College university generic lecture hall

The story that made the rounds over the weekend on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere was this one published Friday by N.C. Policy Watch and written by former N&R staffer Joe Killian. The headline was and still is a doozy:

I know the campuses are expecting to lose revenues, at this point mostly from canceled football seasons and some number of students who no longer want dorm rooms, meal plans or to come to school at all. But a potential 50 percent budget cut would seem to lurk at the far end of everyone's imaginations. Then again, so does a pandemic that has killed more than 140,000 Americans and shows no sign of slowing down. Financial catastrophe — and this is what a revenue loss of this magnitude would be — is no longer outside the realm of possibility in higher education.

I asked for and today got the email that UNC Board of Governors Chairman Randy Ramsey sent out last week, the one that Killian covered in his story. It's below. After the email is a statement from Ramsey that the UNC System office sent out with the chairman's email.

In the email, "Bill" is Bill Roper, the outgoing interim president of the UNC System, "Peter" is Peter Hans, who takes the permanent job Aug. 1 and the "board" is the Board of Governors, the university system's governing body.

Here goes:

From: Randy Ramsey

Date: Tuesday, July 14, 2020 at 11:31 AM

Subject: University opening and going forward

Good morning,

After my discussions with Bill yesterday and this morning, I would like to convene a meeting in the next couple of weeks regarding our plans for the fall.

I want to be very clear about one thing, I expect Peter and the board to make the decision about this fall consulting with current leadership. We all know the health and safety of our students, faculty, workers, and administrators is weighing heavily on each of our minds, and I really appreciate your diligence as we confront such an unprecedented challenge. However, it is imperative that people that will have to deal with the consequences and repercussions of our decision regarding how to handle the fall semester in the University System make that final decision.

As you know, thousands of colleges and universities across the country have announced a broad array of reopening plans — the overwhelming majority of which include on-campus classes or, at the very least, the option for students to return to campus. Very few (less than 10%, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education) have shuttered their campuses this fall, presumably because they quantified the financial and human impact of closing and the data told a grim story.

We need General Administration to conduct a quantitative analysis of its own, and I am eager for us to meet and discuss any final changes to our reopening policy as soon as that data is available. We need an analysis that will include:

• A report from each chancellor on the financial impact of closing their campus and reducing tuition and room and board fees.

• A plan from each chancellor to reduce their budgets by between 25% and 50%, to account for the reduced revenue resulting from campus reduced enrollment under various degrees of closure. These plans should not be general in nature. They should be very specific and include details of which programs will be shuttered, which positions will be furloughed, laid off or eliminated entirely and all other details of how a 25% to 50% spending reduction will be handled.

• How the cancellation of fall athletics will impact each campus and their specific plans for shortfalls in revenue.

• A General Administration analysis of the long-term impact on UNC institutions that have struggled financially and remain on shakier financial footing — can all of our campuses survive a closure?

This (is) not (a) request, this is a directive, and I want each of you to respond to this email confirming that you understand that you are to take no action until the board and new President have met to make a decision about how to proceed. I also need to know by tomorrow when you will have this analysis and information available so that we can schedule a meeting to review it and discuss it.

Randy

And here is Ramsey's statement:

“I recently asked our chancellors to develop financial models that reflect potential worst case scenarios resulting from COVID-19. This scenario-planning directive is an important part of our Board's responsible oversight as we continue to confront and adapt to an unprecedented and unpredictable situation. This financial analysis gives us an essential understanding of a situation that we hope not to be facing.

"As Board chair, I know our high priority is ensuring the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff. Face-to-face instruction with professors is essential for student academic success and are core to the UNC System’s educational mission. We are taking the necessary precautions to ensure our campuses are open and safe places to teach, study, live and work and look forward to their return in August and September.

"Senior leaders at the System are closely coordinating with our leading federal and state health authorities and state and local government officials. We will continue making important, operational decisions as a System, in consultation with our Chancellors, just as we have been doing since the Spring. Making informed decisions means we must understand the full implications of these decisions, both good and bad, short-term and long-term.

"I expect to continue these discussions with Interim President Roper, President-elect Peter Hans, our Board members, our senior leaders and health and medical experts, and our Chancellors.”

So what's next? The Board of Governors meets Wednesday (committees) and Thursday (full board). I'm sure this'll come up.

Meanwhile, plenty of people are pushing back against the notion that UNC System schools should reopen their campuses in August as announced and go about business more or less as normal.

Last week, more than 200 faculty members at Appalachian State (where my daughter attends) signed a letter urging students to stay home and take classes remotely.

And just as I was finishing up this blog post, I got word of this petition to the UNC System started by an N.C. State professor and co-signed by (mostly) faculty at several of the state's public universities. The petition says "online or remote teaching should be the default mode on all campuses during the Fall 2020 semester" because "it is unsafe for students and instructors to return to face-to-face instruction." The petition lays out some other concerns. Click here to read it.

Update, 5:20 p.m. Monday: I clarified and added a couple of more details to the last paragraph. Although I just noticed it today, it was started more than a week ago. It's closing in on 3,000 signatures as of late Monday afternoon.

Staff writer John Newsom covers higher education for the News & Record of Greensboro and the Winston-Salem Journal.

Have something to say about this blog post? Email him at john.newsom@greensboro.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @JohnNewsomNR.

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