A lone pedestrian walks in the rain Monday toward Pettengill Hall on the Bates College campus in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — After tallying up costs and factoring in savings, the president of Bates College said Monday the school has already taken a financial hit of up to $2 million because of the coronavirus pandemic that forced it to send students home in mid-March.

And President Clayton Spencer anticipates worse as Bates officials factor in up to $1 million in lost revenue from summer rentals, while higher-than-anticipated financial aid expenses could require $6 million extra because many families are getting clobbered by the economic shutdown.

In response, Spencer told faculty and staff she is freezing salaries, imposing a hiring freeze, suspending retirement account contributions, reevaluating capital projects and slicing her own pay by 20%.

Bates has two committees working to study the financial impact in more depth and determine how to handle the fall semester. They are supposed to report their recommendations in June. Furloughs are a possibility.

“By now, we have all come to understand that one of the only constants in the current situation is uncertainty,” Spencer said. “This is a defining reality as we turn our attention to planning for the fall semester.”

Spencer said the COVID-19 crisis has “disrupted our personal and professional lives at a level inconceivable a few short months ago.”


Fortunately, she said, everyone in the Bates community “has stepped up in remarkable ways to carry forward our core academic mission,” despite the “radically transformed circumstances” under which the college is now operating.

Spencer said Bates has spent about $4 million “to cover unexpected expenses, including refunds for room and board, travel assistance for our highest-need students and work-study supplements for aided students.”

But some of those costs have been offset by savings in other areas, including the dining hall and athletics.

In addition, Spencer said, the college is getting about $950,000 in federal relief distributed to colleges and universities across the country.

All told, the net losses come to between $1.5 and $2 million, she said.

That does not factor in the losses to the college’s endowment, which have been hefty given the decline in market value of many investments.


Spencer said Bates faces uncertainty about its endowment and is likely to see “a slowing of contributions to The Bates Campaign and downward pressure on annual fundraising” because many people are worse off than they were before the pandemic.

The need to cancel summer programs, including the Bates Dance Festival and various athletic camps, will add losses of up to $1 million more, Spencer said, and put more pressure of the college’s labor costs, because those programs helped keep people working year-round.

As Bates looks at the historic job losses and financial toll of the crisis, it anticipates Bates families “will require more financial aid in the coming year, and we will do our best to accommodate the increased need.”

The college has long promised to meet the financial needs of its students.

Said Spencer, “It may cost an additional $6 million to fund financial aid” for the coming academic year at the same time the school faces “pressure on our endowment and philanthropy” due to the economy.

To cope, Bates has already hit the brakes on spending and implemented a hiring freeze.


On Monday, Spencer said those measures were not enough.

To try to preserve jobs and income, she said, the college is slicing the salary of senior staff through a 10% voluntary reduction through the end of the year. It is also freezing staff salaries through the 2021 fiscal year, except for increases associated with promotions.

Spencer said despite faculty contracts in February that promised salary increases, Bates is also asking to freeze faculty pay through 2021 as a matter of equity. The college is also suspending its contributions to retirement accounts.

Bates is also postponing tenure-track faculty searches that were slated to begin soon, and has frozen the hiring — without special authorization — of any unfilled visiting professor positions.

Capital projects that can be delayed will also be put off.

Spencer said it is “our fervent hope” that students will be able to return as normal in the fall and “live and learn in a residential community” that is “the essence of our educational model.”


“At the same time,” she said, “we must prepare for alternate possibilities, depending on the course of the pandemic and public health guidance regarding the health and safety of our campus community.”

Spencer said “because the largest share, by far, of our operating budget is devoted to compensation, we may need to contemplate furloughs or other actions, depending on how plans for the coming academic year evolve.”

She said it would not be a decision taken lightly.

“We have worked very hard to date to protect our employees despite significant financial losses and to preserve the ability of the college to return to normal operations once the pandemic is behind us,” Spencer said.

She said tapping endowment money to help would be “a last resort” because it is meant to provide funding to the college in perpetuity.

“This pandemic will eventually be behind us, and until then I want you to know that I will devote my every effort to seeking the best-possible outcomes for Bates,” Spencer said.

“In the meantime, I want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment to the mission of the college and to each other.”

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