Pomona furloughs hundreds of campus staff members

The Smith Campus Center, a tan building with a red roof, is pictured. Mountains and a clocktower can be seen in the background.
At $37 million, Pomona’s budget deficit for the next fiscal year exceeds previous projections. (Courtesy of Pomona College)

With students barred from returning to dorms, dining halls and classrooms this semester, Pomona College will furlough a significant number of campus employees, senior administrators announced in an email to students Tuesday.

The furloughs will begin Oct. 1 and apply to full work hours for 154 employees and partial work hours for another 110 employees, according to the college’s FAQ. Pomona expects the measures to last at least until Dec. 31 and will reassess the continued need for furloughs in 2021.

The employees were informed of the furloughs during in-person meetings Tuesday, the FAQ said, and had been made aware of the possibility that they could occur last spring. 

The furloughs will affect those working in college functions that are closed — where employees will not be able to work on-site or remotely — and those who are working in functions that have been curtailed, such that a regular full-time work schedule cannot be maintained. 

“As the crisis began to have a deepening impact on college finances, we worked to hold off measures such as furloughs and to continue paying all employees,” the administrators said. But given the extent of the pandemic, they added, “the duration and magnitude of this crisis force a step we have sought to avoid.”

The announcement cited a budget deficit of more than $37 million for the fiscal year — exceeding previous projections — which resulted from a lack of revenue from room and board payments and the number of students who have taken gap years and leaves of absence.

“The different hourly reductions, some full and some partial, have been crafted not only in response to work needs with campus closed but also to minimize loss of income and maximize eligibility to unemployment benefits for our employees,” the administrators said.

The college will continue to pay for health coverage, including the employee contribution, for all furloughed employees until Dec. 31. The FAQ also said employees could likely apply for full or partial unemployment benefits and California’s new Lost Wages Assistance Program.

Some Pomona faculty have opposed putting the burden of budget constraints on staff members rather than faculty and administrators. The college has cut administrative salaries, frozen nonessential hiring and may offer an early retirement program.

“The resources of the school [should be] used to protect those who are most vulnerable, not to insulate those who are the best off,” history professor Victor Silverman told TSL in June. “ … It would only be fair for my salary to be hit before the administrative assistants, before the janitors, before the dining hall workers, and certainly before people are laid off.”

Administrators considered cutting faculty and staff salaries “across the board,” according to the FAQ, but decided it would be “fairer” to maintain “the connection between work and pay” by furloughing those with less or no work to do.

All of the 5Cs have moved to remote instruction for the fall semester, but Pomona is the first school to announce large-scale furloughs. Harvey Mudd College administrators told staff in early August that a similar move would be inevitable if students could not return to campus.

Administrators at Scripps College and Pitzer College have expressed the desire to preserve jobs, but have yet to announce reactions to their closed campuses. Claremont McKenna College likewise said in its CMC Returns plan that it would impose “responsible limits on hiring, salaries, and spending,” as well as “targeted budget cuts.”

About 250 colleges across the country have imposed furloughs in response to the pandemic, The Atlantic reported in August — and half of them, like Pomona, only furloughed staff.

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