April 22, 2020
Latest letter from Dr. Carter, FMU President – April 21, 2020
Latest letter from Dr. Fred Carter, FMU President, to the FMU community.
I hope that all of you and your families are healthy. As we enter our fourth week of online instruction, everything appears to be going well. While there have been sporadic problems with Blackboard, John Dixon and his staff have been very responsive in identifying and rectifying the issues. Fortunately, we have avoided some of the platform hacking problems that some of the other state institutions have experienced.
The FMU foundation has been gracious enough to extend the employee assistance fund for a second three-week cycle. To date, it has provided 80 assistance grants to 49 staff, 1 faculty, and 30 dining facility employees. Should it be necessary, Lauren Stanton, Cheri Richardson, Kat Barnette, and Daphne Carter-McCants are prepared to initiate a third cycle in a couple of weeks. The grants committee has handled this fund superbly, with most grants awarded on the same day that the request is made. Now, we’ll just wait and see what else may be needed based on the length and severity of the crisis.
Over the past month, I’ve received dozens of emails and calls about faculty performance from students and parents, almost all of which have been very positive. They offer praise for the sensitivity, understanding, and compassion exhibited under these trying and difficult circumstances. One mother commented to me about the “simple act of kindness” displayed in a phone call one night from a faculty member when her daughter hadn’t been online earlier that day. He called simply to see if she was alright. There have also been a half dozen calls about students being allowed to retake tests or redo papers when they didn’t understand or couldn’t complete the assignments.
Our parents and students have always idolized you because of your teaching, your scholarship, and your willingness to devote extra time and attention to addressing their concerns and needs. Now they are facing more difficult circumstances and have even more reason to admire what you do and who you are. I couldn’t be more appreciative of how you’re handling this, even while you labor under the difficulty of managing your own households in these most trying of times.
Sometime in late summer or fall, depending upon the COVID-19 status, I would like for us to consider a commencement ceremony for our graduating class. This has been the seniors’ most frequent request. It could be a simple ceremony, maybe in an open venue with sufficient space for graduates and family to be seated well apart from each other. Depending upon the circumstances, we might even want to consider three or four smaller ceremonies structured around the schools or departments. These graduates would like their own commencement, and they deserve it. We just need to ensure that the time and circumstances are safe.
Our financial position remains strong, and we are working to continue to build the university’s cash reserves. Some of you have spoken to me about a couple of newspaper stories where the presidents of other state institutions have commented about reduced appropriations in the 20-21 fiscal year and the possibility of furloughs. Since the governor delayed the filing of state income tax returns until June 30th, all of this remains speculative.
We went through a similar situation ten to twelve years ago and survived without affecting our workforce adversely. Our institution is flat hierarchically, and our permanent faculty and staff are better protected against a reduction than is the case with many of our sister schools. We’ll stay attentive to this issue, and I’ll let you know if there’s reason to be concerned.
Let me also praise our staff, especially the custodians, grounds crew, and building maintenance employees. They are all working alternate shifts to minimize the number of people on campus. Our classroom buildings and the vacated dorms have been cleaned and sanitized thoroughly, and the campus is pristine. When circumstances permit the reopening of the university, we’ll be ready—due in large part to the diligence of these dedicated colleagues.
Finally, a few comments on affairs in Columbia. The Governor’s executive order closing K-12 schools expires next week. Numerous superintendents have asked him to extend it until the end of the school year. He’ll likely rely upon a recommendation from Molly Spearman, and I anticipate that the two of them will concur in keeping our schools closed.
Yesterday, Governor McMaster relaxed some restrictions on retail stores and permitted public beach access, subject to the approval of local jurisdictions. Some are opening beaches; others aren’t.
The Governor also appointed a 29 person commission, drawn from business, industry, government, and education. Its purpose is to make recommendations regarding the removal or continuation of other restrictions as well as the assessment of various health and safety protocols.
Three public university presidents have been asked to serve on this commission—MUSC President David Cole, former USC President Harris Pastides, and me. David and Harris serve on the health protection group; I’m on the governance group. The plan is for the commission to meet twice a week for a month to develop a comprehensive and responsible set of recommendations for restarting the state’s economy. All of the meetings are public, and I’ll keep you apprised of the deliberations as they occur.
In the interim, please stay healthy and call or email whenever you need me.