In light of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz’s stay-at-home order, Carleton is “encouraging”—but not requiring—all faculty and staff to work remotely, according to the school’s department of Human Resources. Most of Carleton’s operations have been moved online, but you can’t clean a dorm building, serve food, or maintain grounds using Zoom.
All staff will continue to work while classes are online and students are at home, according to Carleton’s Infectious Disease Information site. There was no distinction made between which staff members are “essential” to the functioning of the College and which are not. As an institution of education, Carleton is part of the “critical sector” that is exempt from the stay-at-home order, so whether work can be conducted remotely depends on the department. Inevitably, some staff members do not have the option of staying home.
Gould Library staff, for example, are all teleworking except for College Librarian Brad Schaffner. While Schaffner was quick to emphasize that “the mission of the library has not changed” in its commitment to providing online research and teaching resources to the Carleton community, day-to-day life in the Libe is not what it used to be. Schaffner said that staff are reaching beyond their usual areas of responsibility to make library operations run as smoothly as possible, like having librarians take new books home to catalog them. Schaffner himself is checking-in returned books, a task usually handled by student workers.
The Libe is currently closed to students and faculty on campus, and may remain so even after restrictions ease. “We need to take an abundance of caution as to when we will open it again to students and faculty,” Schaffner said. “If the coronavirus were introduced into the library, we could clean the hard surfaces, but the books—and we have over 500,000 physical titles—cannot be disinfected. We might have to shut the building down again for 14 days to quarantine the books.”
Extensive sanitation measures are essential for ensuring the health and safety of those who remain on campus. According to Custodial Manager Patti Sabrowski, campus custodians are well-prepared to uphold these sanitation practices. “Custodial staff receives health and safety training twice a year to be able to handle these types of issues,” said Sabrowski. As of March 30, Sabrowski reported that custodial staff is “cleaning and disinfecting vacant dorm rooms like we normally do over break.” Housing for students quarantined on campus is also being “cleaned and disinfected as though it was an isolation space. Custodians are using proper personal protective equipment, as well as hospital-grade disinfectant and cleaning procedures recommended by the CDC.”
For the next two weeks, custodians will only come to campus three days a week, though they will still be paid for a full week of work, said Recreation Center Custodian Mona Boomgaarden. Amid news stories of mass corporate layoffs and a grim economic forecast, this news came as a relief to Boomgaarden. Custodian Jackie Flynn also noted that the reduced hours ease the balance between working and caring for her third-grader who is now at home all day. Flynn said that she and her husband “have to share and ask for a little consideration at our jobs that we are both working despite this” and the changes in schedule without changes in pay takes some pressure off of their family.
Some of Carleton will continue to grow and change even without students on campus, and it’s up to Arb Director Nancy Braker and her team to keep up. Braker said that the Arb staff is working reduced hours to minimize contact and doing their best to keep six feet between them when they work together. Since the health of the Arb largely depends on the physical work that staff and students do, Braker said that without the full Arb crew this spring, “staff will be frustrated by some things that get ahead of us like losing ground on invasive species control.” Some projects, like the prescribed burns that are vital to the maintenance of the prairie sections, will have to wait.
Though it is difficult for a bare bones staff force to pick up the slack of all their missing workers, Braker does not think this is catastrophic to the overall Arb maintenance project. “The Arb is resilient,” she said. “I think that the long-term health of the Arb won’t be very impacted by one spring of getting less done.”
With Carleton’s academic functions moved fully online, the staff that keep campus running are doing what they can to keep themselves safe while continuing to provide vital services. As of now, everyone on the College’s payroll can count on keeping their jobs and their salaries. In the meantime, staff who are still on campus are taking the same precautions as the rest of us: washing hands, using rotating schedules to maintain social distance, and, as Boomgaarden put it, “choosing to stay happy and take one day at a time.”
Sarah Lieberman ’20 contributed to reporting.