UTRGV targets offering 25% of instruction online during fall due to virus

UTRGV President Guy Bailey speaking at the Weslaco Business Visitor and Event Center in 2016. (The Monitor photo)

University of Texas Rio Grande Valley President Guy Bailey said in a letter sent to colleagues on Monday that faculty has been asked to target offering 25% of their instruction online for the fall semester due to COVID-19.

In the letter, Bailey said the hope of the university is that everything will have returned to normal by the fall semester so faculty and staff can begin to conduct a normal semester as they have always had.

“At this point we do not know exactly what the fall 2020 semester will look like. … We will monitor the situation carefully over the coming weeks so that we can make the best decisions possible for everyone’s health and safety and the educational progress of our students,” Bailey said in the letter.

“However, we have asked our colleges to target offering 25% of their instruction online for the fall. This would give us a head start if we had to make radical changes for the fall semester, but it will also help accommodate students who might not be ready to come back to campus.”

Bailey added that it is also unknown when employees can cease working remotely and return to campus. He said the health and safety of the campus community remains the greatest concern.

“My guess (and at this point it is only a guess) is that this will be a phased-in process that occurs over a period of several weeks or even months, but until we receive more clarity on the progress of COVID-19 and on the widespread availability of testing (including antibody testing), we cannot make this decision,” he said.

In the same letter, Bailey addressed the economic problems the state of Texas and the nation are facing. He said state revenues have plunged dramatically because of significant declines both in sales tax revenues and the price of oil, which will have a substantial impact on UTRGV and on higher education in Texas.

Bailey said at this point it seems clear that there will be a sizable reduction in state appropriations of 15% which is roughly $25 million.

“The good news is that, in late February, we saw this coming and began planning for absorbing reductions in state appropriations while protecting as much as possible the jobs of our faculty, staff, and student employees,” he said.

“We implemented a hiring freeze, a sweep of unencumbered wages, and are currently putting in place a sweep of unused travel funds (except for funds used for intercampus travel) to capture 15% of our appropriations in the event we are asked to return that money to the state.”

Bailey said there is good news regarding financial support for UTRGV students. He said UTRGV will receive approximately $34 million in federal stimulus funds through the CARES Act. Roughly three quarters of these funds will go directly to support students in assisting them to continue their educational progress while addressing ongoing costs of attendance impact due to the pandemic with the remainder being used for things such as infrastructure needs related to the pandemic and for the School of Medicine, which has been crucial in ramping up testing for COVID-19 in the RGV, according to the letter.