Campus Message - May 28, 2020
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28 May 2020
I am writing to provide several important updates. I would be remiss, however, if I did not first begin by thanking you for a successful conclusion to what was clearly a historic spring semester. You overcame unprecedented challenges as we, together, enabled students to complete their courses and academic programs. What’s more – you enhanced our standing as a leader in online instruction, and you complemented that effort with a new concierge coaching model of student support that drew local, state, and even national attention.
As we prepare for the months ahead, I am pleased that summer enrollment remains strong as compared with this time last year, and we are similarly encouraged by a significantly higher number of accepted new freshmen for fall. That said, we continue to experience very real challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
For instance, we know that many of you have questions about returning to campus. As a result, for the past several weeks, seven working groups with broad representation from faculty, staff, and administrative leadership have been diligently researching and developing a plan for our safe return to campus in a phased and gradual approach over the summer months. The University System of Georgia has charged all 26 institutions with developing such a plan, and I am grateful to everyone who helped us complete the document that we will be submitting later today. Once our plan is approved by System leadership, we look forward to sharing detailed information with all of you regarding its contents.
Of course, COVID-19 has also brought significant financial challenges to our entire state and beyond. Specifically, here in Georgia, state revenue collections declined by more than $1 billion (or 35.9%) in April as compared with the same month in 2019, and further revenue declines are expected over the course of the calendar year. We obviously must prepare for the resulting reductions to our operating budgets. That is why, in an email dated May 7, you will recall that I announced that all USG institutions had been asked to prepare for a possible 14% reduction to our base allocation for Fiscal Year 2021, which starts July 1.
This was strictly a planning exercise, but that made it no less difficult. Per USG guidelines, across-the-board reductions were not allowable, and we were instead asked to be strategic and to limit the impact on core academic programs. From the outset, we chose to approach our work being led by two guiding principles: first, preserve our core mission of instruction and student success, and second, limit as much as possible the financial impact on our faculty and staff. Working with campus leaders, we proposed reducing operating and travel budgets. That said, with salary and benefit costs comprising over 80% of our total budget, reductions to our salary lines were needed in order to achieve the required reduction amount. As a result, we captured savings from the furlough plan I shared with you a few weeks ago, and a total of 24 vacant positions were also eliminated. Finally, a limited number of filled positions were proposed for reduction.
While this news is undoubtedly concerning to us all, I do want to stress that this was a planning exercise, and nothing will be decided until a final budget is approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor, likely in late June. Many factors, including our final summer and fall enrollment figures, will influence any final decisions we make. In the meantime, please know that I remain grateful to all of you who have given so much to make us the world-class university we are today, and I remain extremely optimistic about our institution’s future.
In fact, rather than burying our heads in the sand and hoping for a return to normal, campus leaders are currently taking several innovative and aggressive steps. Our concierge coach model was one such example, and, acting upon the suggestion of many of you, we intend to continue that effort in some form in the coming semesters. We have similarly proposed and have gained initial System support on multiple pilot initiatives that have the potential to dramatically impact future recruitment and enrollment. We look forward to sharing much more with you about all of these endeavors in the coming months.
For now, I know that all of you will continue to do all that you can to help us rise above these incredibly challenging times. After all, as has been said many times throughout this pandemic, a blaze always shines brightest in the dark.
Thank you for your continued support, and stay safe.
Dr. Richard Carvajal
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Key term: Close Contact - this is defined as being within six (6) feet of an individual for more than 15 minutes regardless of whether a face covering is worn.
EMPLOYEES DO NOT come on campus if you believe you have been in close contact with a person having COVID or yourself having symptoms or receiving a positive diagnosis. Instead, notify your supervisor of your absence, seek medical services from your primary care provider, and self-report your information by completing the online form or contacting HR directly at 229-333-5709.
STUDENTS DO NOT come on campus nor go directly to the Student Health Center if you believe you have been exposed to COVID. Instead, call the Health Services at 229-333-5886 to speak with a triage nurse over the phone. Additional guidance will be provided on how to access the health center facility. The health center remains open for walk-in patients with non-COVID medical needs.
Members of the campus community should report all instances of close contact with a person having COVID or themselves receiving a positive diagnosis of COVID. To assist with reporting, a COVID Self Reporting link has been added within MyVSU.
If you have been instructed to self-isolate or quarantine, you should do so at your permanent home for the period given unless it should be extended due to remaining symptoms.