BOONE — Appalachian State University is planned to receive an estimated allocation of $15,927,932 as part of the federal distribution to the University of North Carolina system to assist with a loss of revenue related to COVID-19.
This announcement was made by interim Provost Heather Norris during the April 13 virtual meeting of App State’s Faculty Senate. Based on estimates, the UNC distribution from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act is around $174 million for system institutions. App State is receiving about $15.9 million of the funding, of which 50 percent is required to be used for direct aid to students and the remainder can be used to help offset costs associated with COVID-19, according to Norris.
UNC system institutions received federal guidance that explains funding must be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to COVID-19 — this includes eligible expenses under a student’s loss of attendance such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care. According to Norris, colleges and universities are expected to determine which students will receive cash grants subject to a specific set of criteria.
Norris said that the university’s costs associated with COVID-19 are greater than the half of the $15.9 million that will not be going directly to student aid. Vice Chancellor for Business Affairs Paul Forte said the estimated cost of COVID-19-related expenses to the university is approximately $18 million. App State spokesperson Megan Hayes clarified that these expenses include lost revenue to date and are combined with estimated expenses and lost revenue through the end of this fiscal year. These costs include incremental costs for teaching, housing and dining refunds, funding for summer session stipends for faculty and pay for employees continuing to come to the university to work, Forte said.
The university must submit a grant to receive the funds, and the application was completed on April 13, according to Norris. Forte said right now university administrators are focusing on the use of the first half of the funding by figuring out what flexibility they are able to use. Guidance on how to use the second half of the funding — not mandated to be used for student aid — should be forthcoming in the next few weeks, he said.
Faculty Senate members also heard from N.C. Rep. Ray Russell (D-Boone), who said he thinks the state could be $1.5 to 2.5 billion short on revenue that was expected for the current biennium — even after money from the CARES Act has been given. Russell added that the 2019-20 budget bill will not be passed, and the legislature is looking forward to the 2020-21 budget. He predicted that the General Assembly will not have a state budget until late July or August.
Russell said it was unknown what the state legislature will do about its April session, as a positive case was identified in the legislature among a cafeteria worker, and several people in the state treasurer’s office also tested positive. He anticipated that the General Assembly might meet in Raleigh at the end of the month to discuss a small number of emergency bills directly related to COVID-19.
Norris said the state budget director asked that state budget requests be limited to “must do” items. This led to the 2020-2021 UNC system budget priorities to be amended to only include critical items that are needed to address immediate issues including emergency funding relief for expenses in loss of revenue related to COVID-19. The amended UNC system budget request from the state resulted in a reduction of about $250 million —which included about a 30 percent reduction in enrollment growth funding, according to Norris.
According to Hayes, App State is still charging toward its enrollment goal of 20,000 by the fall semester. She said enrollment is critical for the university’s continued financial health and long-term viability.
“What was an already uncertain market for higher education has become even more difficult to predict as a result of COVID-19,” Hayes said. “We are fortunate to have entered this global pandemic with a solid financial standing, and expect to come out the other side well-positioned for the future, but it will not be easy, and enrollment is critical to our ability to do so.”
Laura Ammon, App State’s chapter president of the American Association of University Professors, spoke to the senators about AAUP’s call for greater faculty involvement in the decisions going forward amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The App State AAUP chapter pushed for greater faculty involvement in decisions about faculty, staff and student safety; the continuation of online instruction during the pandemic; and budget priorities in light of impending budget cuts.
“As AAUP continually advocates, faculty have both the right and responsibility to participate in dialogue about these decisions through principles of shared governance,” Ammon said. “However difficult or cumbersome it may be to include meaningful faculty dialogue in periods of great uncertainty, never was faculty input more important or necessary to the life of our university.”
Ammon said the App State AAUP chapter is hosting a Zoom town hall meeting for faculty at 7 p.m. on April 23. For more information on the town hall, email Ammon at email@example.com.
The Faculty Senate Budget Committee met with Forte, Chancellor Sheri Everts, Director of Human Resources Mark Bachmeier and Director of External Affairs Matthew Dockham on April 3 and 9 to discuss the overall budget outlook for the university. Norris said administrators will continue to meet with the faculty senate budget committee weekly.
Additionally, Norris said Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Jacqui Bergman had met with Faculty Senate’s Faculty Welfare and Morale Committee and Academic Policy Committee as well as Council of Chairs and Dean’s Council to discuss ways to create more flexibility for faculty. Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Mark Ginn and Dean of Graduate Studies Mike McKenzie worked with the Academic Policies and Procedures Committees for the undergraduate and graduate programs to identify flexibility for students, Norris said.
As a result of discussion with those groups, Norris said the university has enacted and/or proposed a number of temporary policy changes. These policy changes include a pass/no credit alternative grading system for the spring 2020 semester, a system policy change that allows undergraduates to withdraw after grades are posted this semester and no requirement for spring course evaluations.
The Faculty Senate discussed another policy change that would allow the option for tenure-track faculty to extend the probationary term by one year. This policy was sent back to the Faculty Senate’s Faculty Governance Committee.
The Faculty Senate will virtually meet again on April 27. Instead of the traditional budget presentation scheduled for April 24, Norris said administrators will provide a university-level budget update for campus.