Important Community Update on the Impact of Covid-19 and Fall Planning
A message from Tokumbo Shobowale, Executive Vice President for Business and Operations
To the members of The New School community,
We have learned a great deal in the last few months about COVID-19, its spread, and preventive measures; the attitudes of students, faculty, and staff about returning to campus; and the realities and limitations of making our vertical, urban campus as safe as possible. This knowledge – and our firm commitment to protecting the health and safety of the entire New School community – have guided our planning for the Fall semester.
As Provost Marshall wrote in his June 26 message, key decisions about the upcoming semester have been made and our academic year is taking shape. Specifically, fall classes will be online, with campus facilities opening gradually – and on a limited priority basis – for in-person creative making, research, and artistic activity requiring access to specialized equipment. The Deans of each school will be reaching out to the students in programs who can be accommodated in these campus facilities in the fall. Residence halls also will be open this fall on a limited basis to allow for physical distancing.
With these decisions in place, I want to provide further information on the practicalities of how we will implement our plans for the fall and support our academic mission and priorities, while continuing to focus on the community’s health and safety.
The Gradual Reopening of Campus Buildings
For the limited number of campus buildings that are planned to reopen this fall, our staff are adapting these spaces to comply with social distancing guidelines and refining the strict health and safety protocols that will be in place. The campus reopening website provides details about what you can expect if you plan to be on campus this fall. We will continue to assess the pandemic as the academic year continues and will share further plans regarding campus facilities as soon as possible. Please remember that a successful first-stage of reopening and continued progress will rely on every member of our community who will be on campus to be extremely conscientious, considerate, and responsible. A campus safety code of conduct is being developed that will set out specific expectations for anyone who will be on campus during the coming academic year; we will communicate more about this soon.
Of the 250 staff members who were furloughed for the summer, 180 employees have either already returned to work or will be returning by August 17. Staff members who will resume working include those who support operations and services in areas including Security, Facilities, Library Services, Residence Halls, Health Services, and the Making Center. However, with plans to have a very limited number of students and activities on campus in the fall, not all furloughed employees will be returning to work at this time.
As we have carefully assessed our operational needs, and the considerable financial impact of COVID-19, we have made the determination that some staff will continue on furlough through early November. We do not take this decision lightly and understand the impact it has on our valued colleagues, but it is an essential action that reflects our financial circumstances and current staffing needs given that the majority of our campus buildings will remain closed for some time.
All employees affected by furloughs – including those who will soon be returning to work and those whose furlough periods are being extended – have been contacted directly by Human Resources.
Some faculty and staff have asked if it might be possible to stagger extended furloughs and have them apply more widely across the university to lessen the burden on those affected. We investigated this approach carefully, but it is not a viable option to address our current staffing needs. By October, we hope to have better visibility into the possibility of more broadly reopening our campus in the future and how that will affect staffing going forward.
Remote Work Status
Having seen the spike in COVID-19 cases in cities and states that re-opened quickly, we are more convinced than ever that a careful, gradual return to campus is the safest option for our community. Therefore, The New School is extending remote work for most employees through at least the end of 2020. There may be, however, specific circumstances in which some staff may be asked to work on campus, though only in accordance with New York State safety and health guidelines for higher education institutions.
We are aware that the pandemic has been disruptive not only to our institution but also to each and every member of our community in untold ways. As we navigate changes to how and where we work, we ask for teams and managers to be flexible and considerate in accommodating, to the extent possible, the specific life circumstances and caregiving responsibilities of each individual when creating work schedules and assignments.
While the challenges and uncertainties the pandemic has set out before us are significant, we are making enormous progress on enhancing safety, serving students, and ensuring the fundamental financial health the university needs to deliver on our academic mission. I want to emphasize that we are listening closely to your feedback and insights – and continuing to move forward with discipline, forethought, and a constant focus on the steps needed to keep The New School strong and vibrant. For more information, we have developed a list of FAQs that can be found here.
Thank you for your continued support.