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Virtual Town Hall Addresses Faculty, Staff COVID-19 Concerns

a group of men and women smiling in an online meeting
Posted on: April 30, 2020 in Campus & Community Stories by Michael Mahi

“What we have achieved together in the past several weeks is nothing short of breathtaking,” said CSUF President Fram Virjee, during a virtual town hall meeting on Monday, April 20. Joined by several members of his cabinet via Zoom and YouTube, Virjee provided faculty and staff members with updates on how the campus is coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

There does, however, need to be some clarification on the fall semester.

“It is the complete hope of Cal State Fullerton to have traditional instruction in the fall,” said Pam Oliver, provost and vice president for academic affairs. “But like every university in America, we are working through the many unknowns of the current pandemic.

“There were reports I said that Fullerton is canceling classes and going fully virtual for the fall. Let me be clear, that is false. What I said is that we need to prepare for all variables. Our goal is face-to-face, on-campus instruction, however, we are asking faculty to be prepared to start the semester teaching virtually. This is the correct and prudent choice.

“We want to avoid the situation we had this semester when the switch to virtual was required after the semester instruction began on campus,” she continued.

“Our priority is the safety of the entire campus community and the educational success of our students. We will continue to follow the guidance of the various health agencies, the governor and the California State University Chancellor’s Office on the most appropriate path forward, with the goal of having in-person instruction in the fall. I should mention that we all need to be flexible because if there is one thing we have learned through this pandemic, things can change quickly.”

Changes Over the Past Few Weeks

Virjee noted that over the past two months, 40,000 students have moved to virtual learning, 3,500 faculty moved to virtual instruction, nearly 6,000 employees are working from home, almost 2,000 students have moved out of the dorms (foster and some out-of-state students are still there and being cared for).

Pollak Library has moved to providing virtual reference and research resources. And, more than 1,000 laptops, MiFis, and cell phones have been loaned out to faculty, staff and students.The list of people and programs responding to this crisis has truly been inspiring, said Virjee.

“While words cannot effectively express my gratitude for all you continue to do for our Titan family during one of the most stressful times in modern history, I want to say thank you. We still have a long way to go, but I feel blessed to continue working with you toward those goals, and I know that together we can and will achieve them.”

How have grading policies been affected?

Pam Oliver, provost: “Students can opt for Credit/No Credit or assigned grades — for this semester only. Grades will be posted by May 22. Students will have 10 days to review grades and make a decision to choose Credit/No Credit or their assigned grade. Students can make these decisions course by course.

“Some groups of students will have to think about what’s best for them. A decision must be made by June 1 — a 10-day window. A date for withdrawals has also been extended. Students have until May 8 (the last day of classes) to withdraw if they choose. No other forms of additional documentation will be required. It is our hope that these actions will relieve some of the academic stress on our students.”

When can staff return to campus?

David Forgues, vice president for human resources, diversity and inclusion: “As Dr. Oliver mentioned, our decisions are guided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local authorities. Indications that influence our decisions are the availability of testing, hospital capacity, the ability to operationally support physical and social distancing and more. We definitely will not be opening within the next few weeks.

“Face coverings and gloves may be required or encouraged. Social distancing in existing workplaces is being evaluated. There may be rotational scheduling so some offices limit the number of people present at specific times. Some level of telecommuting may continue.

“However, when we return, we can capitalize on the sense of teamwork we have developed.”

How have we helped families of faculty/staff?

Forgues: “We are thankful that we have been able to provide COVID-19 paid administrative leave to employees who need it. We understand the pressures that our faculty and staff face in balancing work/family responsibilities. The Employee Wellness Program continues to be available. Additional resources can be found on our website.

“We are also offering some fun things: Titan Family Engagement Day (for employees and their children), mini-me (employees feature their kids/talents). We realize that we often need to incorporate children into our new reality.

“I want to let you know that we have had an infectious disease working group that has been hard at work. Staff from across campus meet to monitor and provide guidance. Remember to practice good hygiene daily. Wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your elbow, keep your face covered when you leave home, follow CDC and state guidelines. If you are authorized to be on campus as essential personnel, stay home if you are sick. Please maintain physical distancing. Stay informed. Practice self care.”

How are we adjusting to changes in technology?

Amir Dabarian, vice president for information technology: “We have increased infrastructure/Zoom capacity, purchased equipment, provided headsets, whatever needed to be done. We will continue doing so throughout the semester.

“Technology now plays a wider role. We are here for you and to provide support. Let us know what we can do for you and your students. We have stepped up staffing on our virtual help desk.

What are we doing now for students?

Harry Le Grande, vice president for student affairs: “Students are the lifeblood of our campus, and we are trying to do what we can to support them through virtual services.

“For example, our Veterans Resource Center continues to provide certification for veterans who need it. Our financial aid office is humming. Our outreach to school districts continues, we have developed virtual hang-out sessions for our special populations and the Career Center continues to work with students who need advice.

“For economically disadvantaged students, we provided $8.4 million in financial aid in March; and an additional $2.2 million in April. When we receive the CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) federal funding, we will provide additional grants. In fact, we have already provided $15,000 of funding on an emergency basis.”

How is Cal State Fullerton faring in terms of financial losses?

President Fram Virjee: “COVID-19 has caused health and economic hardships around the world. CSUF students have lost jobs; family members have lost jobs, lost child care, homes, money for food, etc. Spouses, partners, parents, children of our own faculty and staff have also lost jobs, child care and other essential resources.

“We have been able to provide emergency loans and grants, more than 250 hours of paid administrative leave for faculty/staff, a work-from-home program, distribution of computers and equipment and more.

“Clearly, our first order of business is serving and supporting our students, faculty and staff, but as an institution are not immune to the financial hardships from which so many are suffering. 

“In IT alone, we have expended more than half a million dollars we had not budgeted to support faculty, staff and students to go virtual. At the same time, we have also committed to nearly $12 million in reimbursements for parking and residential life alone. We have also continued to pay all our state employees — including student employees — regardless of their ability to work remotely and have committed to do so for an extended period of time. Then there is the substantial unearned grants and unrealized revenue for Auxiliary Services Corp. and Associated Students Inc. And the list goes on until we arrive at the nearly $20 million in projected losses so far. We will need to tighten our belts across every division and college in the coming months and likely years.”

Will the state revise the budget in May, and will there be furloughs and layoffs?

Virjee: “We have a hiring freeze right now, but there are no current plans to lay off or furlough employees. However this decision will depend on two things: Whether we can manage the continuing financial losses and our ongoing revenue outlook.

“We get virtually all of our revenues from two sources: the state and tuition.

“We are being warned by the state and the Chancellor’s Office to prepare for a possible reduction in state aid. Estimates range from 3% to 15%. If this happens, we will need to make corresponding reductions in our budget.

“For now, we are following the issue closely with the governor and Chancellor’s Office, but have made some plans: In planning for these potentially difficult decisions, the university will carefully consider each of the following guiding principles:

  • Safeguarding the continuity and core mission and functions of the university — inclusive, excellent education
  • Assuring student success in academic progress and progress toward degree completion
  • Limiting the effect on current faculty, staff and administrators
  • Protecting the financial solvency, integrity and viability of the university
  • Advancing diversity, equity and inclusion across the university has to be a touchstone
  • Rewarding excellence, innovation and collaboration
  • Promoting efficiencies, economies of scale and synergy
  • Assuring decisions are based on strong foundational facts, and are data driven where possible, not based on emotion

“I have asked each division and college to begin considering these possible reductions and, in doing so, have strongly encouraged them to establish their own respective set of guiding principles for application to impending financial shortfalls, budget reductions and reallocations. Once established, these principles will be shared in a transparent manner with relevant faculty, staff and students.”

How can people support the Titan family?

Virjee: “Finally, I want to talk about what we can do as individuals to help build a safety net for Titans who may be facing extreme financial hardship. I have sent an email announcing emergency funds that will support our Titans in need — there will be one for students and one for faculty and staff.

“To help begin the funding of these funds, I am committing to contribute 10% of my take-home salary for the remainder of 2020 to these emergency funds — 5% to the student fund and 5% to the faculty and staff fund. Members of my cabinet have committed to donate to these funds as they are able as well.

“I encourage those of you who are able to join us in supporting the emergency fund in whatever way you can. Know that any amount of support to Titans in need is appreciated and will directly and positively support the most vulnerable among us in the Titan family.”

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    Michael Mahi

    Michael Mahi is the Senior Director of Digital Media.

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