While COVID-19 and Stephen F. Austin State University’s response to the pandemic were top concerns during the July quarterly meeting of the Board of Regents, actions taken were geared toward the future of the university.
Regents heard reports regarding the university’s plans to open campus for the fall semester and approved the budget for the upcoming academic year.
“This is the most complicated budget process we’ve ever been through,” said Dr. Danny Gallant, vice president for finance and administration. “We started with a flat budget and then reduced revenue projections an additional 5%. Based on instructions state agencies received from the governor’s office, the university reduced an additional $1.6 million to provide a biennial reduction of $3.65 million.”
The university received CARES Act funding of approximately $11 million, with $5.3 million allocated to student financial relief.
“We have disbursed to students who were eligible during the spring, and remaining funds will be available to students this fall,” Gallant said.
While some of the CARES Act funding was used to cover the costs of refunds distributed to students for housing, meal plans, parking and other fees, $2.6 million was allocated to classroom upgrades to facilitate distance learning, according to Dr. Steve Bullard, provost and vice president for academic affairs.
“Nearly 90 classrooms have been upgraded to support Zoom capabilities,” Bullard said. “They will function as lecture-style classrooms for students attending in person, and students joining the class via Zoom will see and hear the professor and be able to interact with the class.”
According to Bullard, as of July 17, 51% of SFA classes were slated to be face to face, 17% were online and 28% were hybrid, so that students can access the course in either manner.
“Options for students will continue to advance in coming weeks, as we move more of our course sections to distance-related options,” he said.
Budget reductions also necessitated freezes on hiring and university travel, as well as furloughs for staff members. The university also introduced a voluntary separation incentive plan being offered to employees who are eligible to retire, which was approved by regents.
“This is a way to reduce our payroll and eventually realize savings,” Gallant said. “It’s a great opportunity for those employees who have reached retirement eligibility, and also will be beneficial to the university.”
Gallant said according to university records, 220 current employees are eligible to participate in the program, and 57 employees have applied.
“The deadline is July 31, so we are likely to receive additional applications,” he said.
Regents heard an update regarding the renovation and addition to the Griffith Fine Arts Building and approved funding for a power-plant upgrade and associated utility infrastructure improvements at a cost not to exceed $2 million. They also approved roof replacement at the Norton Health and Physical Education Building.
Facility improvements being made at Johnson Coliseum have eliminated the need for a strength and conditioning room in a basement area of the building, which was approved by regents in 2018. Regents voted to return funding for the project, now totaling approximately $724,387, to the university’s designated fund balance.
Regents authorized SFA administrators to submit a legislative appropriations request to the Texas Legislature for capital funding to support the development of an interdisciplinary and applied sciences building, an agriculture and technology complex, and a special item request for programming funds to establish a center for applied research and rural innovation.
“These would be transformative for our campus and our region,” said Dr. Scott Gordon, SFA president. “However, we understand the current economic conditions of Texas and see funding for these projects as a long shot during this legislative session. We know from prior experience that even in these difficult times, we should present our requests and priorities, so we have compiled this proposal to indicate that we are looking to the future needs of the state and how SFA can help to meet those needs.”
The agriculture and technology complex would be located at SFA’s Todd Agricultural Research Center, a 490-acre complex located on U.S. Highway 259.
“In addition to agricultural engineering and industrial engineering technology programs, the facility would allow for the expansion of programs in areas that could include advanced manufacturing and industrial supervision, as well as programs such as veterinary technology and veterinary nursing,” Gordon said. “The facility for interdisciplinary and applied sciences would be connected to our Forestry Building and would build on the synergies between programs. It will include offices and classrooms for subjects including agriculture, biology, environmental and geospatial sciences, and geology.”
Regents approved the renewal of a five-year contract with EAB Global for the Navigate program, which includes a student success management platform and best-practice research. Regents also approved the use of quasi-endowment funds by the College of Liberal and Applied Arts to support the redesign of core curriculum courses.
“Merely adopting the latest textbooks does not mean the overall structure of an academic program is providing the integrated knowledge base a student should possess upon graduation,” said Dr. Brian Murphy, dean of the College of Liberal and Applied Arts. “Most students in a core course are not majors in the instructor’s discipline, and the aim of our redesign is to make a core course meaningful, interesting, and relevant at the current time and five years after the student graduates.”
Murphy said educators must adapt in order to teach the skill sets that are relevant in the marketplace.
“Our faculty members are adopting the pedagogical approaches that have been identified as facilitating this transition, such as experiential learning and gamification,” he said.
Regents also approved funding for the purchase and replacement of computers and cloud software, as well as grant awards, changes in course fees and the online-only fee, and policy revisions.
Regents heard reports from SFA President Gordon; Dr. Andrew Lannen, chair of the Faculty Senate; and Christopher Moore, Student Government Association president. Members elected the individuals who serve in positions that report to the board and approved:
- minutes from previous meetings
- holiday schedule for 2020-21
- annual audit plan and audit services report
- and curriculum changes and low-producing programs.
To view recorded meetings of the SFA Board of Regents, visit sfasu.edu/about-sfa/board-of-regents/meeting-information.