Despite lockdown, around 50 students still employed by Berry as “essential” workers

By Noah Syverson, Viking Fusion Executive Director

Though most student workers had their timesheets dismissed once Berry closed its campus and moved to remote learning, around 50 “essential” workers are still clocking hours.

Michael Burnes, Director of Student Work, says that in addition to the animal units, there are several other areas each still employing a handful of students. 

These include: 

Admissions, Information TechnologyResidence Life, Central Stores, Oak Hill, Student Media, the Academic Success Center, the Post Office, and the Writing Center. 

Mary Boyd, Berry’s Provost, says each vice president was tasked with identifying the essential work positions in their area, positions that the college “could not do without.” 

“The criteria we used was to identify positions that had to be in place to manage the college with the shift to remote learning and teaching,” Boyd said, “as well as the care of the physical parts of the college.” 

Some positions, like those dealing with animal care, were deemed essential right awayAs Boyd noted, regardless of whether or not instruction is taking place on campus, cows still need to be milked, animals fed, and foals delivered. Thus, the dairy, horse barn, sheep barn, and beef cattle unit are each employing between two and five student workers. 

“One of the challenges during this difficult time is that we [normally] rely on students in these roles to do the work that many institutions entrust to full-time staff only,” Boyd said. “As a result, we do not have sufficient full-time staff to maintain these operations without a skeletal student staff.” 

Other positions, like the student tutors who work for the Academic Success Center and the Writing Center, were considered to provide essential services that enable students to successfully finish coursework. The administration also saw these positions as more easily adaptable to a remote work situation 

Outside of the animal units, both the Academic Success Center and the Writing Center are the largest areas where essential positions are delegatedAccording to Burnes, each currently employs between five and ten students. 

In certain cases, identifying some positions as essential resulted in a need for other positions to be considered essential as well. For example, some students working in essential positions are still living on campus, which meant that a handful of Resident Assistants were needed to manage the residence halls where other students are staying. 

When asked about the financial impact of Berry’s dismissal of so many student work positions this spring, Burnes compared a typical pay period during the school year with the first one since all non-essential positions had been cut. 

For the pay period beginning February 9 and ending February 22, $237,000 was paid out to student workers.  

In contrast, for the pay period beginning March 22 and ending April 4, that number was around $25,000, a decrease of 89%. 

Burnes said that as far as he knew, the COVID-19 outbreak will not affect Berry’s previously announced plan to change the student work program. The changes, which include higher wages but a strict limit on hours, are scheduled to come into effect in May. 

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