WACO, TX — The Baylor University Board of Regents held it's spring meeting where they passed COVID-19 resolutions for the fall semester as well as approved the 2020-2021 budget.
At its regular spring meeting, the Baylor University Board of Regents approved a $679.9 million annual operating budget for 2020-2021 and passed a resolution supporting the University’s continued commitment to its academic and Christian mission, while prioritizing the health and safety of the Baylor campus community amid the health risks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition, the Board approved new leadership, committee chairs and new Regents and received an update from President Linda A. Livingstone, Ph.D., regarding progress on the Illuminate strategic plan and the Give Light comprehensive fundraising campaign, the guiding principles for reopening campus this fall and other impacts related to COVID-19.
The Board’s resolution expressed appreciation for the faculty, staff and administration for remaining committed to the “spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical development and well-being” of students while moving “quickly and efficiently” to a distance learning model during the spring and summer semesters. The Board also praised Baylor students for their “commitment, resilience and flexibility.”
Adding that the “health and safety needs of the Baylor campus community must remain paramount,” the Board’s resolution authorized President Livingstone and the University’s administration to “take all necessary actions to ensure a return to a safe and educationally fulfilling on-campus environment” in the fall, including:
1. To study, and when appropriate, implement systems for testing for the COVID-19 virus for members of the Baylor community using on-campus facilities;
2. To work with the Baylor University Health Services and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District to establish contact tracing, isolation and quarantine processes for the Baylor campus community;
3. To accommodate in a reasonable and practical manner the health needs of students, faculty and staff who are at-risk for the COVID-19 virus;
4. To study, and if appropriate, implement occupancy limits, sanitation standards, social distancing measures, the application of face coverings and any other government recommended or mandated processes for Baylor facilities and buildings;
5. To study, research and implement academic schedules which, while always consistent with all federal and state medical and health guidance and accreditation standards, provide for enriching and rewarding learning experiences in each class taught at Baylor;
6. To explore creative and innovative measures to preserve Baylor’s time-honored traditions in order to enrich and supplement the University’s educational and residential experience; and
7. To receive and study guidance from athletic conferences, federal and state medical and health officials for the return of intercollegiate athletics for the benefit of the University’s student-athletes and community overall.
“The Board focused much of its discussion on the University’s response and plans related to COVID-19, but it was important to all Regents that we publicly expressed our support and appreciation for the leadership of President Livingstone and the President’s Council, as well as for our faculty, staff and students,” said Board Chair Jerry K. Clements, J.D. ’81. “This is an unprecedented time for all of higher education, and Baylor is not immune to the uncertainty. The Board remains focused on preserving and strengthening the University’s core academic and Christian mission while ensuring the continued health and safety of our campus community.”
The Board of Regents also discussed their plan to reopen campus in the fall.
Baylor has developed a five-phase return to campus plan over the summer for faculty and staff beginning June 1 and articulated its intentions to safely resume on-campus teaching, learning and residential life for the fall 2020 semester. President Livingstone presented five guiding principles as part of the planning process for the upcoming academic year:
· Unwavering duty to Christian mission and values.
· Continued commitment to progress on Illuminate.
· Safe on-campus educational experience.
· Flexible instructional delivery based on social distancing guidance/COVID-19 persistence.
· Preservation of Baylor traditions through creativity.
The President’s Council has established “Project 8.24,” which involves a campus-wide team that is working with the Provost’s Office, Division of Student Life and other groups to develop and evaluate plans and decision timelines for a successful start of the fall semester on Aug. 24. The plans are highly dependent on the continued decline in the number of COVID-19 cases within the greater Waco area, as well as guidance from federal, state and local government and public health officials, the President said.
“We will be preparing for a ‘new normal’ during the fall semester, and we anticipate many adaptations and accommodations in the weeks and months ahead to our normal fall activities and schedule as we face continued challenges from COVID-19,” President Livingstone said. “While we cannot eliminate all risks, we intend to mitigate these risks in every reasonable way we can. Over the summer, we will work diligently to refine our preparations to create a safe, productive educational environment, but above all, the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests must lead our decision-making regarding all activities. These include adapting our classroom and residential life models and on-campus activities, as needed, while continuing to offer the distinct on-campus college experience for which Baylor is known.”
The 2020-2021 operating budget was also approved.
As higher education continues to face significant headwinds – both now and into the future – caused by COVID-19, a recent national survey by higher education research firm SimpsonScarborough found that:
· 40% of incoming freshmen not yet deposited are uncertain they can stay with their first college choice,
· 12% of students already deposited will change plans and not enroll at a four-year school in the fall.
· 52% of students report a parent/guardian lost his or her job, been laid off or furloughed.
· 26% of current students indicated they will not return to their current institution – an increase of 12% in just three weeks.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every sector globally, and for higher education in particular, has created some structural economic challenges that are complex and could be catastrophic for some universities,” Clements said. “The Board has the fiduciary responsibility to provide Baylor’s leadership with strategic guidance and foresight, even in the face of many unknowns and uncertainties, to position the University for long-term success in response to COVID-19 and continuity in fulfilling our core academic purpose and historic Christian mission.”
In mid-April, President Livingstone and the administration outlined three potential budget impact scenarios relating to COVID-19. The “best case” and “moderate case” scenarios correlated to $65 million to $80 million in budgetary actions that would be reflected in the FY20-21 University budget for presentation to the Board. The operating budget approved by the Board today incorporates $73.3 million in budgetary actions encompassing cost avoidances ($18.5 million), cost reductions ($30.3 million) and one-time funding reallocations ($24.5 million) in response to COVID-19. The $679.9 million budget for 2020-2021 is $14.2 million less than last year, or a 2.1% overall decrease.
While taking strategic care to protect the core academic mission of Baylor, these cost avoidance, cost reduction and revenue reallocation strategies impact each major Division’s FY20-21 operating budget by the following percentages:
· Academy: 4.2%
· Student Life 5.7%
· Athletics 8.8%
· Administration and Support Functions 19.7%
· Total 10.4%
“The Board is appreciative of the prudent, thoughtful actions taken by the President and her team during this period of great financial uncertainty,” Clements said. “Baylor’s proactive, aggressive actions in response to COVID-19 early in the semester places the University in a good financial position and provides flexibility for additional actions if needed or for strategic reinvestments should conditions materially improve. The Board will have quarterly budget look-ins throughout the upcoming fiscal year, or more frequent as needed, to ensure Baylor’s ongoing financial stability in response to COVID-19.”
President Livingstone indicated that each University Division will implement specific plans to meet their assigned budget parameters. This will allow each vice president to strategically position their respective units in alignment with Illuminate and the University’s overall objectives, instead of across-the-board cuts that could harm the University’s overall trajectory.
“We understand that these budget actions will affect our faculty and staff in many ways, including the suspension of merit increases until at least January, a reduction in Baylor’s employee retirement contributions, decision that will be reviewed in two years, and a strategic reduction of staffing levels in some parts of the University,” President Livingstone said. “These are certainly difficult decisions, but necessary for the greater University given this time of significant uncertainty and to fulfill our mission and aspirations of becoming a preeminent Christian research university.”
The Board also approved three new graduate degree programs:
· Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders, which addresses a critical need in the field for individuals trained at the Ph.D. level, with future graduates reflecting Baylor’s servant leadership at the highest level of research skill.
· Ph.D. in School Psychology, a five-year full-time program with the fifth year consisting of a yearlong internship that addresses a significant shortage of doctoral-level school psychologists in the United States, whether as faculty in academic and medical universities or licensed psychologists in private practice or in public schools.
· Dual-Track Master of Arts in School Leadership, which will extend Baylor’s preparation of emerging school leaders in public and private schools through a hybrid program of on-campus and online learning in conjunction with Baylor’s Center for Christian Education that will allow leaders to remain in their current professional roles while completing their degree and culminating research project in 18 months.