UC Board of Regents passes budget resolution, guidelines for reopening campuses

Regents Meeting
Sunny Shen/File

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During its virtual meeting Wednesday, the UC Board of Regents discussed the financial impacts of COVID-19, passed a budget resolution adjusting to a $1.2 billion deficit and approved guidelines for reopening campuses, which will likely operate in a “hybrid mode” during the upcoming fall semester.

The meeting opened with an extended public comment session, during which the regents heard from students and faculty opposing the UC system’s support for the Mauna Kea telescope and cautioning against faculty layoffs.

In his opening remarks, board chair John Pérez stressed that in the midst of the major financial “crisis” caused by COVID-19, the UC system should uphold its core mission of service.

“We are resolute in our commitment to all our students, especially students whose lives have been upended by this crisis, and we are resolute in our commitment to build upon UC’s excellence as researchers, as educators, as an employer of record and as stewards of the public good,” Pérez said during the meeting.

UC President Janet Napolitano said in her opening remarks that she anticipates that most, if not all, of the UC campuses will operate in a “hybrid mode” during the fall semester, with partial in-person instruction.

The Finance and Capital Strategies Committee discussed the current and projected financial impacts of COVID-19, in addition to passing a continuing resolution for the 2020-21 budget without discussion. More significant budget changes will be considered at the regents’ meeting in July, Pérez added.

During the committee meeting, Paul Jenny, interim executive vice president and chief financial officer of the UC system, said COVID-19 will impact every major revenue source for the UC system, with an estimated systemwide loss of $1.2 billion from mid-March through April.

“This is a bleak and very depressing projection,” said Regent Hadi Makarechian at the meeting. “The shortfall is substantial.”

Jenny added that these losses include immediate impacts that will recover over time, such as losses to medical centers, housing and dining, in addition to longer-term losses such as decreases in state support for the UC system and the potential impact on international student enrollment.

At the meeting, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ said if state funds for the UC system do not increase after a year, she would advise the Board of Regents to consider tuition increases to offset these major financial losses.

“We fully understand that difficult decisions will need to be made, but these decisions can’t come at the expense of the UC’s most vulnerable populations, who are already bearing the brunt of this pandemic,” said Aidan Arasasingham, chair of the UC Student Association Government Relations Committee, during the meeting.

Napolitano introduced campus guidelines for increasing on-site operations, including physical distancing policies and visitor restrictions. Pérez said the university would also take into consideration finalized directives from California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office to California colleges and universities. In response to the concerns of Alumni Regent William Um and Regent Laphonza Butler regarding the enforcement of these guidelines, Napolitano said policing plans were still being designed. The item was approved.

“I’m grateful for all of the working and planning that’s going on around the UC system, and as discussed today, there are going to be many lessons learned, so we need to make sure we’re gathering data and analyzing as we go on,” Napolitano said during the meeting. “This is a great challenge but also a great opportunity for the university as an institution to move on.”

Next, the regents moved to discuss an item, which was introduced by Alumni Regent Christine Simmons, regarding an amendment on the regents’ policy for reviewing allegations of board member misconduct. Many UC system leaders, including Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of the UC Academic Senate, and Alumni Regent-designate Debby Stegura, raised concerns about the involvement of the proposed three-regent panel in misconduct investigations. After discussion, the item was approved.

Finally, the regents addressed a proposal to provide annual scholarships of $22,859 for the student regent and the student regent-designate in the initial year, both of whom are currently only compensated with coverage of their tuition. Since the item has a bylaw, it will require another vote at a later meeting. The first vote was passed.

As the academic year comes to an end for all UC campuses, members of the Academic and Student Affairs Committee discussed the types of data they have gathered thus far about student experience during the pandemic and what might lie ahead for the UC system.

Many regents said they felt that a data-driven approach is the best means of improving academic experience and remote instruction.

From preliminary survey results, students and faculty seem to be concerned about the effectiveness of online learning. Additionally, students reported that they miss the campus experience and having the ability to interact with friends.

According to Michael Brown, UC provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, while the extracurricular and cocurricular activities are designed to facilitate learning, the UC system was struggling to move them online during the pandemic.

“We need to learn better who thrives better under what types of educational experiences and optimize for all,” Brown said during the meeting.

Intent-to-register submission rates for freshmen hoping to start in the fall are currently below target across the UC campuses. Enrollment in summer classes has increased compared to previous years despite being online.

According to Brown, students and faculty are aware that things will not return to how they were before the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think people are recognizing that this is a new normal,” Brown said during the meeting. “We are still in crisis mode even as we try to plan for the future.”

Contact Alexandra Feldman, Gigi Nibbelink and Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected].