to be healthy, and we want you to be healthy, so please take every precaution.

Becky Roloff