I’M THE TYPE of person who likes to plan. I have at least 10 to-do lists going at any one time. I have calendars on my refrigerator, my desk and my phone. I plan out my days, my months, my years and, on occasion, my decades.
My job, managing the biology department at a small liberal arts college, is a perfect fit for my personality. For the past 22 years, I’ve methodically planned out every day of each semester. I figure out what equipment is needed to run the laboratory courses we teach. I anticipate how much money the department will require for the upcoming fiscal year. I try to foresee the future and avert any mishaps that could cause the department to operate in a suboptimal fashion.
In February, I spent some time working on my annual performance review. I combed through my past evaluations and reread some of the comments made by co-workers. They praised my resourcefulness and my efficiency, and they admired my ability to simultaneously balance routine tasks with crisis intervention. I felt valued for the work I was doing. I was secure knowing that I’d found my career niche and my future was bright.
Then everything changed.
In a matter of days, I went from being an indispensable member of our department to being deemed “nonessential.” The lecture halls and laboratory spaces in the biology building—usually overflowing with activity—went silent. The college went from a vibrant community of students, staff and faculty to a ghost campus.
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic has hit many colleges and universities hard. Almost immediately after schools began to shutter their campuses in March, talk of layoffs and furloughs began. The college I work at has continued to pay its staff and faculty throughout the pandemic. We have, however, been warned financial losses could accumulate quickly if the campus remains closed to students. Administrators have already notified staff members about salary freezes and departmental budget cuts.
The college will soon announce the type of teaching model to be used in the fall. But questions will still remain. How many students will return to campus if the school is open? How many student employees will we have? If there’s a coronavirus outbreak on campus, will the doors close again as abruptly as they did a few months ago?
My husband is fond of the saying, “Hope for the best, plan for the worst.” I hope the furloughs, layoffs, salary reductions and suspension of retirement account contributions that other institutions are putting into place won’t happen at my college. At 53 years old, I’m too young for retirement but too set in my ways to want a new career.
The good news? All that planning I did in the past will help me weather any storm I might face. My husband and I have an emergency fund we can tap into. We have a stable income stream thanks to his pension and Social Security benefits. And a permanent job loss could mean accelerating our plans to relocate to another part of the country.
Kristine Hayes is a departmental manager at a small, liberal arts college. Her previous articles include Did It Myself, While at Home and Attitude Adjustment. Kristine enjoys competitive pistol shooting and hanging out with her husband and their dogs.
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My youngest son just told me he lost his job. His department was outsourced. He worked for this company for 21 years and now with young children and at age 45 he has to start over.
I fear many middle aged people will be in the same boat as your son. Jobs will be lost and people will need to find new careers. I’m hoping to weather the storm that’s about to hit higher education. I don’t think it’s going to be pretty.
I retired from a small private college in NYC last year. While reopening this fall initially looked unlikely, the much improved situation in NY suggests that a hybrid system will attract a sufficient number of students to keep the college afloat. However, there have already been significant financial losses from cancelled summer programs and implementing COVID safety measures will also be expensive. Difficult times for both public and private college.
Kristine, I enjoy your articles and admire your self-discipline and level-headed approach to life. I have no doubt that you will be able to weather your current situation.
I’m a professor in California. I work for a large UC and am likely to keep my job, but there are a lot of uncertainties—pay cuts, furloughs, freezes are all on the horizon for me, and possible job loss for our staff and contingent faculty. I wish you well and hope everything works out for you.