Board of Trustees discussed COVID, racial equality and budgetary measures to be implemented the fall 2020 semester


Sarah Michels

The Board of Trustees of UK met again on Friday to discuss academic and student affairs, the 2020-21 budget and details of this fall’s restart plan. 

The Academic and Student Affairs Committee meeting included discussion of the university’s responses to COVID-19 and the recent Black Lives Matter protests.  

First, SGA’s current and incoming presidents, Michael Hamilton and Courtney Wheeler, respectively, talked about what student government has done and is planning on doing to address these issues. 

In terms of the coronavirus, Hamilton said that while typically SGA offers limited summer services, they decided to begin offering legal services and childcare dependent grants year-round, as well as reopening Wildcat Wardrobe for online custom orders starting June 1. 

They also held a mask design contest, the winners of which will have their designs printed on the masks distributed to students in August. 

Wheeler spoke of the need to create a welcoming environment and listen to students or color in light of recent protests surrounding racial injustice and inequality. 

“I can’t best advocate for students unless I know all students’ perspectives and stories,” she said. “I have to listen, I have to trust these students, and I have to continue to advocate for them.” 

Provost David Blackwell said that UK will address both COVID and racial justice concerns on campus in the fall semester.

“Our students want something very simple; they want to feel safe on campus. And that’s not just physical safety, that’s emotional safety. That’s a climate where they can learn and grow,” he said. 

The committee laid out Phase 1 of a multiple-phase plan to make UK “a more perfect version of itself” in regards to racial equity and equality. 

Phase 1 consists of initiatives in five areas: talent, organizational responsibility, culture, policies and programming, research, and facilities and finances.

Initiatives to be implemented immediately or in July include: 

  • Expansion of employee recruitment and retention program
  • Creation of a student advisory board that creates another space for conversation and feedback concerning race at UK. 
  • Beginning of the Percent for Art Fund, a commitment by UK to use 1% of all capital projects over $5 million to buy diverse, multi-cultural art to be displayed inside or outside the building. Dr. Turner said the idea is to not only remove potentially offensive art from campus, but to add and build something too. 

Initiatives to be implemented by August or September include: 

  • diversity and inclusion training, similar to AlcoholEDU and sexual assault training modules, for all students by August 2020. Holds will be placed on students’ accounts until the training is completed. 
  • A rewritten UK101 diversity and inclusion module plus training for teachers 
  • Expansion and development of college and academic unit Diversity & Inclusion officers 
  • creation of a mini-internship program that serves as a pipeline for students considering a career in higher-education
  • establishment of Principles of Community Committee that evaluates the university creed and student code of conduct. This initiative is designed to create standards by which community members are able to hold each other accountable in terms of what it means to be a Wildcat and a member of a civic society, Dr. Kirsten Turner said. This panel is a direct response to the recent incident of an incoming UK student using racial epithets online. 
  • Creation of student gathering spaces for people of color outside of the MLK Center
  • Expand supplier diversity purchasing program, to use UK’s purchasing power to support businesses owned by minorities. 

Initiatives with December 2020 deadlines include: 

  • cultural proficiency training for all faculty and teaching assistants
  • establishment of UNITE (UNited In True racial Equity) research initiative that recruits researchers and leaders in areas of social and racial justice to work on their research at UK.  
  • Hire a cultural ecologist to audit all campus facilities to understand what they communicate and the culture they reflect to determine if changes need to be made. This is past of a diversity masterplan to be overlaid on the physical master plan. 

Committee members emphasized that these initiatives are only the first of several phases to come, and that they are continuing to add to their list. 

“It will touch every part of campus,” Provost David Blackwell said. “There is a moral imperative for us to do these things, but the practical side of it is that it will improve our instruction, our research, our engagement, and our student success.” 

The Finance Committee met next. The main items on their agenda were tuition and mandatory fees increases and budget adjustments caused by COVID-19. 

Undergraduate and graduate in-state and out-of-state students will incur a 1% and 2% increase in tuition, respectively, during the 2020-21 school year. Chief Budget Officer Angela Martin said that this is the lowest residential tuition increase in more than 35 years. 

An increase in one of the mandatory fees, the Greek fee, was discussed at length. The fee, which is paid by the 30% of the student body which belong to a sorority or fraternity, was raised from $12.23 per semester to $65 for larger chapters and $30 for smaller chapters for the 2020-21 school year. 

The fee, only applicable to new chapter members, will be used to provide risk reduction training and leadership education. 

Outgoing SGA President Michael Hamilton said many students were caught by surprise at this increase, and called members of the Finance Committee to include more student dialogue about increases such as these in the future. 

The future year is largely uncertain due to a lack of understanding of how COVID will impact the university. The committee outlined a budget accounting for a decrease in enrollment and revenue and an increase in expenses. 

Overall, the budget increased about 5% to $4.4 billion. Much of that consists of designated or restricted funds, money mandated to be spent on certain projects or areas by the state. 

The undesignated general fund, however, includes money available to be spent on things like capital improvements, basic student services and new programs.

After accounting for the tuition increase, there was a $72.3 million shortfall in this fund, caused by estimated decreases in enrollment and investment income, as well as increases in scholarship funds, minimum wages and strategic investments, for example. 

UK committed earlier this year to raise their minimum wage to $12.50 for all employees, and said they would stick by that promise.

Some of the measures that UK is taking to balance the budget include:

  • Forgoing the annual increase in capital renewal investment, typically $1 million a year
  • Decreasing college incentive funds from $5.3 million to $2.3 million
  • Reducing the scholarship budget, in light of a smaller than originally anticipated freshman class, from an expected 5,700 to 4,500 first-time freshmen. 
  • Implementing a 10% budget reduction in each area of undesignated general funds: president, provost, executive vice president for finance and administration (EVPFA), research and university-wide. 

UK allocated $8.1 million of its contingency fund for the 2020-21 school year, over half of which is being used to avoid reductions in force. The contingency fund currently stands at $14.5 million, enough to withstand a 5% state reduction, Martin said. 

She said that the expected state reduction is around 1% this year, and that much of UK’s future plans will be determined by that budget cut to the university by the Commonwealth.

Eric Monday, executive vice president for finance and administration, said that in addition to these budget adjustments, $4 million additional expenditures were devoted to COVID-related purchases, including 30,000 wellness kits for students stocked with masks, a thermometer and hand sanitizer, and development of screening and contact tracing technologies. 

The full Board of Trustees meeting also discussed these COVID measures, emphasizing that UK was still “1,000 feet off the ground” and things could change. 

Monday said UK has purchased 80,000 masks to be distributed to every student, faculty and staff member, whether they live on or off-campus.

In addition to this, students will be required to complete daily screening using smartphone technology. Students will answer a series of questions curated by the CDC, and either get a green check or red X which will determine whether they will be allowed to attend class or need to contact UK Healthcare about their symptoms. 

“We are going to test every single student within a week or so of their return to campus,” Monday said. 

For those who choose to eat in the dining halls, there will be reduced seating, no self-serve stations and pre-packed food options available. 

Classrooms will range from 20 to 50% capacity, depending on the ability for students to keep a 6-foot social distance in the space. Areas not typically used as classrooms, such as the Student Center Ballroom, will be converted to a teaching area.

For those students who do not feel comfortable attending in-person classes or have COVID symptoms, 90% of classrooms will have recording technology installed, Monday said. 

“If we adhere to time-tested public health practices, like physical distancing—not social distancing—handwashing, mask-wearing, we can limit the spread of the disease,” President Eli Capilouto said. “When we do this, we selflessly keep others healthy while keeping ourselves healthy.”