December 18, 2020
December virtual town hall follow-up
Dear faculty and staff,
On Dec. 11, as we wrapped up this fall semester unlike any other, we hosted more than 800 faculty and staff in our last virtual town hall of 2020. If you missed this live event, a recording of the session is available. These town halls are extremely important, providing an opportunity to come together as a community to discuss and reflect on matters impacting all of us. While these town halls were held this fall in lieu of our annual fall K-State 2025 college and unit visits, we are committed to continuing them throughout the spring semester.
During this session, updates were shared on COVID-19 and the budget and use of SPARK funding to respond to some of the impacts of the pandemic on our university. Key priorities for this academic year were also discussed, including a continued fierce focus on enrollment, our tuition and fee structure, academic planning for the spring, summer, and fall, and diversity and inclusion plans. We also shared our appreciation for the K-State community. We are grateful and amazed by the resilience, innovation, commitment, and hard work shown by all of you that allowed us to meet our mission of teaching, research, and service during this very difficult year.
We also learned some lessons from this session — or relearned them. We need to leave more time for questions. As happened in our October meeting, we did not have time to answer all of the questions raised during the session. This letter includes responses to those questions from members of the town hall panel and others, including Medical Director of Lafene Health Center Kyle Goerl, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Karen Goos, Chief Financial Officer Ethan Erickson, and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Bryan Samuel.
COVID-19 and vaccines
Q. Will K-State try to get access to early vaccines for scientists who work internationally and need to get back to work to minimize the impact of the gap we already had?
A. There will be very clear guidelines on the order of who is to receive the vaccine and when. Health care workers and those living in long-term care are the first, but after that will be essential workers other than health care and then those with health complications and other risk factors.
Q. Will those with autoimmune diseases be more likely to receive a vaccination before the "main population"?
A. Yes, as noted above, there will be very clear guidelines on the order of who is to receive the vaccine and when.
Q. How can we help Lafene convince whoever needs to be convinced about requiring vaccines? Ultimately who decides?
A. Vaccine requirements are carefully considered based upon national guidelines and expert opinion. Locally, input will be taken from Lafene Health Center, K-State administration, and legal counsel. This decision will not be taken lightly, and has already been talked about to some degree, but there is no immediate need to make a decision. For now, our focus is determining the vaccine schedule and ensuring we are able to distribute it in a safe and efficient manner.
Q. The focus is on the impact on undergraduate students. What about the impact and support for the other two missions of a land-grant university, research and extension?
A. Our concern is to protect and support all parts of our land-grant mission, and we have developed and championed multiple strategic initiatives designed to do this. Our core mission includes access to quality educational opportunities; impactful research, scholarly activities, and discovery; and engagement with our communities through our extension and community engagement activities. Given our budget situation, however, due in large part to an enrollment decline begun in 2015, we must place great priority on our strategic enrollment management work. If we do not reverse our enrollment decline, we will not have the resources we need to adequately support all parts of our mission.
Q. Was there any mention of the All-University Open House in the spring? Canceled?
A. While we do not anticipate being able to have the traditional open house experience, we are planning to host a virtual open house this spring. We will be sharing more information this spring.
Q. As an academic advisor, one of the biggest needs I see is for students to pursue their degrees part time, fewer than 12 hours a semester. How could this happen? Most of them have to be full time.
A. We encourage students to be full time and require it for a scholarship as we know that students who enroll in at least 15 credit hours each term have the higher end of semester GPAs, higher retention rates, and higher completion rates than those who attend part-time. We do understand some students have extenuating circumstances that would prevent them from attending full time. For these situations, students may complete a scholarship appeal.
Q. The technology grants for students to acquire software and hardware have been a tremendous retention and student success tool. How can we partner with the Foundation to continue these efforts?
A. The Office of Student Financial Assistance has worked to secure additional need-based aid opportunities for returning students from several sources, including the Foundation. These funds can be used for technology or to help cover other temporary financial obstacles students may face. If you would like to refer a student who could benefit from these funds, please submit the referral form. A financial aid counselor will work with the identified student to better understand the need and connect them with the appropriate funds.
Q. Could SPARK funds be allocated directly to students struggling financially?
A. No, however, SPARK funding was used this fall to offer technology scholarships to students in need.
Q. Could SPARK funds be used to help refund furloughed staff/faculty?
A. Unfortunately, SPARK funding could not be used to help refund furloughed staff/faculty. The Foundation did establish the KStateStrong Emergency Response Fund to assist employees experiencing financial hardships as a result of furloughs.
Q. What drove the decision to purchase the Synexis machines? There is considerable predatory marketing in the ad space right now. I have seen claims, but not data. Companies are preying on fear.
A. In late fall 2018, the university started a pilot program with about 10 Synexis units deployed in residence hall rooms, hall lobby, Lafene waiting area, Lafene pharmacy, Edwards Hall office and in athletic locker rooms. The study focused on reducing microbial load over a 30 day period. Baseline swabs in 10 locations were taken in each site and then followed up with swabs on day 7, 14 and day 30. We saw between 70% and 90% reduction in living organisms on the surfaces in these locations over the 30 days. We were targeting mold mitigation but saw reductions across not just mold but with viruses, bacteria and fungi. We involved Environmental Services in our study as well. After this work, we felt confident in deploying more units in all of Lafene waiting areas, athletic locker rooms and in residence hall rooms with known mold challenges. We purchased about 60 units in the summer of 2019 for this deployment.
With the arrival of COVID prior to deploying more widely, we consulted with John Henneman, biocontainment director at BRI, regarding the efficacy and safety of the units. He was confident in using the Synexis system in occupied spaces running continuously and the system would provide significant assistance in killing the COVID-19 virus.
We have deployed units in the following locations: Residence Hall rooms, dining center, Lafene Health Center, Rec Center, Student Union and BRI.
Q. The paid time off, from Dec. 26-Jan. 2, is appreciated, but what about restoring some of the salary reductions or reducing furlough time instead?
A. The paid time off between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2 did not result in any increased costs for the university. No new funds were needed in order to extend this benefit for 12-month employees, who in the past have been required to take earned leave during the time of reduced operations between Christmas and New Year's Day.
Q. Does the application fee actually make a significant budget line? Why not waive it for everyone and forever?
A. The Application Fee finances approximately 32% of the operating budget for the Admissions unit. Eliminating the application fee for all students would result in dramatically reduced recruiting activities for the university and negatively impact future enrollment and tuition revenue production or require revenue centers to pick up the costs.
Q. Tuition and fees we set must be approved by the Kansas Board of Regents. What parameters have they indicated they expect, if any?
A. KBOR has not established any parameters for tuition and fee proposals for fall 2021.
Q. What does course modality enrollment look like for the spring and how will that impact privilege fees?
A. Course modality settings for spring 2021 is similar to fall 2020. This fall, the Campus Privilege Fee committee developed a budget reduction plan for FY 21 utilizing a conservative campus privilege fee revenue projection. We’ll have a clearer picture of spring 2021 enrollment by modality at the census date in February. However, at this time, it is not anticipated that further reductions for FY 21 would be necessary for campus privilege-funded entities.
Q. Tuition changes so far have benefited out-of-state students and hurt in-state students, which is why out-of-state enrollment is up and in-state is down. What is the task force going to do to help in-state students?
A. Out-of-state students have seen slightly larger base tuition rate increases over the past three years. K-State has held tuition rates flat for in-state students over the past two years and increased it 1.1% in FY 2019. There are many factors contributing to the enrollment decline of in-state students at K-State, including affordability. The Tuition and Fees Task Force has been asked to develop recommendations for a tuition and fee structure that addresses total cost of attendance and affordability while ensuring adequate funding to deliver our teaching mission. Increasing recruitment, retention, and student success for Kansas students is a key focus of our universitywide strategic enrollment management work.
Q. What measures are being taken to control expenditures, in particular administrative? We’ve had far fewer administrative positions. including provosts 10 years ago when enrollment was much higher.
A. Controlling costs and expenditures on an ongoing basis is a requirement for the financial health of the university at all times, but has become even more important during this pandemic year and looking beyond. A number of measures have been taken or are being taken this year. Measures to control personnel costs include terminations and layoffs, elimination of vacant positions, salary caps and a hiring freeze (with some exceptions). The expansion of shared administrative services, both centrally with the Administrative Support Center and in the colleges, provides both personnel cost savings as well as efficiencies. Mergers of units with similar functions have also been put in place, such as the merger this summer of the College of Health and Human Sciences Hoeflin Stone House Early Childhood Education Center and Student Life’s Center for Child Development as the Kansas Institute for Early Childhood Education and Research. Moving to a single time and attendance system using consistent timekeeping procedures will bring efficiencies leading to cost savings. Additional measures include energy savings that will result from the decision to close the Natatorium within three years. A priority in the coming year will be to continue to explore opportunities for controlling costs and gaining greater administrative efficiencies through an administrative services benchmarking study, a streamlined procurement process, and controlling technology costs.
Q. Update on naming of interim vice president for research and VPR search?
A. It was announced today that Dr. Beth Montelone, senior associate vice president of research and professor of biology, will be the interim vice president for research.
On Nov. 20, President Myers announced the appointment of a search committee for the vice president for research, which is co-chaired by President Myers and Amit Chakrabarti, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. The announcement and names of the search committee members can be found here. In addition, an executive search firm was engaged to support the search process. The anticipated start date of the new vice president is June 1, 2021.
Q. Update for 2021 plans for university research?
A. An update on university research plans for 2021 will be provided at one of the spring town halls. The Office of the Vice President for Research priorities for 2021 are included in the K-State 2025 Research Fall 2020 Update progress report. They include:
- Finalizing and rolling out the KBOR Economic Prosperity Pillar.
- Continuing to provide excellent training, proposal development, and compliance support for faculty.
- Continuing to provide best-in-class service for research proposal/contract/grant administration.
- Targeting growth areas in federal, industry, and private resources.
- Finishing Facilities and Administrative Costs Task Force report.
- Communicating the value of K-State research to internal and external audiences and aligning with other university messaging.
Diversity, equity and inclusion
Q. Would you say more about Action Step No. 4?
A. The social media policy work group has met several times and has drafted policy language. The team recently shared the draft with the student group who worked on the SGA Code of Conduct review process. The team is reviewing that feedback and will be sharing a revised policy draft with additional stakeholders prior to moving forward with recommending implementation.
Q. Regarding Inclusive Excellence: Is there any research monies available in support of this goal?
A. Currently there are no research monies identified to support Inclusive Excellence. However, we aim to support innovative teaching, scholarship and advising practices; including establishing a community of scholars to advance the university in the creation and promotion of ideas and knowledge on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Accomplishment of this aim will require identifying necessary resources to create systems to recruit, retain and reward faculty and staff who demonstrate Inclusive Excellence.
Q. What steps has the KSU Foundation taken in this unprecedented time to offer new, innovative types of support for the university’s teaching and research missions?
A. Similar to the university, the most important thing the KSU Foundation has done is stay focused on its core mission and committed professionally to maintain continuity of operations and funding during the pandemic. Through prudent management, our endowment remained stable and secure — paying full distribution to campus during the market disruption. Our professional contact activity is at an all-time high; connecting and engaging with donors through virtual and in-person modes. This has been critical in monitoring the economic impact that business interruption and market volatility have had on donors. Continuing to ask for support and staying engaged in their readiness to complete philanthropic gifts as their confidence about the future improves has been critical and we are seeing signs of improvement.
Outside of the typical priority support we generate for students, faculty, facilities and programs, we have secured signature gifts addressing the institution’s current crisis. Just months before the COVID pandemic began, we secured over $5 Million in cash gifts to fund nearly all of the strategic enrollment management priority programs. Early in the pandemic we engaged several donors and raised $500K to support staff impacted by the emergency furloughs. Additionally, we secured several million dollars in new bridge grant money and need-based aid to help the institution combat enrollment decline and stabilize tuition revenue losses. In addition to addressing these crisis circumstance funding requests from campus, we secured enough gifts to finish the Morris Family Multicultural Student Center, McCain projects and many other projects that have been underway. This fall semester was a tremendous undertaking.
We are thankful for the dedication and commitment of our students, faculty, and staff to carry forward our mission of teaching, research, outreach, and service under extraordinary circumstances. As we enter the holiday season and winter break, we encourage each of you to continue to take care of yourself, each other, and our communities. We wish you the best this holiday season and hope that you will find time to recharge and safely celebrate the start of a new year. We look forward to welcoming you back in the new year — one in which we will continue to meet the challenges presented by the pandemic with optimism for better days ahead.
Richard B. Myers, President
Chuck Taber, Provost and Executive Vice President