With the May 9 Final Bell Ceremony successfully in the books and the Class of 2020 headed out into the world, our attention is laser-focused on plans for fall and continued efforts to close our budget shortfall.
Thank you to everyone who helped to make the virtual graduation celebration a memorable sendoff for our graduates. Our staff put together a video to commemorate the occasion. Watching it reminds us how much has changed in the past few months and why we work so hard to be able to welcome students back to our campus. Our challenge, shared by our sister institutions around the nation and world, is to quickly design a learning experience that will meet our students’ academic needs and their desire for a traditional residential college experience, all while protecting their health and yours.
Many of you are working tirelessly to develop our plan for this fall. I am deeply grateful to Dr. John Forrest, M.D., FACS, a TU trustee and chair of our Medical Advisory Committee; Matt Polson, director of Environmental Health and Safety and chair of our COVID-19 Management Team; and Tracy Manly, acting provost and chair of our Campus Continuity task force. They – with the support and creativity of many faculty, administrators, staff and students – have developed a framework of recommendations for fall, which our Board of Trustees reviewed and approved on Wednesday.
The recommendations call for a “hybrid” return on Aug. 24. While details of the fall schedule are still being worked out, the key recommendations include:
Respecting physical distancing and other defined health protocols in all campus activities as necessary. Changes to normal operations include the following:
- Masks will be required to be worn by everyone on campus.
- Health monitoring efforts are being evaluated for all students and employees.
- Resident students will have private rooms.
- Food service will be carry-out with mobile ordering options.
- Some campus spaces will be repurposed as classrooms.
- On-campus orientation will take place in small groups.
- Testing will be used strategically based on availability.
- Enhanced cleaning protocols will be implemented for housing, classrooms, laboratory spaces, athletics facilities, dining areas, large event areas and other common spaces.
- Scheduling courses over a longer day
- Maintaining an average classroom occupancy rate of approximately 30% with 6-foot physical distancing
- Staggering class start times to minimize hallway traffic between sessions
- Requiring that every class has a back-up faculty member of record
Adjusting the academic calendar so that on-campus instruction ends Nov. 20, followed by virtual instruction and either in-person exams before Thanksgiving or remote finals after the break. A later start for spring semester may be considered.Continuing work-from-home preference for staff who can do their jobs remotely. Other plans include:
- Goal of no more than 30% of staff working in offices at any given time
- Continued use of Microsoft Teams meetings
Being fully prepared at any point during the academic year for a move to a virtual learning environment should the health and safety of our community demand it.Much needs to take place between now and August to ensure the success of these changes, from making WiFi available in campus open spaces to ensuring adequate supplies of disinfectants and personal protective gear. Our teams are working at full speed to lay this groundwork, while remaining fully cognizant that plans may need to be adjusted based on guidance from public health officials, requirements from government agencies and the pandemic’s course in our region.
In parallel to this effort, we have also been working diligently to address our budget shortfall. As I shared in my April 16 email, the COVID-19 response has required approximately $4.6 million in housing and dining refunds to students, lost athletics revenue and unexpected technology expenses to date, with at least another $5.5 million in losses expected through fall. This burden comes on top of the deficit we were working to close when the pandemic hit.
As part of our ongoing efforts to address this budget shortfall, the Board of Trustees has approved a change to TU’s contributions to employees’ retirement savings from a guaranteed 9% to a guaranteed 5% up to $100,000 in annual salary beginning July 1. Once the budget stabilizes, the intent is for the university to continue 5% contributions and an additional match of up to 4%, although the administration has deferred any permanent change to the retirement plan’s structure until January 2021. This will yield more than $3.4 million in savings for the 2020-21 fiscal year.
The changes to the retirement benefits plan were recommended by the budget working group on compensation, reviewed by the University Benefits Committee, approved by University Council and then approved by the board on Wednesday. The conversation at the board meeting also benefited from Faculty Senate input. I am grateful to everyone who contributed to this collaborative process and understands the importance of this hard decision.
I will provide additional details on our progress toward long-term strategic priorities in upcoming communications and a soon-to-be-scheduled Campus Conversation, including continued efforts by our budget working groups, early retirements and Huron-supported work to improve operational performance and efficiency.
Thank you for your ongoing professionalism and dedication on behalf of our students in these most extraordinary of times.
Janet K. Levit