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Chancellor Syverud Addresses University Senate in April 22 Zoom Conference
The University Senate meeting on Wednesday, April 22, was held virtually. Chancellor Kent Syverud made brief remarks and referred senators to his written report, submitted in advance. Both his remarks and written report are included below.
Chancellor’s Zoom remarks
Good afternoon. I’m happy to be with all of you today, as we come together in this new set of circumstances. We are all adjusting to the realities of social distancing. This is one of them, and I am grateful to everyone for doing so.
I have read and watched reports submitted by the Senate committees.
I want to thank the Committee on Academic Freedom, Tenure, and Professional Ethics for their careful work this semester with a number of offices, including Academic Affairs, to clarify the policy on background checks for new faculty. I appreciate the careful and thorough manner in which the committee is addressing the needed revisions to Section 4.11 of the Faculty Manual that outlines how we address allegations of faculty misconduct.
I urge you all to familiarize yourselves with the issues in the report of the Senate Committee on Athletic Policy. They are monitoring the NCAA’s actions on the issue of student-athlete compensation for image, name and likeness as well as state-level sports wagering legislation. These issues have the potential to significantly impact the student-athlete experience at Syracuse University and nationally.
And thank you to the Research Committee for their detailed review of and proposed revisions to the policy on centers and institutes. I know that they also contributed to the open access policy that will be brought forward by the ad hoc committee later in today’s agenda.
I appreciate the opportunity to submit a written report in advance, which I hope you have been able to review. I am, therefore, going to be brief with the remainder of my remarks.
The COVID-19 pandemic is an unprecedented situation. Syracuse University and higher education as a whole are dealing with serious challenges that touch nearly every element of how we function. We are responsible for the health and safety of our community. At the same time, we must advance our mission as a university. We need to make decisions quickly; with the best information we have at that time. I am very proud of how our university has responded, from our students to all of you.
As we plan for the months and academic year ahead, it’s easy to say what we don’t know. We don’t know when there will be a vaccine or treatment. We don’t yet know the full effect on the financial markets, the endowment or philanthropy. We don’t yet know the full impact this health emergency will have on our university.
We do know some things. Most important—we have a set of values that guide our decision making through all of this. We know we have to make choices that preserve our financial stability and flexibility in ways that put people first. We know that we will continue to prioritize academic quality and the student experience. We know we are moving ahead with plans to be back on our campus for the fall semester. And we know that we will support our faculty and staff in achieving these goals.
Today, as you bring your questions to me and to the provost, we may not know all of the answers—yet. But we are committed to staying true to the mission of Syracuse University. We will be as transparent as we can. And we will seek advice and counsel through our shared governance bodies, including this one.
Thank you, I’ll take questions after the provost’s report.
Chancellor’s written report submitted to the University Senate
Thank you to the University Senate Agenda Committee for the invitation to submit a written report. I hope that you and your families are safe and healthy. This report will briefly outline what the University has done in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and our current priorities.
Our people are what makes it possible for Syracuse University to navigate these challenging times. I am grateful for all the ways, large and small, that students, faculty, staff and alumni are working together to ensure that we continue to carry out our mission as a student-focused research university. I have also seen extraordinary examples of how individuals are engaging with the campus and broader community. I am humbled by the ingenuity, compassion and resilience of the people who make up Syracuse University.
Throughout the public health emergency, we have been framing our decisions around a core set of values and requirements. These are:
- the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff and the broader community;
- stewarding the University’s financial stability over the short and long term;
- enabling students’ academic progress while helping them address challenges;
- ensuring that our faculty and that staff receive appropriate support;
- appropriately and safely honoring the achievement of our 2020 graduates; and
- planning for Fall 2020 and beyond with a safe and responsible approach.
Health and Well-Being
Since the global pandemic began, the health and well-being of our community has been our priority. We took swift action to respond to the situation and stay ahead of the virus to the best of our ability. This included bringing back more than 1,000 students from study abroad, facilitating our students moving out of the residence halls, and moving more than 700 students to individual apartments on South Campus to support social distancing. We have also been able to maintain essential services such as dining, health care and counseling. We made the decision to refund prorated room and board fees and quickly set up a process to handle these transactions. We have also supported our international students—particularly those who can’t return home due to travel bans or restrictions. The Center for International Services has been following and communicating changes to visa processes and other concerns that uniquely affect our international students. I thank all those who have diligently been working to support our students and the overall health of our community.
Stewarding the University’s Financial Stability
At the time that I submit this report, you will have likely read the approach that we are taking to strengthen our financial position while caring for our most valuable asset—our people. To date, we have experienced more than $35 million in unexpected expenses and unrealized revenue. Our peer institutions are dealing with similar, and in many cases even more difficult, fiscal circumstances. I can say, however, that the hard work we have put in over the last few years in maintaining a balanced budget and operating within our means positions us better than many of our peers to weather this challenge and emerge in a strong position.
We are taking the following actions to continue our academic mission in the face of the COVID-19 health emergency:
- Senior leadership, including members of the Chancellors Council (including vice chancellors, senior vice presidents and deans) and athletics director and coaches in football, basketball and lacrosse are taking voluntary 10 percent compensation reductions for fiscal year 2021.
- We are instituting a salary freeze for faculty and staff for fiscal year 2021. Employees in bargaining units will receive pay as directed by contracts.
- There will be a temporary hiring freeze for permanent and temporary non-essential staff positions. Replacement and new staff positions deemed mission-critical will be reviewed and approved consistent with our existing hiring practices.
- We are implementing a 5 percent cost reduction across all administrative, academic and auxiliary units in support of our people and our academic mission. Leadership in each unit, working with the administration and budget office, will assess how to achieve these savings.
- All new capital projects are currently on hold, with the exception of those already underway such as the Stadium improvements, projects deemed mission-critical, or those that include regulatory, compliance or safety components.
Through our shared governance structures, we will work with leaders from across the University to implement these changes and consider others as needed.
We are determined to ensure that our students continue to make academic progress, while recognizing that many are facing unique challenges and difficulties in this unprecedented time. We recognize how much work the faculty have been asked to do, and I am deeply appreciative of how smoothly this abrupt transition has been. I hear from the deans about the tremendous effort that our faculty have put in to be available and accessible to students, despite the new realities they are dealing with at home.
At the same time, we are cognizant of the disruption that our students have experienced this semester and the potential impact on their academic performance. Learning online is different for most. The Center for Learning and Student Success, the Writing Center and Academic Support have been providing virtual tutoring and support, as have the schools and colleges. The Libraries has taken numerous steps to ensure that virtual resources and help are available. We also recognize that moving to online instruction is a financial hardship to some students and have been quickly working with financial aid to assist with laptops, internet access and other extraordinary needs. Knowing that a sense of belonging and community are important in student success and retention, we have created a full program of virtual student engagement events and are publicizing them through email, social media and in other communications. Participation in these events has been robust.
Finally, we made the decision early to transition to online instruction for Maymester and Summer Sessions to give faculty and students time to adjust plans and prepare.
Faculty and Staff Support
I am grateful to our faculty and staff who have been on the front lines of this disruption. The interim provost’s report details some of the things we are doing to recognize the interruption to faculty research, the disruptive effect of going online with regard to course evaluations, and the downstream effects of conference cancellations on scholarly productivity, tenure and promotion.
We have been working to minimize the financial impact of this semester on our faculty and staff, including assisting with reimbursement for canceled conferences and associated travel expenses. We have been working with our benefits providers on support services such as extended telemedicine benefits, instituted an interim sick leave policy, and are providing a parking rebate for the time that faculty and staff are not on campus. We are working with our bargaining units to support essential employees in those units who are required to report to work.
Honoring our 2020 Graduates
One of the hardest things about the pandemic is the loss of in-person interaction for our seniors after spring break, and the loss of other milestones for our graduate students. That’s why we asked for input from these students about their preferences for Commencement. Overwhelmingly, our graduating students voted to hold the ceremony at a later date. We are currently planning to hold an official Commencement this fall once large gatherings are permitted and in compliance with guidance from government and public health officials. In the meantime, we will mark the conferral of degrees on May 10th with a virtual recognition.
Looking Ahead to Fall 2020
We are cautiously optimistic that residential instruction will resume for the Fall 2020 semester. There are several teams exploring and developing a number of scenarios for a return to campus, realizing we will likely have to do things differently than we have in the past. This may include new practices for how we interact in classrooms, labs, residence halls and other spaces on campus. It may require approaching social and community gatherings differently. We are developing various scenarios that can accommodate public health requirements while also facilitating our return to campus. As always, we will follow the guidance and direction of local and state health officials, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in all of our decisions. However, we are committed to returning learning to campus as quickly and safely as possible.
Thank you, and I look forward to speaking with you in our virtual meeting on April 22.