Update to UGA Faculty and Staff
We want to begin this message to the campus community by thanking you for a successful conclusion to the Spring Semester. Despite the unprecedented challenges we faced, you—our dedicated faculty and staff members—persevered. You ensured that our students received quality instruction and made progress toward graduation; that critical research was sustained; that essential services and operations were maintained; and that we continued to share our expertise in communities across Georgia and beyond. You have demonstrated remarkable commitment to our mission, and we are deeply appreciative.
We are pleased to report that summer enrollment is going well. In fact, enrollment appears to be slightly higher than this time last year. We know that many of the students taking courses are those who had anticipated study abroad experiences or internships this summer to fulfill credit hour and/or experiential learning requirements. Similarly, many faculty now offering online courses are those who were to have led such programs. This is further evidence of our ability to adapt effectively to the changing circumstances around us.
In addition, we are encouraged by the high level of faculty interest in summer programs offered by the Office of Online Learning and the Center for Teaching and Learning to enhance online teaching skills and resources. Additional training programs are in development and will be available later this summer. Enrollment trends for our new class of first-year students in the fall look strong, although we remain concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on our graduate programs, particularly our ability to enroll international students.
As you know, we are planning to be back on campus for face-to-face instruction for the Fall Semester, health conditions and state regulations permitting. For the past several weeks, nine working groups have been diligently researching and developing plans for our safe return to campus in a phased and gradual approach over the coming months, culminating in our return to full operations in August. Several contingencies also are being considered in our planning. These groups are being led by senior administrators and include nearly 140 members of our faculty and staff, with public health experts represented among them. The University System of Georgia (USG) has charged all 26 USG institutions with developing such plans, and ours will be submitted soon. Once the reports have been approved, we will communicate our plans for return with the campus community.
We recognize that some of you will have reservations about returning to campus. Rest assured that our reopening plans will prioritize the health and safety of all members of our community and will comply with Executive Orders and directives from the Governor’s Office as well as guidance from the Georgia Department of Public Health. The University is developing training modules to cover a range of information, including guidelines, responsibilities, and resources to help you and our students promote health and safety during the gradual process of reopening.
Let us not forget that the on-campus experience is critically important, particularly for our entering first-year, transfer, graduate, and professional students, in order for them to build a sense of community and develop the relationships they will need to maximize their learning experience at our institution. We also need for our research labs to resume robust activity, and citizens across the state are counting on us to help them restart their businesses, yield a bountiful harvest of crops, and solve the many COVID-19 challenges faced by our local communities. As the state’s land-grant and sea-grant research institution, we have a duty to serve Georgia in good times and bad, and we will do so.
Resuming normal operations also is of critical importance to our financial stability. We need to enroll a full class of first-year students and maintain our current enrollment of returning students in the fall in order to manage the fiscal impact created by the pandemic, which has severely affected our institutional budget and the economy of Georgia as a whole. This April, state revenue collections declined by more than $1 billion (or 35.9%) compared to April of last year. Further revenue declines are expected and will likely result in serious budget reductions. We must plan for these potential measures now.
As we shared with you on May 7, the University System of Georgia and all state agencies were recently asked to prepare budget plans that reduce spending by 14% in Fiscal Year 2021, which starts July 1, 2020. Nothing will be decided until an appropriations bill is approved by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor. That is expected to happen in late June, as legislative leaders meet for the remainder of the 2020 legislative session and finalize the FY21 state budget.
USG Chancellor Steve Wrigley asked our institution to be strategic as we plan for this reduction in state appropriations and to remember that our greatest priority must be helping students complete their degrees in a timely fashion. We already operate very efficiently at the University of Georgia, so possible reductions of this magnitude will be very difficult to execute while ensuring that our core missions of instruction, research, and outreach are preserved. In order to protect these missions, UGA’s plan calls for a greater reduction in funding for central administrative and campus support functions while limiting the cuts to schools and colleges, as well as those to instructional support, public service, and research units.
To achieve the reductions, open positions will be collapsed, when possible, and redundant administrative operations between departments will be consolidated. The plan also includes the possible elimination of some underperforming or lower priority programs to preserve higher priority ones. If we are required to meet a base budget reduction of 14% in state appropriations, we will likely have to eliminate some filled and vacant positions. If that becomes necessary, we will keep such reductions to the minimum required and will utilize the furlough plan we shared with you a few weeks ago to mitigate the immediate overall impact. We will take this same approach for our B-unit operations. However, we want to emphasize that these are plans only; final decisions on any budget reductions and furloughs will be determined in the weeks ahead, and we will keep you informed.
Members of the University’s senior leadership team are continuing their diligent work to prepare our campus community for the many challenges that remain before us and to protect our institution to the best of their ability. As we have stated previously, the road ahead will remain challenging and uncertain, but by working together, we will persevere. Thank you for your continued support.