The response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to demand real-time decision-making balanced with careful long-term operational and financial planning. To that end, the University of Minnesota Board of Regents assembled via videoconference today for its third special meeting this month to continue to provide effective oversight and set the direction for the University’s future.
“The unpredictability of the pandemic, and the challenges we face as a leading research, teaching and outreach institution, make this a critical moment in the University’s nearly 170-year history. Difficult decisions lie ahead, but so do strategic opportunities,” said Board Chair Ken Powell. “We must approach our future in a thoughtful, measured and principled manner. The work we’re doing now will provide a roadmap for the Board, President Joan Gabel and University leaders as we work to do what’s best for the University community and all Minnesotans.”
The basis for the roadmap is a set of guiding principles for how the University will plan and make decisions in its continued response to COVID-19 and as the institution and state begin to recover from this pandemic. President Joan Gabel recommended language for Board deliberation, which led to final, Board-approved principles that prioritize safety, health and wellness; the continuity of academic, research and outreach excellence; maintaining the University’s workforce; and fiscal stewardship; among others.
The principles will also guide pandemic response administrative working groups — one focused on mission delivery and another focused on budget, HR and operations — that Gabel charged recently to forward recommendations for consideration by early summer.
“Based first and foremost on the safety, health and wellness of our University family, we’ve made many decisions to remain in front of the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic and manage the short- and long-term institutional risks that are emerging in the very dynamic environment,” said Gabel. “We know we will face more decisions, many of them quite significant. With the Board’s approval today, our recommendations and actions will be shaped by distinct guiding principles to ensure the University emerges well from our COVID-19 response and recovery.”
Tuition Freeze and Other Budget Assumptions
As one step toward developing the University’s FY21 budget, the Board approved Gabel’s request to freeze tuition for undergraduate, graduate and professional students during the next school year. This action includes all new and returning students systemwide with the exception of those in the Medical School, the School of Dentistry and three professional masters degrees in the College of Science and Engineering on the Twin Cities campus.
In advance of the Board’s May meeting, during which it will review and provide feedback to Gabel’s full recommended operating budget, University leaders presented additional context around how they are building recommendations based on the best-, moderate- and severe-case financial forecasts that were presented to the Board on April 7.
President Gabel said she intends to recommend a balanced operating budget, based on a scenario where the University returns to more regular operations, including in-person classroom instruction, by the start of the Fall 2020 semester. The proposed budget would be the base from which contingency plans are developed in case the University needs to extend reduced operations beyond the start of the fall semester.
Incoming Students, Summer Term
Executive Vice President and Provost Rachel Croson and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Bob McMaster updated the Board on the University’s efforts to engage with prospective and incoming students and their families. In light of the pandemic, necessary steps to continue sharing information and secure the strongest possible incoming class have included transitioning recruitment visits and activities to new, virtual formats, and moving campus tours to exclusively online offerings.
Incoming freshmen and transfer student confirmations for all five of the system’s campuses were also reported today. Incoming first-year student numbers were down year over year by approximately seven percent, or roughly 500 students, as of last week. Transfer student numbers were about 70 students behind 2019. Croson and McMaster cautioned that these numbers are subject to change and are expected to shift, adding to the unpredictable nature of pandemic-related planning.
To strengthen summer enrollment, the University is focused on providing high-quality teaching in alternative formats, including increased capacity for in-demand courses to assist students with their academic progress and a new batch of topical courses that are relevant to the current state of the world.
The Board also:
- Reviewed a resolution to allow University of Minnesota Physicians (UMP) to defer transfer of clinical revenues to the Medical School for up to one year. Each year, UMP transfers approximately $78 million in clinical revenue to the Medical School. The Board is expected to act at an upcoming meeting on deferment of up to $5 million in transfers in light of UMP’s financial needs resulting from the short-term cancellation of all elective and non-essential procedures under the state’s “Stay at Home” order. Such cancellations have been common across the health care sector during the pandemic.
- Approved a new athletic medicine suite for student-athletes, which the Board’s Finance and Operations Committee had recommended as a Capital Budget Amendment in March. The project was planned prior to the onset of the pandemic and will use privately donated funds given exclusively for this project and that cannot be used to address the University’s pandemic-related budget challenges.
The Board of Regents’ next regularly scheduled meeting is on May 7-8, 2020. Visit regents.umn.edu for more information.
- Campus Affairs