Simmons lays off 12 staff members, COVID-19 financial impact takes a toll


Graphic by Sarah Carlon

Abby Vervaeke, Managing Editor

This story previously included a quote from a statement on dining workers from VP of University Real Estate and Facilities Management Laura Brink Pisinski. That quote has been replaced with a statement from President Helen Drinan. 

Last week, Simmons University laid off 12 staff members due to financial losses from the coronavirus pandemic. 

“To ensure the long-term financial health of our institution during this pandemic, we’ve made the difficult decision to eliminate 12 staff positions. While painful, this decision is in the best interest of our university as we manage financial losses from student room and board refunds and cancelled revenue-generating programming,” wrote Simmons University President Helen Drinan in a statement.  “No institution or organization is immune from the impacts of this pandemic, and it’s vital that we take these steps now to continue to ensure a financially secure future in the midst of much uncertainty. We are committed to providing resources and support to impacted employees during this difficult period, including paid severance and career counseling services. In addition, they are eligible for state and federal unemployment payments.”

One of the 12 layoffs was Alan Wickström, the director of athletics communications at Simmons. 

After learning that he was laid off, the Voice reached out to Wickström for comment.

Wickström had been working at Simmons for nearly six years when he was given a one day’s notice that his position was eliminated. 

“I’ve had a strong bond with student athletes at previous institutions that I’ve been at, but this was something different, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to replicate what I had at Simmons anywhere else,” he said in a phone call. 

But Wickström says he’s not bitter towards the University, despite his abrupt departure. 

“My eyes are wide open, I understand what’s going on in the world right now. Simmons felt that it was doing what was in the best interest of the institution and I’m fine with that,” he explained. 

Wickström declined to comment on the severance package he was offered by Simmons. 

“We are providing a variety of resources and support to employees whose positions have been eliminated, including paid severance and access to career counselling service,” wrote Amy White, senior vice president of institutional advancement in a statement. “Simmons is providing base severance pay and additional benefits based on length of employment. In addition, employees are eligible for state and federal unemployment benefits, and the length and amount of those payments have been enhanced following passage of the CARES Act.” 

Some students are still wrapping their heads around his departure.

“It was shocking to hear at first, and I think a lot of us are really upset.  He did a lot for the department and was just a great guy who made everyone feel like they were a part of a community,” wrote Samantha Kelsey, communications and social media intern at Simmons Athletics and member of the Crew Team. “I’m sad to see him go but I’m also scared it means worse things like big budget cuts for Simmons.”

While the abrupt departure may have shocked some students, they should expect the layoffs to continue. The Voice has confirmed with multiple sources that there will be several rounds of layoffs in the months to come as the financial impact from coronavirus continues.

Although Simmons has not publicized the size of the financial impact from COVID-19, several similar institutions have. 

Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, announced that the school would need to reduce the FY21 budget by 10-15% or $25-35 million. 

Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Massachusetts,  estimated that the pandemic has already cost the college $7.6 million. 

Similar to Smith and Mount Holyoke, Simmons received $2.2 million in financial relief from the federal CARES Act, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education. But if the financial losses at Simmons are similar to those of Smith and Mount Holyoke, then the University may continue to battle financial hardship, and the tough decisions that come with it, for months to come.