KNOXVILLE — After listening to University of Tennessee President Randy Boyd and chancellors of campuses across the system discuss their plans for handling COVID-19 in the fall on Thursday, the UT Board of Trustees approved their plans as well as the University’s $2.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2020-21 during Friday’s annual meeting.
In approving the COVID-19 and Guiding Principles for Fall 2020 resolution, trustees authorized the UT administration to take the necessary actions to have in-person instruction for the fall 2020 semester.
The resolution also stated that the University should continue to make reasonable accommodations for students, faculty and staff who are at-risk or live with individuals who are at-risk as identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
- Changing the academic calendars for each campus
- Providing different in-person, hybrid and remote instruction
- Delegating Boyd to take actions he deems necessary for the health, safety and welfare of students, faculty and staff, including suspending in-person instruction if necessary
During Thursday’s meeting, Boyd praised the work done by the University’s employees to prepare for fall classes.
“This will not be a new normal, but a better normal,” Boyd said to trustees. “I couldn’t be prouder of our organization. There’s been teamwork on every level.”
On March 16, Boyd announced classes would be held online for the remainder of the semester and on April 1, Boyd announced summer classes would also be held online. Since then, a systemwide task force announced best practices for reopening the campuses that included education, managing the campus environment and reimagining classes. Campuses have also released their own specific plans.
On Thursday, chancellors shared decisions that included testing symptomatic students as well as those who are asymptomatic and have been identified through contact tracing to have had close contact with a COVID-19-positive person; requiring students, faculty and staff to wear masks; suspending all international travel; finishing classes before Thanksgiving break and conducting testing for finals online.
Each campus has also extended classes into the evening hours and plans to use spaces not traditionally used for classes to ensure adequate spacing of students. Campuses also will provide isolation spaces for infected students.
During Friday’s meeting, trustees also adopted a requirement for flu—and COVID when available—immunizations for all students, faculty and staff. They also adopted an emergency rule specifically for students to have these immunizations.
From spring semester refunds to disbursing CARES Act and other emergency funds, the campuses have been working to assist students, UT Chattanooga Chancellor Steve Angle said. He said they also were trying to assist as many students as possible with financial aid.
“This is a fortunate time for UT Promise to begin to help our neediest students,” he said.
Board Chair John Compton praised the leadership for their “complex and comprehensive” work toward opening in the fall.
“You have had to make many complex decisions and you have thought comprehensively through them,” he said.
Trustees also approved a $2.5 billion operating budget for fiscal 2020-21 that includes no increase in tuition for students at all of the campuses—a first in UT’s history—and follows a record four years of increases at or below Tennessee Higher Education Commission’s recommendations.
“That’s a really good story to control those increases,” said Ron Loewen, UT System assistant vice president for budget and planning. “We’ve never seen a period like this with a number of years of low increases.”
Not increasing tuition this year was important even though the University’s budget is tight for the coming fiscal year, Boyd said.
“We think it’s important for our families and the state of Tennessee,” he said. “It’s the right thing.”
State appropriations for the University remained flat for the year and the legislature eliminated raises for most state employees due to declines in recent tax collections and uncertainty about future revenues.
“We’re thankful to the governor and the legislature for our essentially flat state funding,” said David Miller, senior vice president and chief financial officer, noting that other universities were seeing budget cuts from their states.
Loewen informed the Board that the University is well positioned for this economic downturn and that it replenished its reserves after 2008 to 2012 Great Recession.
“This is cautious budget,” he said.
Miller also reported on the CARES Act and the COVID-19 fiscal impact. Across the system, the campuses received $17.4 million in student grants and another $18.2 to help offset institutional costs. So far, the campuses have distributed $15.7 million in grants to more than 18,000 students. COVID-19 had a total of a $69.4 million impact on the system through refunds, expenditures and lost revenue.
Compton praised previous trustees who served on the UT Board and former chief financial officers for being fiscally responsible.
“They made sure money was set aside for rainy days,” he said. “COVID wasn’t a rainy day. It was a monsoon.”
Yet, because of their work, he said, the University would be fine.
“As we know, education is the way forward to a stronger economy,” Compton said. “We’re able to say that all of our people are OK. For a lot of businesses that’s not true.”
In his remarks to the Board, Boyd tackled another issue that has arisen this spring and summer: racism. Boyd said the University must lead in eliminating systemic racism in the state and the country. To do that, he said, requires communication, commitment and change. From listening to people of every background, ethnicity, nationality, religion and culture about their unique challenges and struggles to making sure everyone who steps on UT’s campuses is treated with respect, fairness, dignity, compassion and care, Boyd said the University has the power to enact change.
“We’ve got to commit to make change with more diverse leaders, faculty and procurement,” he said. “We can do things many others can’t. We have ways that we can physically make a difference.”
As an example, Boyd said the UT Institute for Public Service’s Law Enforcement Innovation Center just announced plans to develop a training program in conjunction with the Museum of Tolerance to minimize biased-based policing and will start the program with the UT police departments on each campus.
“We’re committed to change and being a beacon of light,” he said.
Trustees re-elected Compton as chairman of the UT Board of Trustees. He will serve for another two years.
“I would like to thank the committee chairs and all of the other trustees for their work to help lead the University of Tennessee,” he said.
Other agenda items included:
- Adoption of student immunization requirements
- Capital outlay funding requests from Fiscal Year 2021-22 through Fiscal Year 2025-26
- Capital maintenance funding requests from Fiscal Year 2021-22 through Fiscal Year 2025-26
- Procedures governing compensation increases during Fiscal Year 2020-21
- Election of the chair of the Board
- Appointment of standing committees and chairs
- Proposed revision to bylaws
- Grants of tenure
- New academic programs