Message from the President

Monday, April 20, 2020 :: Office of the President

Dear Colleagues:

The purpose of this message is twofold. First, I want to thank and commend each of you for what you have accomplished and continue to accomplish under the most difficult of circumstances. Dealing with a health crisis of this magnitude and the disruptions caused by it has presented unprecedented challenges for all of us. There was no preexisting roadmap to help us navigate the crisis. Together, we have had to blaze our own trail, and you have done a remarkable job of trailblazing. We still face many uncertainties, but if we move forward in a thoughtful, steadfast way, we can successfully address everything that lies before us. The importance of your work in helping our students continue their educational progress cannot be overestimated, and I want to thank you both personally and on behalf of our students for what you have done.

Rising to the Challenge

Second, I want to outline some challenges we still face and inform you of our current plans for addressing them. As you already know, considering the uncertainties we face in the coming months, we have moved both summer sessions online. It is unclear when we can eliminate social-distancing guidelines, and without significant modification of those guidelines, face-to-face instruction is extraordinarily difficult. Thank you for your efforts in moving summer online. This is crucial for enabling our students to maintain their educational progress while at the same time ensuring the health and safety of everyone.

At this point we do not know exactly what the fall 2020 semester will look like. Our hope is that everything will have returned to normal by then and that we can begin and conduct fall semester as we always have. We will monitor the situation carefully over the coming weeks so that we can make the best decisions possible for everyone’s health and safety and the educational progress of our students. However, we have asked our colleges to target offering 25% of their instruction online for the fall. This would give us a head start if we had to make radical changes for the fall semester, but it will also help accommodate students who might not be ready to come back to campus.

We also do not know exactly when we can cease working remotely and return to campus. My guess (and at this point it is only a guess) is that this will be a phased-in process that occurs over a period of several weeks or even months, but until we receive more clarity on the progress of COVID-19 and on the widespread availability of testing (including antibody testing), we cannot make this decision. Your health and safety remain our greatest concern.

Planning for the Future

Finally, as most of you know, the pandemic has had enormous consequences for the economy of our state and nation. State revenues have plunged dramatically because of significant declines both in sales tax revenues and the price of oil. All of this will have a substantial impact on UTRGV and, more generally, on higher education in Texas. It seems clear at this point that there will be a sizable reduction in our state appropriations — perhaps as much as 15% or more (this would be roughly $25 million). The good news is that, in late February, we saw this coming and began planning for absorbing reductions in state appropriations while protecting as much as possible the jobs of our faculty, staff, and student employees. We implemented a hiring freeze, a sweep of unencumbered wages, and are currently putting in place a sweep of unused travel funds (except for funds used for intercampus travel) to capture 15% of our appropriations in the event we are asked to return that money to the state. Over the coming weeks you will hear horror stories about the effects of budget issues on other institutions. Because of our early planning and these decisions, we will not have to take the draconian measures many institutions will have to take. In areas supported in part by clinical revenues, there is a chance we may have some reductions in workforce, but we don’t anticipate any reductions elsewhere.

We recognize that the sweeping of wages has caused some concern about the employment of student workers. We are committed to honoring all employment commitments made to our student employees this spring. If doing so requires the allocation of additional funds to the department, please communicate this to Planning and Analysis. We are also committed to creating employment opportunities for our students this summer. We have, therefore, set aside some funds for ensuring opportunities are available. Please submit your requests to Human Resources by April 24. We know this process is unlike previous summers, but in these unprecedented times, we have done what we can to set aside funds to support our students through employment this summer. We will prioritize support for students who are enrolled full time. This support will allow them to make progress toward their degree while earning money to address the costs of these uncertain times.  

More Financial Support for our Students

There is some good news regarding financial support for our students. As you may have heard, UTRGV will receive approximately $34 million in federal stimulus funds through the CARES Act. We will use roughly three quarters of these funds to directly support students in assisting them to continue their educational progress while addressing ongoing cost of attendance impacts due to the pandemic. The remainder will be (1) used for infrastructure needs related to the pandemic as allowable under the Act; (2) allocated to the School of Medicine (which as you know has been crucial in ramping up testing in the Rio Grande Valley) to support some of the costs of the pandemic; and (3) used to support other costs as allowable under the Act. The CARES Act does not allow for salaries or direct operational support, nor can it be substituted for money that we may be required to return to the state. Nevertheless, it is hard to imagine anything more important for our students as they continue to pursue their educational goals. The Summer Relief program that we announced for students last week is one example of how we are using CARES Act money to support our students.

Opportunity Lies Ahead

Although we are in a remarkably difficult time for higher education, the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic may create some opportunities for us. At a time when many institutions will be dealing with enrollment declines and severe budget reductions, we have an opportunity to move ahead and to change our position relative to formula funding. Institutions across the state and country are planning for enrollment declines over the next year. We are planning on enrollment increases. Those increases will mean that our students are continuing to make progress toward their degrees, that the jobs of our faculty and staff are secure, and that we can continue our development as an institution. In a time of great stress and angst, that is a pretty good place to be.

Thank you again for your hard work and your support for our students. As we know more and as things develop, I will continue to update you on our situation.

Wishing you the best of health for you and your family,

Guy Bailey

Source: Message was sent via email from the Office of the President on April 20, 2020.