Administrators announce potential budget and calendar changes, anti-racism initiatives

President F. Javier Cevallos, along with several administrators, spoke to the FSU community during the All-University Meeting Oct. 19.

At the meeting, administrators unveiled an amended 2021 spring calendar.

The meeting covered several topics, including the 2020-21 budget, COVID-19, schedule changes for the Spring 2021 semester, the upcoming election, and anti-racism initiatives.

Budget

Executive Vice President Dale Hamel presented the latest budget for Fiscal Year 2021 (FY21).

Hamel noted there have been extensive conversations between the Budget & Planning Committee and the Board of Trustees.

“This has been a certainly volatile environment, particularly as it relates to the budget,” he said.

Hamel discussed the changes implemented since May, when the Board of Trustees initially approved the FY21 budget. The budget, according to Hamel, is primarily determined by state funding, total enrollment, day-division course enrollment, and residential occupancy.

In May, the University anticipated a 3% decrease in state funding, a 10% decrease in total enrollment, and a 4% decrease in day-division course enrollment. Additionally, the University predicted residence hall occupancy would be 66%.

Budget assumptions have been updated, according to Hamel. Day-division course enrollment is now forecasted at 9% reductions, total enrollment is projected to be down by 12%, which is “significantly more than the reductions that we had assumed at -4%,” Hamel said.

Residence hall occupancy of 37% is significantly lower than anticipated, according to Hamel. “In fact, we have the lowest occupancy in our residence halls of the state university segments,” he said.

Due to the large decrease in residence hall occupancy, the University is facing over a $4 million deficit in the residence hall and dining hall trust funds, according to Hamel.

When the initial budget was approved, Hamel said there were a lot of questions concerning state and federal funding. “A lot of that [state funding] was uncertain,” he said, “largely related to the uncertainty of any federal funding that might be coming to support the state.”

However, Hamel said halfway through the semester, some of the unknowns at the time of the budget approval have “come into better focus,” specifically in regards to state funding after Gov. Charlie Baker rereleased his FY21 budget.

He added despite Baker’s rereleased budget, there has been no approval by the legislature and the University has been receiving interim monthly budgets as a result.

There are several issues the legislature will need to consider before approving Baker’s new budget. Specifically, the newly proposed budget involves using approximately a third of the state’s Rainy Day Fund to support the public higher education system, according to Hamel.

He said these decisions were made with the assumption there would be a $3.5 billion reduction in state revenue.

Hamel said, “Assuming the state budget is consistent with the governor’s proposal, this is a much better position than we had anticipated being in this fiscal year.”

He added for FY22 and potentially FY23, administrators anticipate similar levels of difficulty to those experienced in planning the FY21 budget.

Hamel said there are currently no plans for any layoffs or furlough programs among faculty and staff.

The Budget & Planning Committee will review the current multi-year pro forma budget at its next meeting to address the “structural deficit in the out years,” which may include a deficit of approximately $1.3 to $1.5 million, according to Hamel.

He said the University projects these deficits largely because of the forecasted enrollment decrease over the next few years “in addition to the nearly 25% reduction in day-programming enrollment we have experienced over the past five years.

“We’re about a quarter of the size smaller in the day program than we were just four years ago,” he added.

COVID-19

Ann McDonald, chief of staff and general counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, and Ellen Zimmerman, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, shared information about how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the campus and their plans for the spring semester. 

According to McDonald, the University created several working groups to respond to the pandemic. “We had, over the course of the summer, these continuity teams that took over from what originally had been a public health emergency planning team,” she said.

McDonald added the teams consisted of academics, administrative services, and broad spectrum, “which was the general team continuity of instruction, enrollment, and student programs and services.”

These teams included between 10 and 20 people who “played a big part” in rolling out the current COVID-19 policies and procedures, according to McDonald.

Two other teams, the COVID Oversight Team comprised of chairs from each committee – and the Campus COVID Analytics Team (CCAT), look at every week’s results and statistics from the University as well as the city and state.

The University sends out weekly COVID-19 status surveys to departments that “the campus relies on for health and safety standards,” according to McDonald.

These departments include University Police, Facility Operations, and Dining Services.

McDonald added the University has signed a contract with the Broad Institute to conduct testing on campus. The community is divided into three different testing groups.

One group is resident students, who signed a contract to be tested every other week upon move-in, according to McDonald.

The second group is comprised of random samples of commuters and employees on campus. McDonald also said employees always have the option to test if they feel they should be.

The final group consists of students who are considered a “high-contact group.” This includes student employees and athletes who are more likely to be exposed to the virus, according to McDonald.

She reported the University has been testing between 600 and 650 people every week.

McDonald said so far, testing results have been “good.”

She added, “But every week, we hold our breath a little bit and wait for those results to come out.”

She acknowledged the spike in positive tests which occurred earlier this semester.

“We knew a couple [tests] came up as positives, and made a decision to test all of the students in that residence hall on that Friday,” she said.

McDonald added this week, the University will begin looking at contracts to continue testing for the spring semester.

Zimmerman discussed three major changes to the academic calendar for the Spring 2021 Semester which have been approved through governance.

She announced the first day of classes for the spring semester will be Jan. 25 rather than Jan. 19 as originally scheduled.

“That extra week in January will allow the University to conduct COVID-19 testing for students who are returning to campus,” Zimmerman said.

Due to the semester starting a week later and in order to prevent the spread of the virus, she announced the cancellation of spring break.

“Spring break, as we know, is a time when people often travel to areas that involve crowding and/or that could be COVID-19 high-risk areas,” she said.

In lieu of spring break, Zimmerman announced there will be an additional three-day weekend in March.

“In order to provide that much-needed break for people to catch up with academic work, classes will not be held on Friday, March 19,” she said.

The final change to the Spring 2021 calendar is an adjustment to the Pass/Fail Policy.

“The deadline to select a pass/fail grade for a course has been extended to coincide with the date to withdraw from a course,” she said. “This change was approved through governance in Fall of 2019 and was meant to be long-term.”

Zimmerman announced students will know before registering for classes whether the course will be in-person, remote, or a hybrid so they will be able to plan accordingly.

She added the University expects the spring semester to look “a lot like this fall semester.”

Anti-racism initiatives

Constanza Cabello, vice president of diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, discussed the University’s anti-racism initiatives.

Cabello said the ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion throughout the community are specifically in response to the events which took place nationwide as a result of the killing of George Floyd.

“We are meeting a moment right now that is steeped in a history and legacy of violence and racism in this country,” Cabello said, “and we are being asked as a University community to really step up, and to really meet the moment where we’re at and do the work we need to do to create a more equitable community.”

She said because of the death of George Floyd and the political movements which took place over the summer, the University is recommitting itself to promoting anti-racism initiatives and, as a community, discussing ways the University can overcome these obstacles.

One of the efforts the University has implemented is the Inclusive Excellence Committee, a group comprised of faculty, staff, and students to advance anti-racism on campus.

“I think one of the biggest parts of this work is making sure that we have a shared vision and shared vocabulary around these efforts,” Cabello said.

She added the committee “is talking about reevaluating our practices, policies, and programs to redistribute power to enhance racial equity on campus.”

Cabello added the committee is going to “look at the policies, look at the practices, determine how we can best address inequities on our campus.

“This group is going to be much more high-level in terms of looking at policies,” she added.

The University is hosting workshops for faculty and staff, including one on teaching and advising and how to incorporate those processes into classrooms. The other workshops will cover topics such as white privilege and understanding racial trauma.

Cabello acknowledged the “overwhelming” response her division has received regarding the workshops. “Our last couple sessions on understanding racial trauma were maxed out.”

She said her division intends on holding more workshops in the spring.

Cabello also emphasized the importance of supporting not only students of color, but employees of color as well.

She said it is important to “recognize that employees of color, specifically our black employees, are experiencing the world differently than white employees and white people.”

Cabello also spoke about the role and importance of the Bias Education Response Team (B.E.R.T) and said that “bias incidents haven’t stopped because of a pandemic.” She stressed that students should use the resources available to them.

Election

Vice-President of Enrollment and Student Development Lorretta Holloway discussed how the University plans to respond to the aftermath of the presidential election.

Holloway said the upcoming election is a topic her division has been talking about for a while. Student Services has been using its social media to encourage students to vote.

“We are very concerned about the campus community pre- and post-election,” she said.

She added because the election will not be decided that day, “It won’t matter which party wins. We’re expecting a lot of turmoil, long term, and at least until the inauguration, if not beyond.”

Holloway emphasized the importance of supporting students and the campus community after election day through the end of the semester and into the spring.

She said her division has been spreading the word about the Counseling Center to ensure the community is able to receive the emotional support it may need post-election.

“The concern was that we wanted students to really not feel helpless and hopeless, and really be able to direct them and help them figure out ways to take action,” Holloway said.

She also stressed the importance of students protecting themselves and others if they are attending protests.

Holloway added it is important to talk to the community about how students can protect themselves “in those spaces.”

She also recognized the importance of having conversations about “long-term educational programs.”

Holloway encouraged students to vote not only in national elections, but in local elections as well.

Approximately 260 people – students, faculty, and staff – joined the Zoom call.