Freeze puts hiring on pause, though many positions were already filled

By ROSE EVANS

COURTESY PHOTO
A whiteboard in the facilities building this March announced that most open positions were in the process of being filled, after months of vacancies. Many of those positions were filled before the hiring freeze went into effect.

In the wake of financial disruption and rising projected deficits, Middlebury has instituted a temporary hiring freeze for all employees. The policy is set to continue into the 2021 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2020 and extends to July 1, 2021, and will remain until the college has “more clarity on the budget,” according to an April 23 memo to faculty and staff.

Under the freeze, the college has ceased all faculty and staff hiring processes that had not been completed before the transition to remote learning, including searches that were in the background check or verbal offer stages. In addition, the college is no longer supporting any new searches.

The Campus reported significant facilities staff shortages this fall, including a block of 16 vacancies in Custodial Services that necessitated the hiring of an externally contracted cleaning service to clean student spaces. But applications for those positions and others surged after the college’s increased entry-level wages for its lowest-paid employees in late December.

At the time the hiring freeze was instituted, all but three positions in facilities — which includes custodial and maintenance workers — were filled, according to Missy Beckwith, associate director for the Office of Facilities Services.

Dean of Faculty Sujata Moorti emphasized that faculty hiring processes were largely unaffected by the freeze given that almost all faculty hires for the 2021 fiscal year had already been completed prior to the transition to remote learning. Only one faculty search had not concluded by late March, according to Moorti; this search was frozen.

“In making this decision, we have sought to balance our commitment to academic continuity with the financial shocks the College is experiencing as a result of the knock-on effects of the pandemic,” Moorti said.

Elaborating on the college’s decision to suspend hiring processes, VP for Human Resources Karen Miller cited the college’s commitment to continue paying benefits-eligible employees.

“In light of these changes and given our intent to ensure pay continuity for our existing staff for as long as possible, we do not believe this is the time to add new employees to our workforce,” Miller wrote in her announcement to the community.

The college has implemented a number of changes to support this commitment, including instituting a “Covid-19 Pay Bank.” The Pay Bank provides up to 21 days off of work that can be used for circumstances related to the current crisis, in addition to the college’s ordinary vacation time and sick leave provisions. 

The college has also attempted to support teleworking arrangements from some employees, as well as find temporary reassignment for staff after the cancelation of in-person classes and the subsequent evacuation left the campus with fewer than 140 students. These staff — who are typically considered essential workers — include dining, facilities, health and safety employees.

Miller acknowledged that this hiring freeze may burden some departments, but ultimately stressed that the change is both a necessary and a temporary mechanism to help the college adjust to financial blows related to the Covid-19 outbreak.

“We are sorry for any difficulty this may cause, but the uncertainty of this time forces us into this (temporary) position,” Miller wrote in her announcement. “Cooperation and teamwork between departments is especially important during this period. We appreciate your understanding and support.”