By Vivian Roach | Staff Writer
The Board of Regents was updated on COVID-19 measures and the current situation, budget and committee work by President Linda Livingstone and Board Chair Mark Rountree Friday.
Board members also discussed solutions for challenges ahead in higher education projected by EAB: Education Technology, Services and Research company as part of the annual board retreat postponed in July.
At the end of the semester, Livingstone said the financial decisions made in June made it possible for the school to fulfill its academic duties and secure financial stability, but spending on COVID-19 measures has been higher than expected.
“We continue to experience significant uncertainty as we head into the end of the year and prepare for the spring semester,” Livingstone said. “We recognize that this semester has been incredibly difficult on our students, their mental health and overall well-being, which could have future impacts on retention and student success. We must remain judicious as we face continued economic pressures, which are impacting all of higher education.”
The previously approved 2% increase in tuition for the 2021-2022 school year, and 1.58% increase for those on-campus students, will provide for these budget issues. The tuition increase is the lowest it has been in 20 years though, and less than the 4% annual increases on five-year plans.
Additionally, tuition and the separate general student fee were combined to prevent any confusion about allocation of those fees.
“That fee component wasn’t really distinctively affiliated with any particular services on campus, resources from tuition and from that fee just really went into other resources the university had to support all activities on campus and so it’s rather confusing,” Livingstone said. “We felt like it just made a lot more sense to roll those two together and just have a tuition amount that is comprehensive.”
With the uncertain circumstances of the pandemic, not only do they have to be careful financially but also throughout the rest of the semester, Livingstone said.
“Our numbers continue to look good. Our positivity rate is low, but we can’t be complacent,” Livingstone said. “We know there’s a spike — certainly locally and around the country — so we’ve got to continue to be diligent as we move through the next really last two and a half weeks or so of the semester leading up to Thanksgiving.”
Looking towards the spring semester, Livingstone said it will at least be similar to where the fall semester ends, but nothing can be known for sure.
“We don’t really know what the spring semester is going to look like, but we do know that we have worked very hard this fall,” Livingstone said. “We’ve learned a lot, and we will be well prepared to bring our students back.”
The Board of Regents was also updated on the school’s continued support for students and faculty of color. Rountree said the Commission for Historic Campus Representation started its work in July to find ways the school could more wholly tell its history and therefore be more of a belonging and welcoming place for students, faculty and staff of color.
“The 26-member group has been highly engaged in their work,” Rountree said. “Their work has been marked by a real sense of humility, mutual respect, and at the end of the day, a desire to bring forth, for the board’s considerations, recommended actions that would unite and strengthen the entire Baylor family.”
Rountree said the commission is on track to deliver its findings to Livingstone in December, then after board deliberation in early 2021, plans to release those findings and recommendations in the spring.
In Board of Regents action, they approved the proposal to create a Ph.D. program in anthropology of health, in line with the health pillar of the Illuminate plan. The program also works towards the school’s goal of achieving Tier One/Research One status.
The meeting was held in hybrid fashion to make up in part for the annual July board retreat. 20 of the 34 regents met in the tents and the rest on Zoom, Rountree said. In-person attendees were tested for COVID-19 prior to meeting, required to wear a mask and socially distanced.
“It was tremendously gratifying to see the physical manifestation of all that they have done, all that our faculty has done, all that students have done to make this fall on-campus experience a reality,” Rountree said.