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April 23, 2020 - Campus Letter

Coronavirus/COVID-19 Information

Dear Campus Employees:

As we have observed the world-wide influence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Stephen F. Austin State University has responded to mitigate the impact to our students, faculty, staff and community. Social-distancing, quarantining needs, dependent care, academic and delivery processes have required SFA employees and families to respond to unanticipated challenges on a daily basis. SFA employees have demonstrated unbelievable character during this pandemic. With considerable sacrifice and commitment, our employees have managed significant changes to the SFA environment.

SFA faculty and staff members took immediate steps to address institutional and student needs.  To protect and continue academic delivery to SFA students, the university implemented remote delivery of all courses and labs. SFA also refunded student fees that included housing, meals, student center and recreation center fees, and parking. To help maintain operations, I was given authority by the Board of Regents to suspend or modify policies to enable employees the opportunity to balance family and work responsibilities. Throughout the continued COVID-19 response, essential institutional functions have been provided as efficiently as possible.

The response to the COVID-19 crisis has come at a substantial cost to the university. Institutional salaries directly attributable to the response totaled over $1.022 million for March through mid-April. Additional operating expenses totaled over $131,000. Actual and projected revenue losses are nearly $10.8 million for the fiscal year. Combined COVID-19-related expenditures and lost revenue are anticipated to be over $11.9 million for this fiscal year alone.

We could not have anticipated, nor were we positioned to absorb, an $11.9 million financial blow without consequences. Although our situation is very similar to most institutions, we simply cannot choose to ignore our fiscal reality and fail to make institutional changes to prepare for the realities of a post COVID-19 environment. A commitment to financial stewardship requires that we examine cost savings and resource reallocation. So, what does that mean for our university?

  • Even though our nation will be facing COVID-19 for the foreseeable future, we must maintain SFA’s operations, especially the teaching and learning process. You may be hearing many scenarios across the country for opening of higher education institutions, so let me be clear: We will start fall semester classes on the published calendar date.
  • We will have to examine different academic delivery models and implement enhanced technology to provide flexibility given the uncertainties. As a result, we are currently working on a “Lumberjack Flex Model” that will appeal to the wide variety of faculty as well as students, their learning styles, price sensitivities, and geographic locations. This model will take into consideration social distancing, individual health and safety, and will mitigate the teaching and learning transition if a COVID-19 resurgence occurs during the fall semester.
  • We will work hard to determine how to reopen campus, what safety measures will be put in place and what specifically the Lumberjack Flex Model will look like as far as course delivery. We expect to announce the university plans for the fall semester by the end of June. This will allow students to prepare for the fall term and faculty to develop their classes to best serve our students. This date will also provide time to reopen facilities, integrate new learning technologies and prepare to implement new health and safety practices and policies.
  • We must implement a combination of institutional strategies that include creating additional revenue and reducing expenditures. As always, we will work to protect the continued employment of our faculty, staff and student workers. In addition, we will work hard to minimize the impact to our employees during this difficult time. However, we must take actions. Our first step will be to implement a staff employee furlough/vacation mandate. Staff will be asked to take a minimum of 10 days (80hrs) leave by the end of August 31, 2020. Additional information on the specifically mandated furlough/vacation dates will be forthcoming in the next couple of days.

While this strategy could inconvenience families’ vacation plans, it will substantially reduce our institutional leave liability and free up fund balance restrictions. Moreover, this option will provide additional resource flexibility and help keep our workforce employed.

I will keep you updated as we continue to transition from our response to our recovery from this crisis. Without a doubt, there will be challenges and changes ahead that will continue to require all our grit, grace and gratitude over the coming weeks and months. With all of us working together, we will emerge as a national leader and the model for the future of higher education.

Thank you for all you are doing!!

Scott Gordon