It feels like everything that we do at the moment is influenced by, or even determined by COVID-19. It is also true to say that our first concern remains the health, safety, and well-being of our community: our students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. Over the last several weeks, since we began planning how to continue our college business in the face of Governor Cuomo’s "New York State on PAUSE" executive order, we have been focused on a number of objectives that, in one way or another, all arise from that first concern.
In compliance with the Clery Act, as well as state and local health department guidelines, we plan to communicate to the entire campus through email when or if a member of our college community tests positive for COVID-19 and has been on campus within 14 days of experiencing symptoms.
We are currently aware of members of our community who have exhibited COVID-19 symptoms and are undergoing self-quarantine. Some of these individuals may have even been told by a physician that they likely have COVID-19. Our thoughts and well-wishes are with these individuals and their families. It is important to note that these cases are not considered to be official without a positive test, which is why there has been no formal communication about them. Our comprehensive protocol for individuals who report symptoms or have been in contact with an individual with a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 is available on our Coronavirus website.
It is extraordinarily important that we continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings if we must be out in public, and report any COVID-19 symptoms you may experience to Human Resources immediately. Thank you for all of your efforts to combat COVID-19.
Most of you are operating from what was once your private space to ensure that the work of the College continues, and I know that you have had plenty of advice, from me and other colleagues, about the importance of looking after yourself while working in this new way.
I know that the Provost wrote to teaching faculty earlier this week, expressing her thanks and appreciation for the extremely hard work of transferring classes away from face-to-face formats to remote learning. I want to add my thanks to hers, and to reiterate that while this isn’t the semester any one of us was planning or hoped for, we appreciate your resilience and focus on student success even in the midst of a global pandemic.
I also want to offer my thanks to the essential employees who remain on campus: we may not see you every day, but we know that you are working hard to keep our facilities going, to ensure our processes remain in place for everything from HR to budget to compliance, and to attend to the management of resources and policies, health and safety, and security. All of us appreciate your efforts, and they do not go unnoticed.
Many individuals have expressed concern over our students’ well-being, and I want to assure you that we are doing all we can to support their learning and living needs. The Provost has convened a subcommittee of the Policy Management Steering Committee to review and suggest temporary modifications to many polices related to satisfactory/unsatisfactory options, withdrawals, incompletes, dismissals, and other areas. As SUNY’s guidance has changed, so has our response. What we are not doing is implementing an across-the-board switch to S/U grades, but what we are planning to do is make temporary adjustments to the S/U guidelines. These will shortly be published, along with a very clear checklist for students to review so that they understand the implications of their choices.
A number of people have asked about resources for student learning or how to support students’ technology needs. We have set up an online concierge service for all students taking online courses, which can be accessed here [https://www.brockport.edu/academics/online/concierge.html]. All students were sent this link last week.
We also have laptops for loan to students, and they can request them by following this link: technology request. Charter is offering free Spectrum broadband and WiFi during the coronavirus outbreak, and we’ve ensured that students know this, too, as well as the number to call (for information, it is 1-844-488-8395).
Many of you are concerned about our students’ housing or food security needs. We are communicating with our students about the credits/refunds to their spring bills if they have moved off campus. We did authorize a number of students in need to remain on campus and they have food options through BASC. We are also in touch with them about food pantries and other support for basic needs. Additionally, we’ve established a Golden Eagle Opportunity Fund. The easiest way to give is through an online contribution at http://alumni.brockport.edu/emergency. Checks can be made out to the Brockport Foundation with “GEOF” written in the memo section, mailed to campus to the attention of VP Mike Andriatch. Every dollar raised will go right to the students in need, and all gifts, no matter the amount, are enormously appreciated by all.
I was sent a link to a think piece by Eric Meade and Kurt Wilson called “Beyond COVID: Global, Community, and Individual Planning Beyond the Pandemic.” In it, three principles were outlined:
- Fund the essentials
- Invest in relationships
- Use your skills to help people
As we navigate these changed times, each of these principles will be important for us individually and collectively. I’ve been so amazed and gratified to see how our community has come together to help people, from our SUNY quarantine students to our wider community—everything from donating equipment to making face masks to helping out in food pantries or other ways.
A special shout out goes to the Department of Nursing. Dr. Elizabeth Heavey is providing epidemiology consultation support for pandemic curve modeling for Monroe County's emergency response team. She and a group of the Family Nurse Practitioner students, as well as an RN to BSN student, have also completed the county nurse responder training and will staff the Department of Health's community resource vans. At this phase of the response, they will travel to patients’ homes to provide home assessments and mandatory isolation orders for patients with COVID-19 and testing for high risk contacts. I would like to recognize the following SUNY Brockport nurses for their willingness to share their time and talent in this critical community response team: Geoff Galdun, Matt Privett, Amy Mayfield, Wes Fingar, Lisa Grolling, Aishia Wall, and Bryan Spong. Twenty-seven senior students from both the traditional and accelerated nursing programs and faculty member Emily Blackburn have also volunteered to assist the Monroe County Office of Emergency Management in its response to the Covid-19 crisis.
There are many other examples that I haven’t listed. I want to thank you all for all that you are doing to invest in people and use your skills to help.
Another impact that the COVID-19 will have on the campus is in relation to the budget for next year, and likely beyond. On the national side, I would like to thank our elected officials (in particular, Senator Schumer, as well as Senator Gillibrand and Congressman Morelle) for working to include $14 billion in relief for institutes of higher education in the third stimulus package enacted by the federal government. While that won’t cover the entirety of the losses Brockport incurred due to COVID-19, it is helpful, and we will continue to advocate for higher education funding in any future stimulus packages.
I’m also pleased to report that Governor Cuomo and the Legislature agreed on a budget that for SUNY was similar to last year, with State Operated campuses like Brockport receiving the same allocations as in the prior fiscal year in direct tax support and in critical maintenance/construction. This is positive news, in that the enacted budget contains much of what SUNY had been advocating for, including in relation to capital dollars for renovations across SUNY, which are desperately needed. The caveat is that the Governor has expanded authority which allows for the potential adjustment and reductions to appropriation levels and State spending through the entirety of the fiscal year, including Direct State Tax Support upon either a shortfall in State tax receipts, higher than expected State spending, or various issues related to the current COVID-19 pandemic. We must be prepared for changes during the year.
SUNY is issuing guidance to campuses regarding our future budget planning and over the next month, we will be required to do complete scenario planning that looks at potential cuts to state appropriations. In preparation for this, Cabinet has agreed to a series of short-term financial controls, and will be working with the Joint Planning and Budget Committee on longer term planning. I have already referenced some of these financial controls in an earlier video message to campus, but I want to outline them again here:
- Elimination of all non-essential travel through increased usage of video and audio conferencing
- No catered meetings, including through Fall 2020
- No overtime
- 90 day hold on non-critical “Open Positions” and cabinet level review of all positions
- Utilizing existing inventories of office and printing supplies—no new purchases
- Utilizing existing inventories of maintenance supplies and materials
- 25% reduction in energy costs by adjusting building set points (Temperature Control)
- Critical, mandatory, and safety related maintenance only
Limited “new equipment” purchases and no new printer purchases (in preparation for Managed Print Services protocols)
- Delaying where possible computer equipment replacement
- VP approval required for all purchases
- Shut down on the use of P-cards
SUNY’s message is clear: Moderate spending, especially in this uncertain time when we do not know how many students will be returning in the fall, or joining us for the first time.
Part of what JPBC and Cabinet already agreed upon was a roll out of zero-based budgeting in most areas on campus, and this work is ongoing. We also previously agreed on reviews of reserves and rollovers, and this will be crucial for the rest of this year and likely beyond. Longer term measures will be explored with JPBC, including prioritization of strategic and operational needs, right-sizing facilities and improving space utilization, establishing work process improvements and better “digital workflows,” and working with SUNY on appropriate shared services.
While none of this is easy, we do know that SUNY Brockport has withstood difficult financial times previously, and we have collectively agreed ways forward, like we did in 2015-16 when we took $3 million out of our budgets. The hard work we did then helped us to achieve better financial reserves; these reserves will help us weather immediate issues now. Further information will be available as we continue this hard but important work.
Despite all the upheavals and changes brought about COVID-19, we have made significant progress on our EDI planning and activities. While the pandemic has affected the mode of what we do, it has had no impact on our commitment to EDI work.
For example, the Student Advisory Board has been convened, and is working virtually for the rest of the semester. It will reconvene in-person work this fall. Cabinet is undertaking weekly EDI training, and is implementing plans to embed EDI considerations more intentionally into every policy decision (an example being the way any policy decisions related to COVID-19 have been considered through EDI impact and lens and the inclusion of PCDI membership on the policy subcommittee).
Dr. King is remaining engaged with campus (albeit remotely). He continues to be part of Cabinet, and he is also meeting virtually with other groups and individuals.
Plans are underway for additional programming, events, and training when we come back together as a community in the fall. Next week I will share a longer progress report with campus regarding our commitment to EDI.
In the midst of all that has changed, some things remain the same: our students, faculty, and staff are accomplishing extraordinary things. For example, Dr. Markus Hoffmann, Professor and Chair of Chemistry and Biochemistry, was awarded a $116,201 NSF grant. Coach Don Murray will be honored this summer with the Morrie Silver Award from the Rochester Press-Radio Club. The award recognizes an individual who makes an impact in both the local sports and charity scene. Ms. Kathryn Warren, our First Year Experience Coordinator, has received the NODA Association for Orientation Transition and Retention in Higher Education Outstanding New OTR Professional Award. Kathryn’s work on pushing the Orientation program forward, focusing on inclusivity and sustainability, accompanied with her work on the Community Reading program and campus partnerships, was recognized as innovative, collaborative and transformative.
Our academic programs continue to be ranked highly. Our Master of Science in Education: Physical Education/Teacher Education was ranked 18th in the nation by Online U, and our online physical education programs ranked 15th in the nation by STEPS: Student Training and Education in Public Service website. Our Alcohol and Substance Abuse Studies major was ranked the third most affordable Bachelor’s Degree in Addiction Studies by Great Value Colleges. And these are just some of the recent awards and rankings received.
Finally, I hope you have found value in the weekly videos that College Communications is putting together to serve our community during our New York State PAUSE, featuring our Brockport faculty and staff experts. I’m grateful to everyone who has said yes to being involved. At a time when we are physically apart—and sadly we have had to cancel or postpone all campus events through the end of July—it is that much more important that we find ways to try to stay connected.
As ever, I am honored to serve as your president. Thank you for all that you do to Build a Better Brockport.