March 16, 2020 7:45 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin College Community,

You have responded to the pandemic with courage and a dedication to our students that should make all of us proud. Now that most of our students are off campus and hopefully safe at their homes, we are turning our attention to reducing the on-campus workforce required to provide the services essential for Oberlin and our remaining on-campus students and our students off campus.

It is our goal to implement telecommuting for as many staff as possible, as soon as possible. It also is our goal to preserve the health and safety of those who must come to support our students both here and off campus.

This is a complicated task. It is not as simple as planning for a brief break in our school year, nor can everyone pick up their laptops and leave.  As I try to wrap my mind around this challenge, I have come to the conclusion that we are not planning for a snowstorm; rather, we are planning for a long winter of unknown duration.

I said this yesterday, but it bears repeating. We all know that it is important – even critical – to serve the students who remain on campus. It is just as important that we not forget our obligations to the 2,500 students who are off campus or safely in their homes and still need to access all of our administrative offices.

So let me tell you what we do know:

  • We know that with fewer people on campus, there are greater opportunities for social distancing. Most of our students and faculty are now off-campus.
  • We are not an organization where we already have telecommuting set up for a large group of staff.  For Oberlin to telecommute effectively, it will require hundreds of laptops, with various software configured so that employees can access files in a secure way.  Various projects must be realigned and work digitally prepared.
  • We know that we still need time to establish new modules to meet the academic needs of our students. Much of that work requires on-campus data, information, and collaboration by some employees.
  • This work must quickly be done on campus now so that we are prepared for remote work, likely for an extended period of time.

And what we need to determine:

  • We still need to determine and communicate directly with employees who can perform most of their duties remotely and those who cannot.  Even for remote employees there will likely be times when they will need to return to campus.
  • For those staff critical to day-to-day operations, there will be moments where we will employ a rotation so that not all of us will need to be in the office every day. This will help reduce the number of people on campus, increase opportunities for social distancing, and ease the burden on any one individual.
  • Some staffers will be able to telecommute, but do not have the technology to do so. We are working to get them the computers and other equipment they may need as soon as possible.

The telecommuting plan will be completed shortly.  We need to expeditiously – but deliberately and thoughtfully – move towards telecommuting, so that if we are required to operate indefinitely away from campus, we can both take care of our current students (whether on campus or afar) and bring in a class for next year.

In the meantime, if you feel ill, have childcare issues that are unmanageable, or feel uncomfortable coming to work because of health concerns, you should not come in.  We do not want you to face barriers to taking the time you need in this moment.  We will determine ultimately an equitable way to resolve these absences, but for now you should use your paid leave.  If you have not accrued paid leave, please contact Human Resources so that we can find a solution for you.  We are currently reviewing our leave policy to reflect the current situation.

While we develop an appropriate telecommuting policy, you should reach out to your chair, head of your administrative unit, or supervisor to use your leave time during your absence. If you have any questions regarding leave time, contact Human Resources.

Campus safety

We are in contact with Lorain County Public Health officials, who are continuing their efforts to identify the people who came into direct contact with the college dining services worker who tested positive for COVID-19 this weekend. We also have consulted with health officials regarding how to most effectively clean Stevenson Hall. We will continue to serve grab and go meals at DeCafe.  We also will utilize the techniques recommended to clean dorm rooms that have been vacated.

For more information, please see our coronavirus FAQ page and the archive of previous messages on this topic that have been sent to the community. To submit a question, please send an email to Health.Info@oberlin.edu.

Conclusion

From everything I have read, and based on what health care professionals are telling us, it is clear that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our area will increase in the coming days. This will add stress and concern for the health of our families as well as our colleagues.

I am committed to an approach that minimizes the impact on all members of the Oberlin community—from students to faculty and staff and their families—and protects Oberlin College. We will get through this.  Eventually, we will look back and know that we did our best for this institution, for our families and for each other.

Carmen Twillie Ambar
President