March 30, 2020

Latest statement from Dr. Fred Carter, FMU President – March 30, 2020

Latest statement from Dr. Fred Carter, FMU President – March 30, 2020

Message from Dr. Fred Carter, president Francis Marion University, to FMU faculty and staff.

Let me begin by extending compliments to all of you for our successful transition to online instruction. It was a difficult and demanding task, especially given the timeline. All of you and a substantial number of academic support staff worked tirelessly to implement this process. Please accept my gratitude and appreciation.

As of now, the Governor’s Executive Order will keep us online through the remainder of the semester. We will continue the remote learning processes for Maymester and, most likely, Summer I. At a university presidents’ meeting this morning, about half of the other institutions indicated that they will probably stay online through Summer II.

Our deans and chairs will join us on a conference call tomorrow afternoon. We’ll discuss these summer issues as well as the possibility of students withdrawing without penalty through the end of the semester. Our students are doing their best to adapt to this new format, but many are constrained by antiquated or limited technology at home. We may need to provide them with more flexible withdrawal opportunities. A number of the other state institutions are considering this option, and I’ve asked Peter and the faculty leadership to assess the situation and bring me a recommendation.

On the state level, there’s a fair amount of optimism about the portion of the economic stimulus earmarked for higher education. At the present time, South Carolina is estimated to receive approximately $140M for state colleges and universities. Although there’s no distributional formula yet, we are being told that both overall student enrollment and % of Pell Grant students will figure prominently in the allocation. Obviously, the latter would benefit us enormously.

The money will be disbursed separately to institutions and to students. Institutional money is intended to provide reimbursement for lost revenues and for extenuating costs incurred during this crisis. The student money will fund financial aid support and provide loan remedies. None of the student money can be used to cover any housing or dining refunds, but the institutional money may be used for that purpose.

As of this morning, we have about 10% of our residential students left in the dorms, most of whom have no other accommodations available. We’ll remit about $900K in housing refunds and $300K in dining refunds for those returning home.

There are fewer than 100 faculty and staff on campus, and these numbers will be reduced further as cleaning and maintenance projects are finished and a number of the start-up technology efforts are completed. We’ll also close more offices this week and transition all of these employees to telecommuting status.

Tomorrow morning, I’ll join State Tech President Tim Hardee and Clemson President Jim Clements (as representatives of our three higher education sectors) in meeting with the House higher education leadership and the CHE to discuss:

– The next Board of Economic Advisors’ revenue estimate and its implications on both this year’s and next year’s budgets. The legislature went into 2019-20 anticipating a $2B surplus at the end of the year, but the closure of so many hospitality and retail venues across the state will take its toll in the 4th quarter. It will affect the estimate adversely, but probably not enough to trigger any mid-year budget cut. Of course, FMU remains in sound shape financially with healthy reserve accounts;

– The necessity of appropriating recurring money next year if freezing tuition remains a priority;

– Prospective provisos that will be needed in next year’s budget (extending procurement IT exemptions, renegotiating dining vendor agreements, granting personnel flexibility—especially pertaining to leave forgiveness and continuing telecommuting authority, and a few others); and

– The criticality of receiving more direct and timely information pertaining to the safe operation of our institutions and the welfare of our students and employees.

As of now, there is still no anticipation of any shelter-in-place initiative for South Carolina.

I’ve appreciated the calls and emails from students, parents, and many of you over the past couple of weeks.  Please continue to contact me with any questions or suggestions.