COVID-19 Impact and Outlook: Advancing Our Strong UD Community
April 27, 2020
A message from President Dennis Assanis
Editor's note: President Dennis Assanis sent this message to the University community on April 27.
Dear UD Community,
I want you to know how much all of us at the University of Delaware sincerely appreciate everything you have done to demonstrate responsiveness, resilience, positivity and inspiration in overcoming significant challenges over the past several weeks. COVID-19 has made an impact far beyond what any of us could ever have imagined, and that impact continues to evolve. In spite of the uncertain trajectory of this crisis, all of you – our inspiring students, our talented faculty, and our dedicated staff – have persevered to remind the world that our UD community, grounded in values with an unwavering focus on student success, is unstoppable.
This pandemic has brought inevitable and abrupt change to our community. Overnight, our homes have become places of work, research and study. Many of you are juggling competing priorities and responsibilities with your daily lives. The situational nature of working remotely has required flexibility to innovate and adapt to different approaches for research, instruction and learning. Truly, we are in awe of all of you and the efforts you have demonstrated to redefine the word community – bringing UD together as we support one another’s health and wellbeing while driving progress with commitment, patience, and integrity. On top of this adaptive resilience, several members of our community have also shown inspiring compassion in other ways, offering assistance to health care workers and first responders with research expertise and the donation and fabrication of personal protective materials and equipment.
As we continue to advance our shared mission of academic excellence and student success, we do so in the face of an unprecedented public health crisis that is causing significant economic strain on our nation and the entire world. In navigating the pandemic and its effects, we remain true to our values and guide our decisions by the following principles:
- Caring for Our People: We will prioritize the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as the greater Delaware community. The welfare of our people remains vital to our success, and we will do everything possible to support the wellbeing of our inclusive community and maintain workforce continuity through this unprecedented public health emergency.
- Cultivating Academic Excellence and Enrichment: As a world-class institution, we will continue to ensure that teaching, research, scholarship and service thrive as cornerstones of human and intellectual development, today and in the future. As student success is our priority, we will maintain academic continuity, even during crisis, via alternative course delivery formats as necessary. We are committed to resuming campus life and normal operations as soon as it is safe to do so.
- Invigorating Our Mission for Positive Change: We will continue to fulfill our mission and create value-driven opportunities to make a positive impact on society through scholarly endeavors, innovative research, creative learning, community engagement, and operational excellence. As a community of idea giants, our faculty, students and staff are bold and resilient, and will always seek ways to remain agile and persevere through challenge with efficiency and innovation.
As you know, we have taken drastic measures to protect our community in accordance with science, public health experts’ guidance and state and federal laws. Our actions have included the sudden evacuation of all campus facilities and laboratories, the unprecedented disruption of our community events and activities, the extremely rapid transformation of our instructional model from face-to-face to online delivery, and the overnight transition to working remotely from home. The actions we have taken to safely support academic and operational continuity, of course, have substantial financial consequences. For the spring semester, the unforeseen impact to our campus budget has been more than $65 million. This includes: (i) increased costs associated with the online conversion and operation; (ii) reduced revenue from international student tuition due to travel restrictions, refunds to students for a prorated portion of housing, dining and other fees, prorated parking refunds, canceled events and athletic programs, and hotel and conference operations; and (iii) wages associated with temporary and part-time staff and students in an effort to enable continuity of pay through May 31.
Through deliberate cost-mitigation strategies and a $6 million allocation from federal stimulus funds under the CARES Act to offset institutional losses, we have been able to contain our budget impact to approximately $50 million. An additional $6 million from the CARES Act stimulus funds will be granted directly to students, supplemented by other University efforts to alleviate students’ financial burden (e.g., emergency institutional grants, creation of donor funds, etc.). Note that these mitigation efforts do not account for additional losses in our research budget, as well as the negative impact on productivity, caused by the lack of access to laboratories, fields and offices during this time. We have also been faced with unforeseen challenges to our fundraising and development efforts, which have halted campus planning efforts on several levels. This impact is even more significant when coupled with the fact that the valuation of the perpetual endowment portfolio of the University has decreased due to the variable and recently declining market conditions. Our endowment, while a robust and valued resource of support for operational continuity, remains highly restricted according to donor intent. We hold it in trust for the benefit of the current generation as well as future generations of UD students, faculty and staff.
The imperative to preserve our core academic mission will require greater fiscal prudence in the days ahead. In accordance with our principles, and to position the University for success as we manage the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, we will need to implement the following efficiency measures, which are effective immediately and will remain in place until further notice:
Hiring Freeze – As communicated by UD Human Resources on April 14, a hiring freeze is in place on all current and future academic and non-academic searches. Limited exceptions may be appropriate in strategic areas, with endorsement of the Provost or the Executive Vice President as appropriate, and approval of the President.
Capital Projects – All campus projects already under construction will continue, including the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center, Whitney Athletics Center, Worrilow Hall, and Warner Hall. Existing capital projects in the planning and design phases will be reevaluated to determine whether they should proceed or be deferred, and no new capital projects will be approved. Exceptions will be made for projects funded primarily through external funds that also support strategic initiatives, including the “FinTech” building on STAR Campus. Deferred maintenance spending will be reduced to an amount necessary only to maintain operations.
Travel Ban – All University travel is currently suspended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. When safe travel can resume, only essential travel will be permitted, including essential academic travel, travel on sponsored research funds, travel funded entirely by outside entities and travel necessary to deliver instruction or outreach programs or to conduct vital University activities or business.
Discretionary Spending – All expenditures that are not critical to University operations are suspended immediately. This includes food/meals, events, memberships, hiring of outside consultants, contracts, and purchase of equipment, among other categories. Essential expenditures that directly support the mission of the University will require approval of the Provost or Executive Vice President.
Staff Realignment – All departments have been asked to evaluate work capacity among staff to ensure efficient use of resources. As we strive to maintain our current workforce, our goal is to identify solutions for sustained and engaged application of talent where possible to optimize current resources. Managers should contact Human Resources to explore opportunities for potential staff repurposing and/or job sharing in their department or unit as appropriate.
Ongoing Mitigation Efforts – Through our commitment to advance UD’s educational, research and service missions, we will continue to explore all possible avenues to mitigate challenges and cultivate success.
With a stay-at-home order still in place in Delaware through at least May 15, and the prospect of phased-in re-opening of the states and the nation throughout the summer, significant unknowns remain on all fronts that may impact our financial outlook over the summer and the fall. While we have received an all-time record number of applications for our freshman class and our deposits are currently ahead of where we were at this time last year, we are closely monitoring our incoming and continuing student enrollment numbers, which could be affected by the pandemic. Several other revenue sources, including State funding, federal research grants, philanthropic support and the value of the endowment could be under increased pressure if the pandemic persists over the coming year. As the coronavirus trajectory and enrollment dynamics evolve and their impact can be more clearly projected, we may need to take additional measures for fiscal prudence.
In the immediate term, all in-person summer activities, programs and conferences that were slated to begin prior to Aug. 1 are canceled or will be converted to online offerings; summer classes will continue via distance learning. We will continue to coordinate with State guidance for a phased-in opening so that we can return to normal University operations as soon as safely allowable.
University leadership will continue to assess and implement responsible planning and projection strategies for preserving and enhancing a UD experience that distinguishes our engagement as proud and loyal students, faculty, staff and administrators. We remain cautiously optimistic that we will be in a position to welcome all students on campus this fall, traditionally a true highlight of the year. Of course, we need to stay aligned with what has emerged as the “new normal,” with guidance provided by our State government and public health authorities pertaining to the pandemic. As always, the health and safety of our community remain our top priority. Hence, we are assembling a task force to monitor the situation on an on-going basis and evaluate contingency plans that may need to be considered to inform both prudence and progress for the 2020-21 academic year. I will provide an update on our planning efforts to the UD community when we are more informed, in early June.
While fiscal prudence measures are critical to our stability and success, the University is poised to weather the storm of current challenges facing our nation. As an institution that rests on a history of more than 275 years of evolution, challenge and growth, we will advance toward recovery from a position of solid financial stewardship, record fundraising efforts, progressive research momentum, and collaborative agility to both educate and innovate. To this end, I am very grateful for the partnership, advice and support of our Board of Trustees and University leadership team as we all work together to overcome challenge and achieve success.
Lastly, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the very real and human aspect of the situation we are all experiencing. The health, relationships and connections we all share in our lives – as families, friends, colleagues, teachers, students and fellow community members – are what truly sustain us. We must always recognize this and remember that some people are going through a particularly difficult time right now. I know I speak on behalf of our entire community when I say to those who have been personally affected by this public health crisis through the suffering or loss of a loved one, our hearts go out to you. Please lean on each other to find strength and comfort, and know that UD remains a haven of solace and support.
At times like these, perhaps best described as both disconcerting and unpredictable, we must look to the future. We sincerely appreciate your commitment and flexibility as we navigate the uncertainties and forge our path toward the brighter days ahead that await our vibrant University.
Please stay tuned for more updates to come from me or other members of the UD administration as the coronavirus trajectory continues to evolve, beginning with a virtual General Faculty/Town Hall meeting that I will hold on May 11.
In the meantime, please stay healthy and be safe.
Dennis Assanis, President