Members of Clemson leadership team updated the Board of Trustees on Tuesday morning on the University’s response to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. University officials briefed the board about progress in several areas including: online learning; campus operations with social distancing measures in place; possible financial impacts; accommodations for on-campus residents; and the safe return of study abroad students.
President Jim Clements began the meeting by expressing thanks for the hard work of faculty and staff as the University transitioned to online education and modified operations. He commended the team of professionals staffing the Emergency Operations Center for their work in guiding the University’s daily response to this unprecedented situation and reiterated the administration’s priority of the health and safety of the community.
Associate Vice President for Public Safety and Police Chief Greg Mullen provided an update from the EOC, which has been activated daily since Feb. 29. What began with a focus on returning students studying abroad has evolved into management of the effects of the pandemic on all aspects of the University.
Of 386 students who were overseas this semester, 382 have returned safely to the United States with two being given exceptions to remain abroad and two others operating under a shelter-in-place advisory. Currently 407 students remain in on-campus housing, and are supported by limited housing and dining staff engaging in safe social distancing practices.
Chief Mullen emphasized the health and wellness of faculty, staff and students – with a new portal on the Clemson.edu COVID-19 webpage providing resources and tools for mental, emotional and physical health. He closed his report with an update on the ongoing inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE) and following the University’s assessment of at least a 90-day supply for emergency personnel will prepare all surplus supplies for donation to area emergency and healthcare workers.
Provost Bob Jones informed the Board of the successful first week of online learning. Now through six days of online instruction, University platforms and systems are stable and have performed well. The Provost highlighted the preparation of faculty to position the academic units to deliver quality education from day one. He also recognized while a majority of students have adjusted quite well, we know there are some stressful situations for a variety of factors for some of our students.
Faculty and academic staff continue to reach out to students to ensure they remain engaged with their education, with many instructors providing personalized attention to coping and wellness, including flexibility and care for the students. We’ve also encouraged more flexibility for exemption from final exams and extended the deadline to add/drop classes.
Vice President for External Affairs Angie Leidinger provided a legislative update, including details of federal stimulus bills and regulatory relief. The South Carolina General Assembly continues to evaluate the situation and has adjusted its legislative schedule, and the University has been in constant contact with the Governor’s office in regard to the executive orders and their impacts on higher education, our extension offices and PSA.
In the final administrative update, Executive Vice President for Finance and Operations Tony Wagner reported initial estimates on unplanned costs to the University due to COVID-19. Wagner and the finance and operations team estimate approximately $20 million in lost revenue due to the situation, with a majority coming from $15.6M in housing, dining and parking rebates if the University were to issue refunds. The University continues to work with the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education to address the issue of unused fees and a decision and details are expected soon.
Wagner informed the Board of the exceptional work by faculty and staff in keeping number of employees on campus to a minimum. He also said the University continues to monitor all construction projects and is working with contractors to ensure safety for those workers. He reported no changes to timelines of ongoing projects at this time.
Chairman Smyth McKissick closed the public portion of the meeting by expressing thanks to the faculty, staff and administration for delivering the educational content online, and for keeping Clemson on track to continue to fulfil its mission for the people of South Carolina into the future.
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