COVID-19 Frequently Asked Questions by HMC Staff

The responses listed below to the questions raised at the staff town hall on Thursday, April 30, reflect preliminary responses provided at the town hall with some modifications based on review of additional information, including the budget models we prepared for the Trustee Budget committee.

If staff have additional questions, we encourage you to contact your direct supervisor, the Office of Human Resources (dnagengast@hmc.edu), any member of the President’s Cabinet, or President Klawe (klawe@hmc.edu).

We sincerely appreciate your continued service to the College during these unprecedented times and your support of the College and our faculty and students.

I share my household with a senior with underlying medical conditions. After HMC staff can return to campus, can I continue to work from home to minimize the chance of infection?

As long as the Safer at Home order continues, the majority of staff will continue working from home. But even when we return, for those employees with jobs/duties that are conducive to telecommuting, we will try to accommodate staff and faculty who are immunocompromised, who are at higher risk themselves, or who take care of family members who are at higher risk, to continue working from home where possible.

If antibody testing becomes available, will HMC purchase the kits so we can be tested and return to work?

So far, the antibody tests have not proven to be reliable. Also, there is currently no medical evidence that people who have been infected and recovered are not susceptible to future infections. Because of these factors, it is more likely right now that we will focus our efforts on testing people who may be infected and doing additional contract tracing to identify individuals with whom those individuals may have come in contact.

While we haven’t determined all of the procedures we will need to implement to open the campus for in-person classes this fall, our Board Chair, Wayne Drinkward ’73, has suggested that we might consider asking students to self-quarantine at home for the two weeks prior to arrival on campus and to do orientation and other activities during that time. Once students arrive on campus, we might consider asking them to participate in another two weeks of online classes only, with students quarantining in the residence halls, to minimize the risk of possible spread of infection. We do plan to have masks and thermometers available. We also are hopeful that cost-effective and fast testing will be available later this summer and can be used on campus this fall.

When will the final payment be issued to staff members who are currently not working? Will it continue through the summer?

  • For those with a 9-month contract, they will be paid through the end of that 9-month period, which usually ends just after commencement, May 17, 2020.
  • Assuming the CA and LA County stay at home orders continue in effect through June 30, 2020, for those who have a 12-month position, the College will pay the staff member through June 30, 2020.
  • If we can’t offer in-person courses this fall, we will have to consider furloughs/layoffs to meet any potential budget shortfalls.

The next meeting is scheduled for 5/20, does that mean we don’t report to work after the 5/18 Safer at Home Order is lifted?

Staff should not return to campus until they have been notified by their supervisor. We have a small number of essential staff working at present.

If courses begin entirely online, could practical/support/lab staff be on campus to produce filmed or interactive distance learning?

We are waiting for guidance from the State to let us know when people can return.

Will we be able to file for unemployment this summer?

Employees who are on a 9-month contract are not eligible for unemployment during summer because there is the expectation that you will return to work in the next academic year.

Please elaborate about the “level of pay for exempt” you mentioned when discussing minimum wage increases?

California is on track to raise the minimum wage in the state to $15/hour over the course of the next few years. As the minimum wage increases, in order to qualify for exempt status, an exempt employee has to earn at least two times the state’s minimum hourly wage. As the minimum wage in California increases, we are increasing the salary of some exempt employees to ensure we remain in compliance with state law. As a result, some exempt employees will qualify for pay increases next fiscal year despite the College’s anticipated salary freeze for FY 20-21.

Do you know if the dependent scholarship program will still be in effect for this Fall?

There are no plans to change this program at the moment.

Will you consider furloughs if the students are online and in person and if so, will furloughed employees be able to receive benefits?

If it is possible to have most students on campus for in-person classes this fall, we will try to avoid furloughs. If we are forced to furlough employees, our hope is that we will still be able to offer medical benefits, but not other benefits. For positions that are conducive to partial furloughs, we are looking into the possibility of using a 20% (one day a week) furlough approach. There are several positions, like our dining hall workers, who would not have work to do if most of our students are not back on campus in the fall and where partial furloughs would not work. Every Cabinet member will review the needs of their departments carefully to develop customized plans to meet the needs of our community. Again, our strong preference is that we be able to have students on campus this fall and that we not be forced to furlough employees. We would only consider this option if we are not able to have the majority of our students on campus this fall.

If we need to practice some level of physical distancing on campus, what would that look like in office and classroom buildings?

We haven’t done the modeling with a great deal of detail at this point, partly because our faculty have been teaching and have been very busy. Next week we will start building these plans. One option is that we not teach any large class in person and instead offer these online. We also might look to hold recitation sections or smaller classes in larger classrooms so we can space out students more widely. It’s also possible that we’ll have some staff coming into the office on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays one week and Tuesdays and Thursdays the next week to further reduce the number of people on campus at any given time.

Are we considering a later start date for the academic year?

Right now, it is unlikely that the College will start the semester later. Our current goal is to start on our current schedule, be on campus, and use a variety of physical distancing measures.

Will the college still approve contributions to retirement accounts?

In the more financially difficult models we are projecting, we are considering a reduction in the College’s portion of the contribution, but this shouldn’t prevent people making or increasing their own contributions.

What are the criteria for CARES Act distributions for students?

The students who are eligible to receive funds have completed a FAFSA. It is likely that students receiving the Pell Grant will receive greater funding with smaller amounts being allocated to students on need-based financial aid but who are not Pell-eligible. The Office of Financial Aid is reviewing the requirements and determining how to distribute funds as quickly as possible based on the guidelines we have received.

Questions from April 11 Town Hall

For how long are we going to be telecommuting?

At this point, we don’t really know. The College is following the guidance of the state of California as well as that from Los Angeles County. Once it is decided the spread of the virus has reached the point that will allow people to safely return to campus, we will let staff know.

What is going to happen this fall? Will we teach online with students at home or will we bring students back to campus?

Our very strong preference would be to bring students back to campus if state and local officials determine that we can do so. This will depend also on whether the health care resources available in Los Angeles County can provide adequate patient care should we ask students to return this fall and should there be another spike in the number of cases of COVID-19.

While our faculty are doing an incredible job educating our students online, we all know that in-person learning and the ability to do hands-on work with faculty are things that make HMC’s educational experience one of the best in the world. We probably won’t know for another few months, but we will be planning for a number of different possibilities. We remain optimistic that we will be able to be together in person this fall.

What are the College guidelines for masks/face coverings?

Essential employees who have been asked to come to campus for work, along with a small number of faculty members and others, must wear masks/face coverings when they are on campus. In addition, we have asked students to wear masks/face coverings when they come to the Dining Hall to pick up their meals. This is in keeping with recommendations from public health officials in order to protect people from the spread of COVID-19. Employees and students may wear their own masks/face coverings or if they need one, they should contact Theresa Lauer in Facilities and Maintenance.

If we need something from our office to bring home for work, will we be able to go on campus to get something from our office?

If you have not been designated as an essential employee who should report to campus for work, we ask that before coming to campus for any reason, that you please reach out to your supervisor or the vice president for your area to request permission and to discuss your needs. If you are given permission to come to campus, please limit your time on campus as much as possible and wear a mask/face covering.

What is the outlook for summer research or activities? Will students even be allowed to be on campus this summer?

We expect that summer research will continue for those students who are able to do that work remotely over the summer. For some faculty and students—particularly those whose research work requires them to be in lab spaces—we know it will be difficult. If California relaxes the safer at home order, our hope is that we could possibly open up some labs to allow limited summer research work, perhaps toward the end of the summer. It’s too early to be able to decide this, however.

Is the construction on the McGregor building continuing on schedule?

For now, it is continuing on schedule. It’s really important to continue construction at least until the point where the building can be protected from the elements. Construction has so far been included as an essential service and is exempted from the safer at home order. As long as that is allowed to continue, we anticipate construction will continue. Right now, we still remain on time and on budget for March 2021 completion.

Can you talk more specifically about what you mean by “protecting our people”? Have staff furloughs been discussed? If so, would furloughs affect exempt individuals as well as non-exempt?

When we made the decision to provide prorated refunds to our students and their families for meals, and then to do the same for room charges, our primary goal was to ensure that we could provide financial relief to the students who agreed to leave campus and to their families, while not negatively impacting our staff. We intend to continue paying our staff through the end of this fiscal year (or through May 17, 2020,  in the case of our nine-month employees), regardless of whether or not staff could actually transition to work remotely from home. We will continue to evaluate our ability to do so and communicate updates with staff.

In looking ahead to next fiscal year (which begins July 1), it is too early for us to know what the economic impact on the College will be from the pandemic. We are looking closely at several factors, including the number of admitted students who are submitting their deposits for this fall as well as the number of returning students who participate in preregistration in June. That, coupled with other factors such as the number of students participating in our Summer Session program, should help us make a better determination about what kinds of budget reductions we may have to make moving into next fiscal year. We anticipate that given the financial strain on the College, we will have to eliminate salary increases going into next fiscal year. We have suspended hiring activity until further notice.

After we have identified all potential sources of additional revenue and exhausted all possible operating budget reductions, we could be forced to discuss staff furloughs as a last resort. Our hope is that we won’t be put into this position, but like so much else about the current situation, it is difficult to predict what might happen. These issues will be discussed as part of our board meeting in May, and the ultimate decision will rest with the trustees. We will continue to update staff as we move into the early part of next fiscal year.

Do employees who are potentially furloughed keep benefits and continue credit for time of employment?

It is too soon for us to say, whether we will need to furlough employees, who might be impacted by possible furloughs, or what options we might be able to offer for continued benefits coverage. If the college determines this option is needed, we will explore options to assist our staff to minimize the impact on benefits and credit for time of employment.

When would HMC have to make a decision about whether the campus will open as scheduled for the fall semester?

Ideally, we would like to be able to decide by July 1. If the decision is made by the undergraduate Claremont colleges to begin the semester a little later than normal, we could push back making the decision into August. In either case, we anticipate we would still need to have contingency plans in place for added social distancing during the fall semester or for quickly transitioning back to online courses should the need arise.

Is HMC participating/planning to participate in any research or health initiatives like we see coming from other institutions? Development/production of therapy devices?

We have some faculty members who specialize in modeling the spread of disease who are doing some work in this area. Liz Orwin and faculty in the Department of Engineering have been working on ways to manufacture PPE for local hospitals using the College’s 3D printers as well as ways to include our alumni who work at 3D printing companies to get them involved in their local communities. Sharon Gerbode in the Physics Department organized an effort among faculty to donate additional PPE supplies from their research labs to local hospitals. Weiqing Gu is offering a half semester data analytics course in the Mathematics Department that employs big data analytics and machine learning (ML) techniques to process, identify key data features, infer, predict, integrate, classify, and extract unique insights from the COVID-19 Open Research Dataset.

Would you share the factors behind the decision to cancel the study abroad programs for the fall?

The decision was made by Dean of Faculty Lisa Sullivan in conjunction with staff in Academic Affairs. As many of you know, we had 43 students pursuing Study Abroad this semester—the largest number in the College’s history. Of that number, two students were not able to leave for their programs, which didn’t begin until April. The remaining students all had to return once the virus began spreading in countries around the world. Rhonda Chiles, our director of Study Abroad, deserves a tremendous amount of thanks for all of her work in coordinating with our students in the program and with helping make arrangements to get all of those students home. We are offering students who were pursuing Study Abroad this semester the option to take Summer Session courses for free as a way to earn credits if their programs did not offer them the option to complete their coursework online.

In thinking ahead to fall, we only had seven students who had indicated they planned to pursue coursework abroad. Given the uncertainty around the current outbreak, it seemed safer to cancel the program for the fall semester so that those students had time to participate in room draw and could pre-register for courses at HMC.

Do you know if the other colleges are following the same rules or precautions as HMC?

The colleges have been coordinating their responses where possible. Weeks ago, The Claremont Colleges established a task force that included a representative from each of our campuses (Dean Anna Gonzalez is the HMC representative) along with Stig Lanesskog, CEO of TCCS, and representatives from Student Health Services. This group has been meeting several times each week and has been coordinating efforts among the campuses. In addition, the presidents of the seven colleges have been holding weekly calls to discuss issues. Not every campus is doing things exactly the same way, but we are coordinating with each other as much as possible.

Can the college apply for the federal loan?

We are consulting with our legal representatives and others to see what options are available to us. We have already submitted an application to FEMA to request emergency funds. We are looking into what options are available to the College to seek assistance in the form of a loan from the CARES Act (Act) as well as grants from the Education Stabilization Fund – Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund created by the Act. We believe the grant amount that could potentially be allocated to the College under the Act would approximately $500,000. We do not know how long it would take for the College to receive funding from the federal government.

How is HMC’s endowment performing?

HMC estimates that as of March 31, 2020, the College’s endowment value is approximately $280 million. This value is down from the $328 million as of June 30, 2019, due to investment value declines and the College’s spending policy payout.

If the local hospitals become overwhelmed would we consider to open dorms to assist the local hospitals, if needed?

So far, we have not been asked to provide this kind of assistance. In general, the advice we have been getting is that the residence halls at Harvey Mudd would likely not be suitable options to provide overflow care due to our large number of shared bathrooms and lack of single rooms with their own restroom facilities. As a result, it is unlikely our residence halls will be used to assist local hospitals.

Will the time and a half salary increase being given to essential employees be continued after the current April 19 safer at home order’s expiration date?

Several weeks ago, the Cabinet agreed to pay a time and half hourly pay rate for a small group of hourly staff, who were approved and designated by their area VPs, as essential employees who needed to be on campus. Only the staff members who have been approved as essential hourly employees and have a letter designating them as such, are receiving a time and half hourly pay rate. For these individuals, the College expects to continue paying the time and half hourly pay rate through when we would normally hold commencement, May 17, 2020, unless the CA or LA county safer at home order is removed before then. We are incredibly grateful to all of our essential staff, particularly those in Dining Services, Facilities and Maintenance, Computing and Information Services and the Division of Student Affairs who are working on campus to ensure we can take care for our students living on campus and continue supporting the faculty and staff who are working remotely.

When staff and faculty do return to campus, do you expect that new guidelines will include that everyone has to wear masks?

We anticipate that would be the case. Generally, we expect the country to slowly begin restarting various kinds of activities with stores beginning to reopen and with expanded groups of people being allowed to return to work. It is still likely that we will all be expected to continue certain types of social distancing during this transition time to prevent further, large-scale outbreaks of COVID-19. It is likely that we would have to continue wearing face masks/coverings for several months. The College will adhere to guidance provided by county and state public health officials.