COVID-19 update from President Gilbert

Dear Marshall University faculty and staff,

I am writing this afternoon to update you about several items related to the COVID-19 pandemic and our university.

Budget Situation

We project we will finish the current fiscal year on June 30 with an operating budget shortfall of $2-3 million, which we will make up for by tapping into our reserves. Overall, we were down this year $4.7 million in tuition and fees due to a decrease in enrollment, but were able to make up a good bit of it by a modest freeze on vacant positions and other cost-cutting measures.

As you well know, the pandemic is creating a lot of uncertainty about enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year. Our best-case scenario is likely an enrollment decrease of approximately 5%, based on our current deposits and the registrations of students returning for the fall. Our freshmen deposits are down about 8%, and experts suggest that because of fear, many students will not show up even if they "reserved a spot." National surveys are still predicting a 15% decrease in fall enrollment. The worst-case scenario would be if we have to go totally online for the fall, something that we will avoid if at all possible.

To prepare for both scenarios, in April I tasked a Budget Work Group made up of representatives of the student body, faculty and staff with identifying ways to make significant reductions to the university budget for the coming fiscal year. I asked them to find savings of $15-25 million and submit their recommendations to me no later than May 22.

I received the group’s recommendations last Thursday and am using their report to develop a proposed cost reduction plan I will be discussing with the university’s vice presidents and Board of Governors leadership early next week. Once the plan is finalized in mid-June, we will share it with all of you.

Based on what is happening at other universities in West Virginia and around the country, I know many of you are concerned about what these necessary cost reductions may mean for our employees. I want to assure you that one of my administration’s guiding principles, and one that the Budget Work Group took very seriously, is a commitment to doing everything we can to maintain the jobs of our permanent employees. At this time, we have no plans to lay off or terminate the employment of any permanent employees; however, these budget cuts will affect every department and every employee to some degree.

This is a difficult situation for all of us, and I was very pleased with the effort and thought the Budget Work Group directed toward their work in a relatively short period of time.

University Offices

Marshall staff members who have been telecommuting for the past couple of months due to the pandemic began returning to their offices this week. The Office of Environmental Health and Safety worked with Human Resource Services and Marshall Health experts to develop a phased-in plan to safely return employees to work on our campuses.

This week marked the start of Phase I, which will see approximately 25% of our staff return to their on-site workplaces. Phase II begins June 8. I returned to work in the office myself this week and am glad to be back.

Our Return-to-Workplace Guide is available to all employees as a downloadable PDF and is posted on the university’s website at www.marshall.edu/coronavirus.

Changes to the 2020-21 Academic Calendar

As I have previously communicated, we are planning to provide an on-campus experience for our students in the coming academic year, based on the public health trends and projections available to us at this time. As such, we are adjusting the university’s academic calendar to minimize travel to and from campus once the semesters begin, while maintaining the required number of instructional days.

Yesterday, the Faculty Senate approved revisions to the 2020-21 Academic Calendar. The highlights of the new calendar are as follows:

  • As planned, students will return to campus for in-person classes starting Aug. 24.
  • The Labor Day holiday on Sept. 7 will remain as originally scheduled, with no classes held.
  • After the Thanksgiving break in November, students will not return to campus, but will complete the semester with one week of online/distance instruction followed by one week of online final exams.
  • The spring term will be delayed by one week, and will start on Jan. 19.
  • The first four days of the originally scheduled Spring Break will be cancelled, and classes will be held to make up for the delayed start to the semester and to reduce high-risk travel/vacations; however, there will be no classes on Friday, March 19, to create a three-day weekend.
  • The spring semester will end face-to-face as scheduled on April 23, with final exams held April 26-30.

This revised calendar is in line with what many universities are doing, and I appreciate the Faculty Senate’s cooperation in this important matter.

Health and Safety Task Force

Tracy Smith, the university’s director of environmental health and safety is leading a small task force I appointed to coordinate our various COVID-19 related health and safety initiatives, with the goal of developing a comprehensive plan for the fall semester.

This Health and Safety Task Force will produce a draft plan in mid-June, including procedures for classrooms, office spaces, residence halls and dining facilities, and employee and student protection. The plan will address masks, testing and screening, hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, self-reporting of health status by students, social distancing, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, and other measures.

As soon as the task force’s plan is finalized, we will share it with the campus community.

Please stay healthy and safe. I will continue to keep you updated.

Sincerely,
Jerome A. Gilbert, Ph.D.
President