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UT Board of Trustees Hears Report on COVID-19 Response

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covid-19 update

KNOXVILLE—In a virtual University of Tennessee Board of Trustees meeting Friday morning, President Randy Boyd updated trustees as to the ongoing impact, plans to return to campus and looking to the fall during this era of COVID-19.

After hearing the report, Board Chair John Compton thanked Boyd and the chancellors for the approaches they’ve taken through the crisis.

“As leaders you’re navigating what we’ve never seen before,” he said. “As we’ve often said, to have a strong state of Tennessee, you need a strong University of Tennessee.”

Administrators across the UT System began meeting on Feb. 28 to discuss COVID-19 and its potential impacts on the spring semester. They announced a transition to online classes on March 11. Since then campuses announced alternative commencements and that classes would remain online through the summer. University staff transitioned to telecommuting on March 24.

Boyd reported that he established a system-wide re-opening task force and that the system administration is developing its guidelines to transition staff back to campus. About 90 percent of the UT System and campus faculty and staff are working remotely.

Boyd praised faculty and staff who worked to move classes online and to take care of students.

“The faculty and staff have been heroic in their efforts,” he said. “It’s been inspiring to see how hard they’ve worked to make sure the students are successful.”

As of March 1, UT had fewer than 60,000 online semester credit hours (most classes are worth 3 credit hours). By March 23, faculty and staff had moved more than 567,000 semester credit hours online. They also developed programs to loan laptops and hotspots to students so they could finish classes online.

With various telephone call and online campaigns reaching out to current and incoming students, sharing health and wellness initiatives and raising more than $200,000 statewide for student emergency funds, Boyd stressed that the University was working to keep students safe and healthy, while still helping them to succeed academically.

“We’re doubling up in our efforts to support students in health and wellness,” Boyd said.

Special Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Friday, April 24, 2020
8 a.m. EDT/ 7 a.m. CDT

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Across the state, faculty, staff and students stepped up to help in a variety of ways. The UT Health Science Center is producing 100 liters of hand sanitizer per day, set up a drive-through for COVID-19 testing that is handling 150 people per day, processing 1,500 tests per day and researched drugs to combat the virus. UTHSC also was selected to direct surge hospitals across the state. Campuses used 3-D printers to create more than 10,000 face masks and developed other protective equipment.

The UT Institute of Public Service has conducted webinars with experts from the UT Health Science Center and the Baker Center at UT Knoxville on health and economic impacts as well as training employees of state agencies. It also identified manufacturers that could produce protective equipment and connected them to different hospitals and agencies.

The university has taken a financial hit in the crisis, Boyd said, but should receive some aid from the U.S. government.

UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga and UT Martin refunded more than $40 million from housing, parking, dining services, athletic ticket and more. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates $14 billion to higher education, of which UT campuses will receive $34.9 million. Half of the money must be given to students as emergency financial aid grants. The other half will be used to offset the financial impact on the campuses.

The CARES Act also appropriates $30.75 billion for “Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund” with Tennessee receiving $63.5 million. Gov. Bill Lee must still decide how that money will be allocated across the state.

Business officers will continue to model financial scenarios as more information becomes clear, according to Boyd.

Compton commended previous university leaders for planning ahead financially.

“We should all be thankful for our previous leaders and previous boards who made sure reserves were in place for times like this,” he said.

Campuses also are beginning to make plans for different scenarios from financial to social distancing in classes for the fall semester.

“We don’t have a definitive answer yet,” Boyd said. “We’re hopeful and optimistic that we’ll have the students back.”


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Category: Headlines