March 15, 2020

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

I write with an important announcement. First, let me extend my best wishes to each and every one of you and my hope that you remain well. I also want to thank you for all the patience, hard work, and spirit of collaboration you are exhibiting. Your generosity will go a long way in helping us get through this pandemic.

Announcement

We have decided that we need to move quickly to a remote work model, beginning Tuesday morning, March 17. Tomorrow, Monday, employees may gather what you need in the way of equipment and materials for your work from home and discuss any last-minute issues with your supervisors. Please contact askit@amherst.edu if you need assistance with technology in order to do your work from home.

Explanation of the Shift

Let me explain why we are changing course sooner than we had thought. The College wants to continue helping mitigate the effects of the coronavirus in our community and, hopefully, beyond. At this point, the responsible thing to do is to insist on strict social distancing and enhanced cleaning protocols, even as we continue providing essential services to students, in particular, the 200 who will remain on campus. The first possible cases of COVID-19 in our region were reported yesterday, and regional K-12 schools will be closed as of tomorrow, March 16. The school closings will present significant childcare issues for many members of our community. Because we need to do our part to slow the spread of the virus and because of the pressures on all of you, we need to move to a model of remote work.

Continuity

We have been aware of this possibility for some time. As part of our preparation, division leaders, department heads, and department chairs have been creating business continuity plans so the operation of the College can continue. We expect that everyone who can work from home will work from home. We also expect supervisors and department chairs to share work and communication plans with their staff on Monday.

While some staff will be spending all their work time managing COVID-19-related issues or working on continuity from home, there may be others, including some casual staff, whose time is freed up to some degree and can take on new tasks. Please contact Fredricka Joyner in the Office of Human Resources (fjoyner@amherst.edu) with any projects or tasks your department will need help doing and that can be distributed among other available staff. Staff members interested in supporting others should also contact Fredricka to have their names added to the database.

Essential Staff

As you know, students are still in the process of leaving campus this week, and approximately 200 will remain on campus after the Wednesday deadline for those who are departing. We MUST continue to provide a functioning academic and living environment for those students who remain, one that maintains the highest possible standards. To make that happen, some essential staff members will need to continue to report in person. As you can imagine, our usual ways of defining essential staff, for a weather emergency, for example, will not work under the unique and unprecedented circumstances of COVID-19. Members of the senior staff have prepared lists of “essential staff” for our current circumstances. Those staff members will not make the transition to remote work on the same schedule as staff in general, and some not at all. To give you an example, some colleagues in IT, Student Affairs, and the Library, to name a few areas, will not begin working remotely until the end of the week so our students—on and off campus—have the help they need to make the transition to their new mode of learning. Some colleagues in other areas, for example, the Amherst College Police Department, Dining Services, and Campus Mail, will remain on campus to support the College’s ongoing operations. Our students will be supported by essential staff in Health Services, Counseling Services, Residential Life, and Case Management. Karu Kozuma, Chief Student Affairs Officer, and Liz Agosto, Dean of Students, will be on campus through this next week and, as needed, beyond.

Supervisors will inform those who are being defined as “essential staff” no later than noon on Monday, March 16, with details.

Campus Security and Restrictions

As of Friday, March 20, only those who are defined as essential staff will be allowed on campus and have access to campus buildings. If anyone else has a need for a short-term visit to campus or to a building, prior arrangements must be made by your supervisor/chair through ACPD. Soon after you receive this message, you will receive one from Ralph Johnson, Director of Shared Services, explaining how we will maintain essential business services, including payroll, expense reimbursements, and vendor payments.

Self Care and Community

We want to do all we can to keep everyone safe and healthy in the midst of this crisis, while also providing education to our students. I urge every one of you to continue taking all precautions recommended by the CDC. Put a six-foot distance between yourself and other people; avoid contact with those who are sick; wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; cover coughs and sneezes; clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces on a daily basis. Please do all you can to protect your own health and the health of your loved ones. As you do, you will also be helping countless others. We will keep you up to date on all College developments. And I will have all of you in my thoughts. 

Sincerely,

President Biddy Martin