| Chris Maza
SPRINGFIELD - American International College recently laid off dozens of employees in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Reminder Publishing has learned nearly 100 of the college’s faculty and staff were informed they were being temporarily laid off and should apply for unemployment assistance. Specifics regarding the nature of these employees’ roles were not known as of press time.
Responding to a request for comment, AIC Vice President for Marketing and Communications Bob Cole said, “As a private institution, AIC does not comment or provide details on confidential human resources matters.”
An employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity indicated they received an email shortly before the close of business on March 17 that explained the college was not immune to adverse impacts of coronavirus and invited them to a meeting to discuss those impacts. Layoffs began on March 18.
“The email was very brief and vague. No real advanced warning was given that we would be laid off,” the source said.
AIC resumed instruction on March 23 exclusively through remote participation, with the exception of some clinical and fieldwork placements through the School of Health Sciences, depending on the site. Students in campus housing were required to move their belongings out of their residence halls by March 29, barring “exceptional circumstances,” according to information on the college’s website. Cole did not respond to an earlier request for clarification on what constituted an “exceptional circumstance.”
The source said they received no guarantee that they would be rehired and they had not received any further communication from the college. The former employee also indicated their email access was revoked.
“I assume when the time comes they will either call us back or tell us we are terminated,” the source said.
Giving an account of their meeting with the college’s Human Resources Department, the source said they were given a brochure on unemployment benefits. Employee benefits through AIC terminated after “the standard two-week period as if you were fired,” the source added, noting employees could also choose to extend their coverage out-of-pocket. After their meetings, laid-off employees were not allowed to return to their offices or workspaces and “we were escorted by security off campus pretty much.”
The source voiced frustration in the “bare minimum of guidance” provided by the college on how to apply for unemployment benefits as well as the current level of assistance being provided by the state’s Department of Unemployment Assistance.
“Which means in a time of a virus pandemic AIC chose to cast 100 or so employees aside and let us figure it out on our own. It makes my blood boil that they will risk human lives for a bottom line,” the source said.
They later added, “Look, I get why they did this; absolutely. Resources are tight right now worldwide. AIC is a small private institution. I get it. But this was severely mishandled and it could have been done so much better and with a shred of humanity, not with guards there to make sure we don't freak out or steal something. We were told not to speak to other employees and to basically get out, just like that. I hope this did not happen to someone with many years at AIC as that would be heartbreaking.”
Reminder Publishing reached out to other colleges and universities seeking information on whether layoffs and furloughs had occurred at those institutions.
Damon Markiewicz of Springfield College’s Office of Communications indicated no such actions had been taken at the school. In a March 17 letter to students, faculty and staff, Springfield College President Mary-Beth Cooper stated, “All staff and faculty have received comprehensive communications from their supervisors and human resources regarding telecommuting, recording time and opportunities for professional development.”
Western New England University Associate Vice President for Media and Community Relations said on March 24, “We have not had furloughs or layoffs at the current time. Staff are working remotely as possible, and essential staff are present serving those who must be on campus. Other staff are assisting outside of their job descriptions to aid areas in need of support.”
A representative of Westfield State University’s Office of Public Affairs stated it “has not experienced such a need.”
The College of Our Lady of the Elms has also maintained staffing levels. “The continued health and wellbeing of its students, faculty, and staff members remains Elms College’s top priority. Community is one of Elms College’s core values, a pillar of its very foundation, and is a vital concern in everything we do. How to best serve the Elms community during social distancing and remote learning is where the administration is concentrating all of its efforts and resources. As this unprecedented situation continues to evolve and change, our focus will continue to be on the entire Elms College community,” Melinda Rose, director of communications, said.
Holyoke Community College Media Relations Manager Chris Yurko said there have been no layoffs or furloughs.
Springfield Technical Community College did not respond to a request for comment.
G. Michael Dobbs contributed to this report.