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The Central Washington University Board of Trustees met virtually Tuesday afternoon with the COVID-19 pandemic casting a considerable shadow over all topics on the agenda.

The biggest shadow may be over finances.

Board member Gladys Gillis, who is the co-owner of Starline Luxury Coaches, discussed with the board some of the business decisions her company has had to make in recent weeks due to the spread of COVID-19, and that she is astonished that CWU has not taken similar action.

Since the university is spending $3.7 million a week on payroll — around $15.5 million a month — she urged the board and administration that layoffs and furloughs could stop the bleeding, and there are ways for employees to apply for Washington’s unemployment program and gain health insurance temporarily through Washington’s Apple Health coverage.

“Right now what we need is firm, clear leadership,” Gillis said.

Gillis said these actions could be reversible, such has immediately hiring back staff when the crisis is averted, but spending down the university’s reserves is something that will take decades to replenish.

“It’s so important we take action immediately,” she said.

Gillis recommended any classes or programs that cannot be easily moved online be cut or suspended immediately, and pointed out things like the aviation program not being cut two weeks ago when it was clear operations couldn’t easily continue.

“I’m astonished we haven’t had a single layoff as of yesterday,” Gillis said. “... We can have them back tomorrow if we’re ready for them.”

At the end of the meeting, CWU President Jim Gaudino addressed Gillis’ remarks, saying the absence of action might be giving the impression his administration and the board are not thinking of these things, but he assured the board they are.

Gaudino said he appreciated what Gillis was saying, but also said it takes a lot of staff to shut a university down. Over the last week, university employees have been going through residence halls and removing perishable items and rekeying every lock on campus in order to close the institution.

“Moving forward we absolutely have to look at everything,” Gaudino said. “The cabinet is thinking of that, but we also have certain requirements to work through” including union contracts and state regulations on employment.

UNIVERSITY SPENDING

Chief financial officer Joel Klucking gave the board a 30,000-foot view of the university’s finances, saying they operate at a pretty tight margin of generating more than $200 million a year in revenue and spending more than $200 million a year, usually with about a $5 million surplus every year.

Klucking said the university is heavily dependent on two main drivers for revenues and expenditures — how many students attend the university, and how many people the university employs.

“Any given month we spend about $15.5 million on payroll,” Klucking said.

Klucking discussed dipping into the accumulated reserves, but the university has implemented spending controls like a hiring freeze and travel ban, and said if the university saw no new revenue, it could survive for a little over three months.

According to Klucking, with 3,000 students living on campus, that generates about $20 million in revenue associated with housing, dining, the Wildcat Shop Bookstore and parking operation, and if only a couple hundred students are physically on campus for spring quarter, about 95% of that will disappear.

“We’ll be able to reduce some of that cost since we don’t have to buy the food or the books we sell, but the bulk of that is tied to direct infrastructure or payment for staff, and to date, we continue to employ all of our staff and students,” Klucking said.

OTHER UPDATES

Other members of the administration’s cabinet gave updates on the university’s progress the last few weeks since the decision to move classes online, including interim provost Lynn Franken and vice president of enrollment management Josh Hibbard.

Franken updated the board on how different departments were moving curriculum online, and how the Faculty Senate is expediting policies to help students during this less-than-normal term.

One new rule is a pass/fail policy, which will be instituted for spring quarter and will help ease the burden for students who aren’t used to online courses. Four days after the grades are posted for spring quarter, students will be able to take the grade that is earned, or convert it to an emergency pass or fail.

“Students may want to do that so those grades will not be calculated into their overall GPA,” Franken said.

Franken also mentioned they have several memorandum of understandings with the faculty union, which are designed to help the faculty cope with the COVID-19 situation. According to Franken, faculty who are coming up for tenure next fall or who are requesting a tenure review can postpone that if they wish.

ENROLLMENT

The big question hanging over everyone at the meeting was just how many students would show up to classes on April 8, the first day of the quarter, either physically on campus or from their respective homes.

Hibbard said according to the messaging system his department is using to communicate with registering students, it might not be as drastic of a drop off as they originally thought.

“Out of the 18,000 text messages, we’ve only had 20 students saying they plan to withdraw,” Hibbard said. He said although it’s not hard data of what the real numbers are going to be, it is an indicator that they are watching closely.

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