The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees held a meeting Friday morning virtually to discuss the ongoing impact of COVID-19, according to system officials. President Randy Boyd updated trustees on plans to return to campus and looking to the fall during the pandemic.
Board Chair John Compton thanked Boyd and the chancellors for their handling of the crisis.
“As leaders you’re navigating what we’ve never seen before,” he said. “As we’ve often said, to have a strong state of Tennessee, you need a strong University of Tennessee.”
Officials report administrators across the UT System began meeting as early as February 28 to discuss COVID-19 and its impacts on the spring semester. They announced the transition to online classes on March 11. Since then, campuses announced individual alternate commencements and that classes would remain online through the semester. University staff transitioned to telecommuting on March 24.
Boyd reported that he established a system-wide task force to work on re-opening campuses across the state. He said the system administration is developing its guidelines to transition staff back to campus. Officials say about 90% of the UT System and campus faculty and staff are working remotely.
“The faculty and staff have been heroic in their efforts,” he said. “It’s been inspiring to see how hard they’ve worked to make sure the students are successful.”
Boyd emphasizes the importance of students' health and wellness, all while helping them succeed academically. He has helped raise more than $200,000 statewide for student emergency funds.
The university has taken a financial hit in the crisis, officials report, but should receive some aid from the federal government. UT Knoxville, UT Chattanooga and UT Martin refunded more than $40 million dollars from housing, parking, dining services athletic ticking and more.
Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act allocates $14 billion to higher education, of which the UT campuses will get $34.9 million. Half of the money must be given to students as emergency financial aid grants. The other half will be used to offset the financial impact on the campuses.
Since the future of in-person classes is unclear, campuses are beginning to make plans for social distancing in classes for the fall semester.
“We don’t have a definitive answer yet,” Boyd said. “We’re hopeful and optimistic that we’ll have the students back.”