Board of trustees gets COVID-19 update at winter meeting

The UO emblem on Dads Gate

When the University of Oregon Board of Trustees convened for its winter meetings earlier this week to discuss a guaranteed tuition plan and conduct other business, the outbreak of COVID-19 was a common thread running throughout.

“We are in an extraordinary moment for our world, nation and university,” President Michael H. Schill said at the outset. “It is an unprecedented challenge for all of us. It has also brought out the best in all of us.”

Many UO employees across campus are working around the clock to deal with rapidly changing situations, Schill noted, with the health and safety of students, staff, faculty and broader community being the top priority.

Provost Patrick Phillips added that university administrators and faculty members are working closely and collaboratively to put in place best practices for remote learning.

“We’ve been planning for this for months, with the intensity of the response ramping up as the situation became clear that we needed to act,” Phillips said.

Campus Planning and Facilities Management has hired temporary staff to increase cleaning around campus, the board learned from Chief Resilience Officer Andre Le Duc. Safety and Risk Services staff are also closely looking at all aspects of university operations that already are or potentially will be affected by the new coronarvirus that causes COVID-19, including academic continuity, the health center, residence halls, student support, finances, security and more.

Faculty members have made a big push to be prepared for conducting classes through spring term. The provost has asked faculty members to connect with students frequently and often before the term starts.

“As you can tell, there’s a lot in motion,” Le Duc said. “We’re working with a lot of different people at a very fast pace.”

Trustees expressed gratitude for the hard work of many on the UO campus to make this work happen and asked several questions to better understand the university’s response with regard to employee practices, including those affecting student workers, communicating with students and families, and being prepared to make important decisions as the situation continues to unfold.

The board also spent a considerable amount of time discussing Schill’s recommendation on a guaranteed tuition plan for current and prospective students.

Trustee Marcia Aaron noted that it was important for the board to continue its work focusing on the long-term health of the intuition, even amid all the more immediate work before the institution resulting from the coronavirus.

One key element of discussion at the meeting was the risk associated with such a program, particularly with so much financial uncertainty.

“We’re taking the risk away from the students and putting it on the school,” Schill said. “Particularly in this environment, the benefits of a program like guaranteed tuition go up demonstrably.”

Jamie Moffitt, vice president for finance and administration; Roger Thompson, vice president for student services and enrollment; and Kevin Marbury, vice president for student life, shared with the board the budget landscape facing the university, along with numerous steps and research the university has undertaken regarding the guaranteed tuition plan.

“In a time of tremendous uncertainty, I think guaranteed tuition brings students and families great certainty,” Thompson said.

In other business, David Conover, vice president for research and innovation, and Bill Cresko, professor and executive director of the Data Science Initiative, presented to the Academic and Student Affairs Committee the various collaborations between the UO and Oregon Health & Science University, which have ramped up over the past two years. That includes the Joint Center for Biomedical Data Science, an initiative between the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact and OHSU’s Knight Cancer Institute.

“That’s an idea that came out of organic conversations that have happened over the years,” Cresko said.

The joint center is in the midst of an executive director search, and matching $10 million gifts from Tim and Mary Boyle to the UO and OHSU have played key roles in speeding its progress.

In addition, the Academic and Student Affairs Committee learned about a plan that would give prospective undergraduate students the option to forgo submitting standardized test scores with their applications to the university, with certain exceptions. The move could help improve diversity among campus undergraduates, increase the pool of qualified applicants, grow enrollment and, importantly, address issues of equity in admissions.

Marbury also brought the committee up to speed on the university’s progress in reaching student success goals. The metrics look at a set of key indicators from five key domains: positive experience, well educated, socially responsible, career readiness and, ultimately, graduation.

“We’re not focusing on new initiatives but redefining what people are already doing,” Marbury said. The main effort has been determining the availability of data for the various subcategories staff want to monitor.

Committee Chair Mary Wilcox thanked the student success panel for its work bringing forward tangible ways to measure the institution’s efforts in this goal.

The Academic and Student Affairs Committee also received an update from College of Education Dean Randy Kamphaus and Assistant Dean Dianna Carrizales-Engelmann on initiatives within the college to increase diversity among its students that will also contribute to diversity within the field.

Paul Timmins, executive director of the UO Career Center, briefed the committee on efforts to improve the job placement among graduates by implementing plans throughout students’ time on campus and with multiple access points available to them.

“We need to get students thinking about career readiness early and often,” Timmins said.

Jim Brooks, associate vice president and director of financial aid, and Grant Schoonover, director of the PathwayOregon program, gave the committee an overview of the innovative program, which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. The program covers tuition and fees for qualified in-state residents and currently supports 2,488 students.

Moffitt and Jeff Schumacher, director of treasury operations, updated the Facilities and Finance Committee on the university’s financial position. The projected deficit of $10.4 million has not changed from the previous quarter but does not yet incorporate any effects from COVID-19.

The university will look at refinancing debt in the current low-interest rate environment, Moffitt and Schumacher also told the committee. A bond sale to finance the first phase of the housing transformation project was successful and believed to be one of the last to get completed before the financial markets seized up as the coronavirus spread the previous week, Schumacher said.

Without dissent, the committee and board approved a project for a new video board at Autzen Stadium and the amendment of an existing multimedia agreement.

The board also voted to award an honorary degree to James Ivory, a native Oregonian and alumnus. Ivory has distinguished himself in the world of cinema, having won an Academy Award among other accolades.

Materials from this week’s meeting are available on the trustees’ website.

By Jim Murez, University Communications