On June 26, Jane K. Fernandes announced she would be stepping down as Guilford College’s president as of July 31, 2021. Fernandes has led the Greensboro, N.C., Quaker college since 2014 and her current term was due to expire in July 2022.
“I was considering stepping down, probably in 2022,” wrote Fernandes in a published letter, which continued:
Now with the increasing uncertainty of our altered reality that this pandemic is causing, I think it best to complete some of the hard decisions we need to make, assist the Board of Trustees with a transition, and allow another leader to envision and implement the structural adjustments in higher education that undoubtedly will follow this crisis.
Then on July 1, Fernandes announced the layoffs of 47 staff employees and five visiting faculty, approximately 15 percent of Guilford’s workforce. “This is a hard step to take,” Fernandes said. “But the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated financial challenges for virtually all colleges and universities nationwide. We have to recognize and respond to these challenges.”
An open letter signed by over 900 alumni (as of July 24) objected to the layoffs and criticized “the manner in which Guilford College has recently implemented staff and faculty reductions.” One specific concern suggested that college executives should’ve reduced their own salaries to help alleviate the personnel reductions; it also pointed out that some employees were “notified of the loss of their livelihood by email.”
Edward C. Winslow III, chair of the Board of Trustees, cited the “exceptional progress” made during Fernandes’ term, including the introduction of the Guilford Edge, an experiential learning curriculum; increased enrollment; a focus on diversity and inclusion; and campus improvements.
Fernandes is the first deaf woman to head a U.S college or university.
Correction: An earlier version of this story reported that 45 staff employees and five visiting faculty were laid off. The first number was later updated to 47 staff employees.