LEWISTON — Because “a number of factors have led to better-than-expected financial results,” Bates College in Lewiston is taking several steps to increase the pay and benefits for its employees.

Bates College President Clayton Spencer. Provided photo

In a message to members of the faculty and staff, Bates President Clayton Spencer said the college recognized last spring that freezing salaries, suspending contributions to individual retirement accounts and others steps, taken as the pandemic unfolded, had “a significant impact” on those working for Bates.

She said Bates has “come through the fall semester in a stronger financial position than many of our planning scenarios suggested,” so the college is taking steps to spread the unexpected bounty with the many employees who “were working harder than ever to prepare for and sustain a successful academic year on campus under pandemic conditions. “

Spencer said the college will raise its base hourly wage “to a more competitive rate of $13.50 per hour,” effective Nov. 22, and adjust other wages accordingly.

 

She said as Bates has hiked its hourly rate for entry-level jobs over the past five years, it has not always made “corresponding adjustments in the wages of longer-serving employees.”

Personnel officials recently completed an analysis of the wage and experience levels of the college’s hourly workers, Spencer said, “so that we can address equity issues in a systematic way.”

“Accordingly,” she said, “the college will adjust the wages of certain existing hourly employees, as necessary, to ensure that our wages properly take account of varying levels of experience” starting next week.

In addition, Bates plans in mid-December to make “a one-time employer contribution” to the retirement accounts of many employees who have been with Bates for more than a year.

Spencer warned, though, that “given ongoing financial uncertainty as we head into the winter semester, we are not in a position at this time to reinstate” the normal contributions for the second half of the fiscal year. Students do not know for sure if the campus will reopen as scheduled in January.

Last spring, after the college closed its campus to help thwart the spread of COVID-19, it instituted several cost-saving measures, including a hiring freeze, pay cuts for top administrators, a salary freeze for staff and a suspension of contributions to employee retirement accounts.

“These difficult steps allowed us to prioritize continuity in employment for all faculty and staff, while preparing ourselves for considerable financial uncertainty heading into an unprecedented fall semester,” Spencer said.

College officials worried at the time about losing millions of dollars if the pandemic kept the doors closed at Bates and fewer students opted to take classes.

As it turned out, the vast majority of Bates’ 1,800 students returned to campus for the fall semester, despite strict rules about social distancing, wearing masks and gatherings.

A tough testing regimen added significant costs, Spencer said, but the college’s bottom line did not take as big a hit as some feared.

Spencer credited a strong fundraising year, savings from operational budgets across the college and “the desire of most of our students to return to campus to study in person” for the stronger-than-expected financial showing.

In announcing the new spending, Spencer also thanked faculty and staff “for the sustained hard work and goodwill that you have brought to your work at Bates throughout the spring, summer and fall.”

She said faculty members “rebuilt their courses” to allow for in-person and remote learning.

College staffers “adapted virtually all aspects of their work and operations to accommodate fundamentally different patterns in student dining and living, while also managing the public health dimensions of life on campus,” Spencer said.

Administrators developed “remote strategies for working with colleagues on campus, as well as for interacting with off-campus constituencies, including prospective applicants, families of current students and alumni.”

Moreover, Spencer said, “We have all benefited from the flexibility of our students and their broad adherence to public health practices.”

“I am proud to work with all of you,” she said, “and I am profoundly grateful for your partnership as we have navigated unprecedented levels of complexity in carrying out our educational mission.”


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