Guilford College, like a lot of small institutions, is a tight-knit place. Students know most other students, if not by name then by face. And some faculty and staff members have worked together for years, if not decades in some cases.
That made the recent job actions at Guilford perhaps more painful than at some other places.
In early April, shortly after the private Quaker college closed its campus and moved instruction online due to COVID-19, Guilford put 133 of 250 non-faculty employees on furlough for two months. (Furloughed employees weren't working or getting paid, but still had health care through the college and were eligible to collect unemployment.) At the end of May, the college extended the furloughs for two more months. And in early July, the college made some of those furloughs permanent. Guilford laid off 52 people — 47 staff members and five visiting faculty members, or roughly 15 percent of its entire workforce. The college also said it wouldn't fill another 34 open jobs.
On Monday, the college's chapter of the American Association of University Professors set up a temporary memorial of sorts to their lost colleagues. Some faculty members carried chairs and benches onto the college quad and on each of the 52 seat backs taped a sign with the name of an eliminated position. Based on the pictures I saw — that's one of them atop this blog post — the job losses happened all across the college: admissions, the library, the art gallery, the Bonner Center, academic advising and tutoring, athletics, student affairs, finance and development. The cuts were both deep and wide.
Guilford spokesman Roger Degerman told me by email Monday that the college plans to bring back 33 staff members from furlough by Sept. 1. (He said some employees came back Aug. 1.) Another 31 employees remain furloughed. Degerman said the college will decide their status sometime around Oct. 1 based on several factors, including fall semester enrollment numbers and revenue projections.
No doubt it has been a tough year at Guilford. In addition to the layoffs, the college is in the early stages of a presidential transition, and the college's athletic conference announced last month that it's postponing conference play in football and other fall and winter sports through the end of the calendar year. (The ODAC announcement was a big deal on a campus where roughly 40 percent of students play a varsity sport.) And then there's the whole fall semester, which will be unlike anything anyone at Guilford or any other campus has ever seen.
Guilford students will return to campus starting this week, and classes are scheduled to start Aug. 19. Click here to read more about Guilford's health and safety plans for the fall semester. I'll have a lot more on the upcoming semester at colleges and universities throughout the Triad this weekend.
Staff writer John Newsom covers higher education for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.