After experiencing more than $5 million in revenue losses during the spring semester due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the College of St. Scholastica has determined a second phase of steps to address its financial situation.

"They are very difficult decisions, and we do hope they will be temporary, but we can't promise that," said Bob Ashenmacher, executive director of marketing, communications and media.

The cuts include a salary reduction beginning Sept. 4 for all employees and staff who make more than $36,000. People who make between $36,000 and $50,000 will receive a 1% salary reduction. The percentage of the salary reduction increases by 1% for every increased salary range.

Earlier this spring, a 10% pay reduction was announced for St. Scholastica President Barbara McDonald, as well as 5% pay reductions to other campus leaders, including senior administrators and deans. The college also put out a call for voluntary furloughs, though Ashenmacher said it wasn't enough to make up for the revenue losses.

Barbara McDonald, president at the College of St. Scholastica, poses in the campus’ cloister walk. (2019 file / News Tribune)
Barbara McDonald, president at the College of St. Scholastica, poses in the campus’ cloister walk. (2019 file / News Tribune)

In addition to the second phase of steps, the college will reduce its retirement contribution from an 8% rate to a 4% rate beginning July 1.

The college also announced that 32 positions will be affected by personnel reductions. That includes 15 open positions that won't be refilled for the time being; the elimination of six staff positions; six contract nonrenewals; three faculty positions that will remain unfilled due to retirement; and full-time-equivalent reductions for two staff members.

"Not any of these positions are an easy loss," Ashenmacher said. "Not at all. We regret every one of them."

The college has received the first half of its COVID-19 bailout funds from the CARES Act, which is short for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security. The first $1.14 million was distributed to students in the form of emergency financial aid grants, per strict guidelines. The college has yet to receive another $1.14 million, which will be used to cover housing, room and board refund expenses.

"Although it won't cover all that we lost," Ashenmacher said.

The first phase of cost-saving measures that took place earlier this spring included a freeze on hires, a soft freeze on spending, restructuring administration as well as reducing spending in areas like sports and travel.

What the future holds

Looking ahead to fall semester, Ashenmacher said the college is seeing more interest than usual in its online program and that there's more uncertainty among prospective and traditional students.

"It's understandable families are not quite sure yet," he said. "Students are perhaps not as certain of their immediate future."

As the situation unfolds, the college will determine if a third phase of cost-saving measures will be needed.

Students, faculty and staff at St. Scholastica voiced their concerns over social media as it regarded the college's decision to eliminate the director of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

New student body president Chanty Armijo-Cruz learned of the news May 29 through an email sent to students who are part of the Center for Just Living. Shortly after, she was flooded with messages from students.

Chanty Armijo-Cruz (Submitted photo)
Chanty Armijo-Cruz (Submitted photo)

"We were all very confused and at the same time very upset that one of our biggest supporters … was taken away. We were very frustrated with this because no students were involved in this," Armijo-Cruz said, later adding: "A lot of our community is mourning the death of George Floyd and then on top of this, we get this."

On Monday, about 30 students met for a listening session with the college president, other staff from the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as the school's chief diversity officer — a position added in April that meets directly with the president — to discuss how they're doing in the midst of current events, Armijo-Cruz said.

During the session, students had questions about why the position was eliminated.

"We're upset about something, but all we hear, 'We hear you, but we're trying to support you and we have a plan,'" Armijo-Cruz said. "Well, we haven't heard any of those plans. We haven't seen any of it. We haven't felt any of that support from you when you're taking the position that was already supporting us."

A statement posted on St. Scholastica's Facebook page addressed campus concerns by stating that the college had elevated equity and inclusion to a priority at the presidential level with the creation of a permanent chief diversity officer position.

"The CDO leads an inclusive excellence team whose roles have been consolidated and clarified for greater institution-wide effectiveness," the statement said. "At a time of broader college-wide reductions in response to COVID-19, we are not reducing staff resources providing leadership and direct services in this area."

Across all its campuses, St. Scholastica employs 241 faculty members, not including adjunct professors, and 339 staff members. In the spring semester, the college enrolled 1,675 traditional undergraduate students.