Campus Updates

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

February 2020 Board of Trustees Meeting Summary

The Mount Holyoke College seal

Dear Members of the Mount Holyoke Community,

When the Board of Trustees convened for a scheduled retreat in New York City in February, we did so with the fervent hope, but not the full expectation, that our lives and our plans would progress as usual. The spring months at Mount Holyoke are so full of hard work and celebration—the sight of our students studying for midterms, and then finals, in the Williston Library or on the warming grasses of Skinner Green; the celebrations, traditions and pageantry of our 183rd Commencement, and the joy of graduates and alumnae side-by-side, class by class, in the Laurel Parade; the shared memories and excitement of reconnecting at Reunion. While some decisions related to the COVID-19 outbreak were already in process—notably the support and repatriation of students on their junior year abroad—we were not yet envisioning that, within a matter of days, students, staff and faculty would be asked to vacate the campus on short notice, that classes would resume remotely, thanks to the adaptability and extraordinary efforts of faculty and staff, or that we would need to postpone the many beloved traditions and celebrations associated with Commencement and Reunion. While the pandemic has certainly presented many challenges for a tight-knit residential learning community like ours, first among them adapting to physical distancing, we are pleased to share with you that, true to form, the people of Mount Holyoke have responded with a strong sense of community, and with characteristic professionalism, generosity, creativity and grace.

From its earliest days, Mount Holyoke has been dedicated to access and social justice. It has long experience of being adaptive and brave, of teaching in evolving ways and demonstrating leadership. This pandemic may be unlike anything else that our College has confronted in the almost two centuries since its founding, but we know our response to it must begin and end with our core mission and values. As always, the Mount Holyoke of today draws upon the very skills and resilience we teach and the ways we engage with each other—intellectual inquiry, problem-solving, ethical and creative solutions to local and global problems, empathy, care and compassion—to chart a course that will keep students, faculty, staff and alumnae safe and connected, and assure the continuity of our academic program and all that supports it.

If our report from the February Board retreat, and a subsequent telephone conference of the Board, is a little later than usual, it is because we set aside everything else to ensure that we could respond and communicate quickly with those most at risk. Now we write with our usual update from those meetings of the Board of Trustees, as well as with a fuller report on the College’s response to the novel coronavirus epidemic.

Mount Holyoke and the COVID-19 Pandemic

The first impacts of the outbreak were felt by our alumnae communities in Asia, and simultaneously by our international students who, returning from the winter break, were anxious about their own risk of infection and any risk they might pose to the community were they to be infected, as well as deeply concerned for their loved ones at home. From the outset, the Health Center informed students of what they should do in the event of symptoms, and we followed CDC guidance for increased hygiene and cleaning protocols.

This was followed, beginning in the last week of February, by efforts to support and repatriate our students who were studying abroad, as CDC travel advisories changed, borders closed, and flights were grounded. The staff of the McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives worked night and day to bring home more than 100 Mount Holyoke students, supporting them in finding plane tickets, securing some academic credit for the time they were enrolled in partner institutions, and arranging academic programs for the remainder of the semester, as well as communicating with their parents and families.

These initial efforts were quickly followed by the decision to get our on-campus students home or to alternative, safe living environments as quickly as possible. Mount Holyoke was among the first colleges to announce, on March 10, that it would transition to remote learning and work for the remainder of the semester, in an effort to stem the spread of the virus. The Division of Student Life worked closely with students, responding to their requests and suggestions, to facilitate the process and be as supportive, respectful and flexible as possible. Students were able to request permission to remain on campus. The College provided some on-campus storage, and other moving support included the delivery of boxes and transportation of these to offsite storage facilities. Student Life worked closely with those students who had left for spring break before packing up their rooms. We are so grateful to the many families and friends who supported their students in moving out, and who have welcomed them back home.

Such a sudden evacuation of campus and the last-minute travel arrangements it required brought a significant burden and other stress to bear on our students. The financial support extended to them in this period was made possible by the many individuals—alumnae, faculty, staff, families and students—who have made gifts to The Emergency Student Relief (COVID-19) Fund. The College community, especially our generous alumnae, have given almost $140,000 to pay for unexpected expenses, such as emergency travel and temporary shelter, computers and other technology for remote learning, as well as providing assistance with living expenses to students whose work and living situations have been interrupted.The College is also directly supporting such needs, and has, in addition, given careful thought both to a generous refund policy, as well as to student employment and to the need for a transitional allowance.

  • Room and board credit and refund policy

    The College is providing a 45% refund/credit of Spring Semester room and board fees in a timely and efficient manner. Refund policies will be activated if the payment for room and board creates an overall credit balance on the student account.

  • Work-study opportunities and transition pay

    At a time when some colleges are ending work-study entirely, Mount Holyoke is making every effort to maintain some job opportunities and to enable students to work remotely whenever possible. Understanding that work-study eligible students face an added financial burden, the College is paying those who were employed this spring a transitional allowance of $420 to offset their wages. The work-study allocation from the federal government covers only 14% of our total work-study expenses, and those funds were expended in the fall, so this transitional allowance is being funded entirely by the College.

The distinctive diversity of our community means that we have paid especially close attention to the ways in which different individuals may be impacted by these sudden changes to our routine and our usual operations. We are also making every effort to protect students who might be returning home to environments that pose some threat or risk. Among the students most affected are our international students, who make up 27% of the student body (Mount Holyoke was ranked No. 2 by U.S. News & World Report for having the most international students).

As of March 27, 309 students remain on campus. This number, larger than most at peer liberal arts colleges, reflects the global and diverse nature of Mount Holyoke’s community. Students have relocated to a smaller number of residence halls, where they can be in community while practicing physical distancing. Most students are now in single rooms, although some have requested to stay with existing roommates. Students who were relocated were asked to pack their own belongings, but the College provided assistance with the move. Food is still available from the Dining Commons (take-out, in compliance with the Department of Public Health instructions and the State advisory), and there is a regular shuttle service to the local grocery store and to CVS.

In the face of this pandemic and the many changes it has imposed upon us, we have been clear and continue to communicate that the natural fear of contagion must not translate into xenophobia, stereotypes and distrust of one another, or into targeted bias of any racial or ethnic group. We will resist and expose misinformation, and challenge any such incidents of bias, responding to both with inquiry, integrity, and compassion.

In addition to the many details associated with these changes, nearly 200 faculty supported by a dedicated and committed staff are transforming the content and pedagogical approach of more than 400 courses. And, while we will not continue with in-person classes for the rest of the semester, one thing will not change; our faculty will continue to provide a rich, stimulating, exciting and personal intellectual and educational experience for all of our students. This is the best of Mount Holyoke.

Much has been done to assist the community in preparing for alternate modes of delivery of the curriculum and for remote work:

  • Computer and other technical support

    Library, Information and Technology Services, or LITS, has provided significant technical support, as well as ensuring that students have the equipment and connectivity to remain engaged. The LITS staff have created online lists of resources for the community.

    • Keep learning! is an ever-expanding list for students. Students who need equipment or who have weak or no internet are receiving materials such as hotspots and even laptops.
    • Keep Teaching! is a similar list for faculty.
    • LITS has also created a webpage for staff working remotely and provided similar technical support.
  • Training for the online classroom environment

    As the faculty transitioned to an online classroom environment for this semester, they were offered a wide range of support and resources. This is a new frontier for most faculty — but not those in the graduate school. Most of the classes in Professional and Graduate Education (PaGE) take place online or using hybrid modes of instruction. The faculty there have provided significant resources, including training, to their colleagues across campus as they transition to this new way of teaching.

    The Teaching and Learning Initiative is working with campus partners including PaGE and LITS to provide support for online teaching. Faculty working groups have developed plans for working online, including alternative instructional formats for labs and performance classes.

While many in our community are able to work remotely, some are not, and we have reassured all our faculty and staff that there will be no changes to compensation or benefits through the end of this semester. Some employees are considered essential to on-campus, operational continuity. In recognition of their commitment and effort, and of the heightened risk of infection from the proximal work they are doing, we have introduced COVID-19 Premium Pay (1.25 times the normal hourly rate) for eligible hourly staff, as well as a compensation model for salaried employees who are required for proximal on-campus work through this period.

We are so grateful for the flexibility and tireless work of so many at Mount Holyoke, and we acknowledge that others around us and globally are doing their part to keep others safe and serve community needs. Our special thanks go to all of you who work in health care and other essential services. I hope that you will be pleased to hear that the College acted quickly to draw upon its supply of face masks and shields, gloves, and other personal protection equipment, donating these to our local hospitals.

The latest information on the College’s response to the COVID-19 outbreak can be found on our dedicated webpage, and all questions about this should be directed to covid19info@mtholyoke.edu.

The Board Retreat, February 27-29, 2020

Given all that has occurred since the end of February, the focus of the Board Retreat was even more timely than we had anticipated, with work tied to effective board governance and fiduciary responsibilities; the challenges facing the higher education sector; and the exploration of strategic initiatives that would secure the College’s financial, academic and reputational footing, as well as establishing the priorities for the next few years, including for the next comprehensive campaign.

  • Dr. Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran, senior consultant and senior fellow with the Association of Governing Boards, and a former college president, worked extensively with trustees over the course of the retreat. Her presentation and working sessions explored effective models of shared governance and inclusive excellence; understanding the unpredictability of the higher education environment generally; identifying the most strategic opportunities at the College; assuring the alignment of presidential and board priorities; and clarifying how decisions are made at the College.

  • Dr. Jill Tiefenthaler, president of Colorado College and a leading scholar in the field of the economics of higher education, provided the board with an overview of the prevailing economics of higher education and the challenges, financial and otherwise, that face liberal arts colleges.

In its formal actions, the board approved several motions from the Education Committee including:

  • the awarding of degrees on March 6, 2020 for 68 seniors;

  • the recommendation for tenure for Thomas Ciufo (Music), Naomi Darling (Art and Art History/Architectural Studies), Nina Emery (Philosophy), Jennifer Jacoby (Psychology and Education), Kerstin Nordstrom (Physics), Heather Pon-Barry (Computer Science), and Jared Schwartzer (Psychology and Education/Neuroscience);

  • the recommendation for reappointment for Patricia Brennan (Biology), Ted Gilliand (Economics), Ren-yo Hwang (Gender Studies), Christopher Mitchell (Politics and International Relations), Evan Ray (Mathematics and Statistics), Vanessa Rosa (Spanish, Latina/o and Latin American Studies), Spencer Smith (Physics), and John Tawa (Psychology and Education);

  • the recommendation for retirement for Holly Hanson (History) and Christopher Pyle (Politics);

  • the recommendation for endowed chairs for Paula Debnar (Classics), Amy Frary (Biological Sciences), Andrea Lawlor (English), Eva Paus (Economics) and Vanessa Rosa (Spanish, Latina/o and Latin American Studies).

The following recommendations from the Nominating and Governance Committee have also been approved:

  • to elect Ashanta Evans Blackwell ’95 to a five-year term as alumna trustee beginning July 1, 2021;

  • to elect Sally Durdan ’81 to a five-year term as trustee beginning July 1, 2020;

  • to elect Monica Landry ’90 to a five-year term as trustee beginning July 1, 2020;

  • to elect Hallie Nath ’92 to a five-year term as trustee beginning July 1, 2020; and,

  • to elect Jen Rochlis ’94, Mona Sutphen ’89, and Michelle Toh ’85 to second consecutive terms as trustees beginning July 1, 2020.

Finally, as is customary at its winter meeting, the Board set tuition, room and board rates for 2020-2021, and approved other proposals from the Finance Committee, including:

  • That the 2020-2021 tuition rate be set at $54,400, the room rate at $7,860, and the board rate at $8,160, for a total of $70,420, from the 2019-2020 rate of $67,360;

  • that the board approve a range of capital projects to be initiated in the next fiscal year, totalling $23.6 million; and

  • a number of resolutions relating to two debt issuances this spring. These transactions include a simplification of the debt portfolio and lowering of the cost of outstanding debt, in addition to a new issuance to support the capital projects noted above, and described in more detail below.

We recognize that changing economic conditions will affect many families, as well as our own financial situation. And, as always, we take very seriously our responsibility to contain costs while continuing to provide an exceptional educational experience for students from a wide array of backgrounds. Even with these increases, Mount Holyoke’s fees remain below those of many of our peer institutions. We rely on tuition and fees as one of our three main revenue sources, along with philanthropic gifts and returns from the endowment. We are constantly working to increase these other revenue sources so that we may continue to invest in our exceptional people, academic programs, student life and campus infrastructure. And we remain committed to access and affordability, increasing the financial aid budget annually to ensure commensurate growth in need-based financial aid for all eligible enrolled students. We have updated our Comprehensive Fee FAQ to answer additional questions.

This list of recommendations approved by the Board of Trustees speaks to the success of our faculty and students, our investment in them, in the academic program, and in the campus itself. The most significant approved capital projects include residence hall renovations to improve building efficiency as well as health and safety. In addition, we will fund planning for other longer term projects in support of carbon neutrality, including a major, comprehensive study of the College’s future energy needs and alternatives. Our priorities remain the same, no matter the challenges and, indeed, because of them: a contemporary, global liberal arts education that is unsurpassed and that provides opportunities for experiential learning and leadership; investment in a diverse faculty and research opportunities; intentional environmental efforts and education as a commitment to the future of our campus and the planet; the creation of an exceptional learning environment that is adaptive, inclusive, pluralistic and free of discrimination; and the long-term financial sustainability of the Collegeand stewardship of our resources.

To better steward our resources and to support our vision for Mount Holyoke, we are also delighted that, on April 1, 2020, Ana Yankova ’97 will join Mount Holyoke as the inaugural chief investment officer, responsible for the management and oversight of the College’s endowment. Ana joins the College from the global investment firm Cambridge Associates, which she joined in 2005, and where she has been a partner since 2017, leading the investment process and portfolio oversight for a range of clients, including U.S. and European endowments, foundations and families with assets ranging from $300 million to $20 billion. Before that, she was a senior financial analyst at the Yale University Investments Office, and an associate analyst at the National Economic Research Associates division of Mercer Consulting Group. She graduated from Mount Holyoke College with a bachelor’s degree in economics and earned an MBA from the MIT Sloan School of Management.

While we are still in the midst of addressing the many changes imposed upon us by the coronavirus pandemic, our commitment is to providing an outstanding experience for our students as we move, for the remainder of the semester, to remote instruction. Our sights are also set on a brighter horizon, on an ever-evolving Mount Holyoke education and on the new ideas and leadership that it will shape, bringing greater hope and more opportunities to communities worldwide.

With our warmest wishes for your good health and that of your loved ones, and our deepest gratitude for your confidence in and support of Mount Holyoke College,

Karena Strella ’90
Chair of the Board of Trustees

Sonya Stephens
President