Campus Updates

Visit the campus updates page for information on Mount Holyoke's response to the global pandemic. 

Consequence Planning Update

The Mount Holyoke College seal

April 14, 2020

Dear members of the Mount Holyoke community,

As the magnolias and daffodils begin to bloom on a quieted campus, our community continues to pull together, here and from remote locations, to assure the safety, operations and the intellectual endeavors of the College, despite our doing so in what is undoubtedly the most personally challenging and difficult period most of us have experienced. We know that you are responding with grace and generosity, often juggling family and other responsibilities.

We are deeply grateful, and we are thinking of you, your families, and the likely anxieties and many different challenges that you are called upon to manage beyond your work and studies. We know that for some of you, first among these anxieties is the approaching May 5 date to which we have committed to pay full- and part-time benefits-eligible employees (based on an individual’s regular work schedule). We are now extending this date to May 22, 2020. We appreciate that many of you will have questions about what may happen after this date, and might have concerns about possible additional steps, including changes to employment. No other decisions have been made at this time, and this extended date gives us time to focus on these questions and to consult in ways that are described below.

We hope that you are able to draw on the strength of this community, and on your friends and loved ones, as we all confront these changes as best we can. And confront them we must. 

We are not alone and we will be informed by current events and the best ideas in higher education, as well as in our own community. We owe it to each other and to the entire Mount Holyoke community to be thoughtful and strategic as we look inward — and hard — at all that we can do to assure and enhance the College’s core mission, inclusive excellence, and financial sustainability. Indeed, we will be guided by these three principles in all of our deliberations:

  • To safeguard the health and safety of our campus and surrounding communities;
  • To assure and enhance the College’s core academic mission and support inclusive excellence;
  • To ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the College through organizational efficacy.

The economic impact of COVID-19 on the United States is already devastating, with over 16 million people losing their jobs in just three weeks, and unemployment rates at their highest level since 1940. The stock market fell 25% in March, and shelter-in-place advisories have shuttered non-essential businesses and led to cancellation of events, large and small. Despite Mount Holyoke’s exceptional resilience, and relatively strong financial position and liquidity, the rapid onset and enormous magnitude of this crisis have already significantly impacted the College, and will likely continue to do so. Some have suggested that we draw from our endowment to cover anticipated shortfalls and to weather this financial storm. The endowment is not a reserve fund. Its purpose is to provide a steady, reliable income stream in support of our mission and priorities, and in perpetuity. It is already under stress as a result of the volatility of the financial markets and, as a result, will provide less revenue than anticipated to the FY21 operating budget.

Uncertainty around the duration of this pandemic and the conditions it will impose upon us hampers our ability to plan, but we must nevertheless prepare for what might ensue. Our core mission is to provide an intellectually adventurous education in an outstanding and inclusive way, and we must explore and develop contingency plans now, mindful that the decisions we take in this moment will direct our future.

Last week, we promised broad consultation and the engagement of our usual governance bodies in addressing the challenges and uncertainty that we face. Two central and connected challenges require special planning efforts: the continuation of our academic program and educational experience, and the immediate and longer-term financial impact of the disruptions caused by this health crisis.

Two New Ad Hoc Committees and Our Commitment to Shared Governance

To ensure that we have the right structures for transparent communication, strong shared governance, and effective decision-making, we have charged two new ad hoc advisory committees.

Academic Planning Group

This group will develop contingency plans for the academic program at Mount Holyoke for the 2020/2021 academic year and present recommendations for next year’s curriculum to faculty, the Dean of Faculty, and the President by June 1, 2020.

This group comprises members of the Academic Priorities Committee (APC) alongside the COVID-19 Academic Planning Emergency Response Team (which was constituted as an ad hoc subcommittee of APC). It will be chaired by Jon Western, vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty.


  • Sarah Adelman, Economics & International Relations (IR)
  • Dannye Carpenter ’20
  • Iyko Day, English & Critical Social Thought           
  • Kathryn McMenimen ’03, Chemistry       
  • Naoko Nemoto, Japanese           
  • Tian Hui Ng, Music (chair)           
  • Elizabeth Pyle, Registrar               
  • Marcella Runell Hall, VP Student Life and Dean of Students           
  • Ananya Singh ’22 
  • Gabrielle Spano ’21                
  • Jon Western, VP Academic Affairs & Dean of Faculty   

COVID-19 Academic Planning ERT

  • Katherine Binder, Psychology and Education   
  • Renae Brodie, Biological Sciences       
  • Amber Douglas, Dean of Studies        
  • Tiffany Espinosa, PaGE           
  • Ombretta Frau, Classics & Italian       
  • Lindsey Freer, LITS, Digital Pedagogy   
  • Gary Gillis, Assoc. Dean of Faculty &  Director of the Science Center   
  • Kavita Khory ’84, Politics and International Relations & Director of the McCulloch Center
  • Mark Lauer, German Studies
  • Chrissa Lindahl, LITS, RIS
  • Elizabeth Markovits, TLI
  • Amy Martin, English, Weissman Center
  • Dorothy Mosby, Assoc. Dean of Faculty
  • Alan Van Giessen, Chemistry

Financial Review Group

This group will play a critical role in advising the College Leadership as we are forced to consider the severe economic consequences, and engage in a strategic and comprehensive review to identify cost savings and make difficult choices. In so doing, we will be as attentive as ever to our core educational mission, its preservation and renewal, as well as to our community values. The group comprises members of Faculty Planning and Budgeting (P&B) who are representative of all three academic divisions of the College; members of the Operations Policy Council (OPC); staff members; student representatives who are members of the Student Government Association (SGA) and a student representative from the College Planning Committee (CPC); along with some members of the College Leadership. It will be chaired by Shannon Gurek, vice president for finance and administration.

  • Katherine Aidala, Physics (P&B)           
  • Nigel Alderman, English (chair of P&B)   
  • Kellie Cournoyer-Cronk, Campus Police   
  • Judith Dyjach, Finance & Admin (OPC)   
  • Heidi Friedman, Human Resources (OPC)  
  • Shannon Gurek, VPFA           
  • Juniper Glass-Klaiber, ’21 (SGA)      
  • Stacey Lyons, Advancement (OPC)
  • Maha Mapara, ’21 (SGA)
  • Thomas Robert, Facilities Management
  • Kijua Sanders-McMurtry, VPEI & CDO
  • Maya Sopory, ’22 (CPC)
  • Steven Schmeiser, Economics (P&B)
  • Sonya Stephens, President
  • Jon Western, VPAA and Dean of Faculty

In forming both the Academic Planning Group and the Financial Review Group, we have endeavored to be both inclusive and representative, engaging members of key committees and campus constituents. At the same time, we will ensure regular exchange between these two groups, connection to other relevant committees, and additional opportunities to meet with and to hear from a broader group of colleagues and students. Last week we held a town hall for staff, organized by Staff Council. In the coming week, OPC will meet, as will the faculty, and we will participate in a town hall event for students. Next week, the CPC will meet. All of these are opportunities for us to hear from you and to share information. If you have an idea related to academic or financial planning that you would like us to consider, you can send ideas to

The College Leadership

In addition to the work of the above groups, the College Leadership will convene multiple times each week. Those designated as officers of the College (the president, vice presidents, and the College secretary) will form a cabinet. The cabinet will join with other campus leaders as a Senior Leadership Team, comprising

  • Associate Vice President for Human Resources, Heidi Friedman;
  • Chief Information Officer, Alex Wirth-Cauchon;
  • Chief Investment Officer, Ana Yankova ’97;
  • the Director of Institutional Research and Effectiveness, Polly Prewitt-Freilino;
  • Executive Director of the Alumnae Association, Nancy Perez ’76; and
  • Executive Director of Professional and Graduate Education (PaGE), Tiffany Espinsoa.

Laura Smiarowski, who has been providing support and project management for the Emergency Response Team, has agreed to be redeployed as interim chief of staff in the President’s Office to support the reconfigured leadership groups.

Taken together, and with our existing committees, we hope that these new groups and this new leadership structure will support shared governance, transparency and frequent communication with you. 

This is a difficult moment in the history of the College, and decisions to come may be even harder to make than those to date. You have my assurance that we will take great care in reaching these decisions, and that we will both consult and communicate often in the days and weeks ahead. I appreciate your patience and understanding as together we work through the details of these challenges.

Quietened though our campus may currently be, Mount Holyoke stands as a beacon of hope. We must be focused, resilient and compassionate in our actions, so that the College, true to its mission, will bring us back together in the best circumstances to educate and engage our current students, and so that it may continue to inspire those who will follow.    

Thank you for your dedication to Mount Holyoke. It is an honor to be in this work with you all.


Sonya Stephens