At Virtual Town Hall, EVP Mills Discusses Return to Campus

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New panel considering remote and in-person work policy will seek employee input.

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Executive Vice President Rick Mills brought his town hall series back—virtually—for what he called a step toward a post-COVID return to campus.
Executive Vice President Rick Mills brought his town hall series back—virtually—for what he called a step toward a post-COVID return to campus. (Photo by Robert Gill) 
4/21/2021
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After more than a year’s hiatus, Executive Vice President Rick Mills brought his town hall series back to Spaulding—virtually—for what he called a step toward a post-COVID return to campus, as he invited Dartmouth employees to begin thinking about what the shift back from remote work might look like heading into September.

The lunch-hour webcast on Wednesday also featured a briefing on how the state of the budget from Chief Financial Officer Mike Wagner, and a conversation with Interim Athletics Director Peter Roby ’79, who began work at Dartmouth in mid-February.

Mills said that the way people adjusted to the abrupt shift to remote work in the past year showed “we were incredibly resilient, and we adapted and I’m so proud of us for all of that.”

“Whether you liked remote work during this past year or more, or you couldn’t stand it and can’t wait to get back to campus, the experience of COVID has opened new doors for all of us,” he said.

Mills announced that he and Provost Joseph Helble would form a working group to meet with supervisors and department heads to develop policies regarding remote work, policies that would be completed by the end of the current academic year. The group will prepare a survey to go out to all Dartmouth employees seeking their input and suggestions in this process.

Remote working offers flexibility to enhance work-life balance, provides opportunities to tap a skills-base beyond the Upper Valley, and opens the possibility of reducing or shifting the use of buildings and facilities, said Mills. And it also raises issues of equity regarding those jobs that cannot be done remotely, and complicates issues related to tax and regulatory liability with employees who are out of state or out of the country, he said.

“There’ll be an opportunity to express your views. You’ll get a survey. Please respond to it. The more information we have, the better enabled the group will be to think about this,” Mills said.

In his segment, Wagner offered a cautiously optimistic view of Dartmouth’s finances emerging from the pandemic. Thanks to collaboration across the institution as well as the alumni community, the financial hit from the pandemic has been offset by savings within divisions, increased giving, and strong investment returns. The good news for employees after the freeze imposed last year, said Wagner, is that Dartmouth is budgeting for merit-pay increases in the coming fiscal year.

“That’s a little glimmer of good news,” Mills said. “And thanks for everybody who worked through this year without the increase. We know that wasn’t easy.”

Mills welcomed Roby to his first town hall appearance and asked how it felt to return to Dartmouth.

“It was a transformational experience for me to be here as a student and as an athlete, and it set me off on a course that has brought me full circle back to the college that I love so much,” Roby said.

In his two months heading Athletics, Roby said, he has focused on building relationships with student athletes, athletic staff, coaches, parents, and alumni while facilitating the work of Title IX and other reviews and audits, as well as conducting searches for coaches in women’s golf, men’s and women’s diving and swimming, women’s basketball, and women’s hockey.

He has paid particular attention to rebuilding trust with athletes, staff, and the broader community connected with the teams that were eliminated last year and then reinstated. This work has enabled Dartmouth to recruit a number of athletes for the reconstituted teams in the Class of 2025, he said.

“We were pleasantly surprised that there was still lots of interest and we were able to salvage some of the recruiting with respect to the reinstated teams,” Roby said. “It speaks to Dartmouth’s appeal as an institution and its history.”

And he celebrated that, with the new Ivy League rules allowing some local competitions, the men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s lacrosse, and softball teams are expected to have games this weekend for the first time in more than a year.

“Unfortunately, we won’t be able to allow spectators, but we are excited about letting people know what the results of those competitions are, and really excited about a hopeful return to play in the fall,” Roby said.

For the latest information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic visit the COVID-19 website.

William Platt can be reached at william.c.platt@dartmouth.edu.