Rich Mendola and his leadership team answer LITS questions on the impacts of COVID-19

Photo of Rich MendolaRich Mendola held a town hall this week in which he discussed the impact that the Coronavirus crisis is having on Emory and LITS. Held via Zoom, the virtual chat session also included the members of Rich’s leadership team (John Connerat, Yolanda Cooper, John Ellis, Joanna Green, Wayne Morse, Marc Overcash, Brad Sanford, and Steve Wheat), who all answered questions from the over 400 LITS employees in attendance. The event was moderated by John Connerat.

Rich thanked the division for remaining engaged in work activities while still dealing with the personal effects of the crisis. He said, “It is incredible how well all of you have responded.” He also praised those employees keeping up the essential physical presence on campus. Rich walked everyone through the three key phases of the crises:

1. Emory’s need for rapid response

Rich discussed how the LITS division admirably responded to the transition to remote learning and telework. He also lauded how the division helped prepare Emory Healthcare to address the anticipated surge of sick members in its community. This was done by installing the network services that would make it possible for healthcare staff to utilize Emory’s network from remote locations throughout metro Atlanta.

2. Addressing the financial impacts

According to Rich, the reduction in EHC revenue is going to have a severe impact on the University, as EHC helps fund the majority of Emory’s academic mission. Additionally, how the families of students react to returning to campus will also play a significant role. The financial measures that were announced by Emory leadership include:

  • University-wide hiring freeze until August 2021
  • No merit pay increases this fiscal year
  • No non-essential travel (meetings and conference)
  • Only essential purchases as approved by management
  • 5% cut in allocated funds
  • Capital projects placed on hold

Rich reiterated that leaders are trying to preserve all staff and faculty positions and that he believes there are potentially significant opportunities for savings. He emphasized, “As these discussions have played out, the focus is on trying to prevent dollars from leaving Emory.”

3. How do we return to the new normal?

Rich stated that it remains to be seen what the campus work environment will look like moving forward. “It will be more challenging figure out how we resume instruction, research, and elected forms of clinical care. Each of these presents challenges,” said Rich. He added, “The hardest part is not having a crystal ball to predict factors of how the crisis will play out.”

Rich ended his presentation by asking employees to keep doing what we are doing, to let leadership know about ideas for efficiency, and keep finding ways to take advantage of those working remotely. He said that there are plans to create lists of activities that might be outside of normal job activities to keep people busy who do not have work to do.

Following the presentation, John Connerat took questions from online. Here are a few of those questions:

Missie Martin – “Curious about discussions on students being allowed back to campus for Fall Semester. Are there any anticipated issues with allowing international students back? How will that impact LITS and staffing?”

Mendola: “We don’t have this answer yet. We know we can’t wait until the last minute to decide so there will likely be a self-imposed deadline of when we must decide for the Fall.”

Anonymous Attendee – “What are the plans for reducing our budget by 5% to deal with the allocation reduction? Is a hiring freeze enough to make that work, or will there be other RIFs (reduction in force)?”

Mendola: A hiring freeze isn’t enough, but our preference is not to delete positions. We are still working on other solutions like new support models, deferring purchases.

Mike Davidson – “Can you speak to online/cloud training expenditures for this fiscal year and next? Specifically, regarding paying for A Cloud Guru or Linux Academy for continued training (and certifications) in AWS.”

Ellis – “I’m working with Joanna (Green) on that and we are close to a decision point. We are hoping to continue Linux Academy. Stay tuned.”

Sandra Harrison – “I would like to know if we will be tested before coming back and, if not, required to wear masks going forward?”

Mendola: “I don’t know the university response to that question. Our ability to test will be helpful to reduce infections and anxiety but we are not sure what our capability will be yet. Stay tuned.”

Anonymous Attendee – “Do you anticipate there would be layoffs/reduced work hours if the situation continues to deteriorate? If so, when would we know more about this situation?”

Mendola: “Yes, the option of last resort would be layoffs and furloughs. But if the financial situation continues to deteriorate, that could be one of the options we’d have to execute.”

Anonymous Attendee – “Is there the possibility of a frequently updated “progress meter” being made available so that we know how close or far we are from meeting the 5% reduction goal?”

Mendola: “Good suggestion. I realize there will be anxiety of this progress. I’ll let the leadership team take that under consideration.”

Anonymous Attendee – “Coronavirus has changed a lot of organizations. Do you see this permanently changing how Emory University functions as a business/organization?”

Mendola: “Yes. It is hard to imagine ever fully going back to the way we were, for better or for worse. It’s hard to know how long this will last. On a positive note, it’s been incredible to see how many people have been doing well with this immediate change. Incredible. Have some of these changes in practice given us more efficient ways of working? The more efficient we can be, the more we can apply those capacities to create value to the institution.”

Lushorn Strickland – “Rich you mentioned in our last meeting you may analyze telecommuting. When the Governor or President think it’s safe to start a semi-normal life and limit social distancing, etc., would you consider those who can effectively do their jobs at home to work from home during this time instead of traveling to the office several days a week, if the Virus is not eliminated and if a Cure is not found and if Everyone in Ga is not tested.”

Mendola: “Absolutely, we want feedback from all the operating units. If it’s going successfully, I can’t see any reason why we wouldn’t be supportive to an approach like that. LITS was more progressive on this than other divisions.”

Keith Covert – “Is there anything we can do other than look for cost savings?”

Mendola: “People contributing outside their job responsibilities will be a great way.”

Ellis: “Telework is a major area where we can make financial gains. It’s a domino effect from teleworking. We’ll have to evaluate how extensive we do it.”

Green: “From the finance perspective, we are seeing much more collaboration in weaving how each of our units affect others.”

Cooper: “The University is looking at enhancing online education. There is more thought about the quality of online teaching and training to enhance the experience for students. The Library is also looking at virtual services. We have to move to a point where we can improve on what we quickly set into place. Emory will be looking to expand online education.”

Overcash: “There are a lot of opportunities as we stop doing niche technology and start focusing on education opportunities.”

Wheat: ” (This crisis) might provide impetus to our goals to build collaborations with other institutions.”

Morse: “We’ve used the consortium model for collaboration on Slave Voyages and used virtual spaces to create a more immersive environment online.”

Anonymous Attendee – “When will the new president start making Emory announcements?”

Mendola: “He’s got a lot going on still in Austin and will need to wrap up things there. It’s great news we were able to fill this position.”

Anonymous Attendee – “What are tips from leadership to keep anxiety and stress down?”

Mendola: “Exercise has been challenging but general health is a good thing. I’m watching less TV than normal because it isn’t a source of positive energy. I love projects so I’ve been doing home condo enhancements that have been on my list for quite a bit of time. I changed all of my 200 passwords to be more secure. A wonderful suggestion for those of us obsessively inclined like me.”

Brad: “I’ve been keeping my bird feeders refreshed and enjoying Kentucky bourbon once in a while.”

Overcash: “I have a quote: ‘Remember that you are not trying to work from home right now. You are trying to work in a pandemic from home.’ These are challenging and stressful times and just recognizing them helps.”

Mendola: “Take care everyone. Stay safe.”

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