Tag: COVID19

UW System Interim President Tommy Thompson WisconsinEye Interview

University of Wisconsin System Interim President Tommy Thompson was interviewed yesterday by Steve Walters of WisconsinEye. Thompson spoke about the recent spike in COVID-19 cases at many UW System campuses, including UW-Madison.

Thompson told Walters he expects in-person instruction to resume at campuses that have implemented two-week pauses in an effort to drive down cases of the virus. UW-Madison is in the second week of its pause of on-campus classes.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank’s Remarks to Downtown Madison Rotary

UW-Madison Chancellor
Rebecca Blank

University of Wisconsin-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told members of Downtown Madison Rotary today that the university faces unprecedented financial losses due to COVID-19. Blank said that current projections show a loss of $150 million, but the loss will grow if fewer students enroll when classes resume in September.

Blank noted that UW System already took almost two-thirds of the $70 million cut ordered by Governor Evers earlier this spring and cautioned that against a similar cut this fiscal year:

You cannot cut the budget on the back of higher education in this state. That will be a disaster for the state in the long run…We are arguing strongly that we’ve already given at the office and we should have a lower percentage in this next round, but we’ll see what happens.

PROFS/University Committee Statement on Reopening

PROFS and the University Committee, which also serves as the PROFS Board of Directors, shared the following statement with UW-Madison Provost Karl Scholz at a University Committee meeting this afternoon:

With just over three weeks until the faculty contract period begins for the 2020-21 academic year, and with the prevalence of COVID-19 cases rising, there is great uncertainty and concern among faculty about the reopening of the university for classes for the upcoming academic year.

We are well aware that the health landscape that will determine how we move forward is evolving; we recognize that this makes planning difficult.  However, with three weeks to go before the contract period begins, faculty still do not have clear information on the in-person and remote course array, the process to ask for flexibility in their return to campus, or how to get answers to questions or concerns they have. 

The “Smart Restart” website contains a great deal of information, but like much in the “self-service” university, the assumption seems to be that faculty can find all the information they need to make intelligent choices about their return to work, and its effects on their health, on the site if only they read carefully.  Much of the information they are receiving from their departments, and their schools and colleges, is inconsistent, unspecific, and changes frequently. A lot of information is simply not making its way from the working groups down to the units and rank-and-file faculty. 

The university’s faculty is comprised of smart, curious, and caring people; they want up-to-date, clear, accurate, detailed, and consistent information. Faculty also want answers to their genuine concerns, many of which have been further compounded because they don’t feel as though they have been consulted or given a chance to voice those concerns as equal partners to those making policy.  Our colleagues at other major public research universities have attended town-hall meetings where information has been provided and concerns have been solicited and addressed; where working groups have reached out to faculty and staff; and where information is disseminated in clear and consistent ways from trusted sources in a timely and regular way.  We are concerned that with three weeks to go before the beginning of the semester and five weeks before classes start, faculty have many unanswered questions, and that we are far behind the curve when it comes to addressing significant issues having to do with the health, well-being and safety of the faculty.

We urge leadership to take the following steps immediately:

• Hold frequent virtual town-hall meetings for faculty and staff that solicit and address concerns about restarting the university;

• Make available to all faculty the contact information for all re-start working groups so that they can address their questions directly to those working on policy;

• Ensure that school/college leadership disseminates information to their departments in a clear and consistent manner, and designates a person to answer questions from chairs and from faculty;

• Offer a clear statement on how faculty can arrange alternative teaching assignments and/or other non-teaching assignments in cases where they fear for their health and safety or who have home situations that preclude their ability to teach or fulfill their other duties as faculty, and ensure that the flexibilities offered are non-punitive, and do not force them to reveal sensitive and/or health-related information;

• Make clear how decisions about a return to teaching and research are determined, and the extent to which those decisions are made with reference to (a) available space, (b) teaching best practices, (c) health and safety.  Faculty want to be assured that decisions made at the local level, decisions made with care and with health and educational outcomes in mind, are not overridden at the last minute.

UW System President Ray Cross Discusses “Blueprint” on UpFront

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross appeared on WISN’s UpFront with Adrienne Pedersen Sunday to discuss his Blueprint for the University of Wisconsin System Beyond COVID-19.

Cross introduced the blueprint to the Board of Regents Friday. His plan instructs each regional four-year campus to identify its strongest programs so cuts may be made in areas with limited student interest or instructional capabilities. The plan also includes administrative consolidation and an expansion of online course offerings. UW-Madison and UW-Milwaukee are exempt from the directive.

Many faculty throughout UW System have expressed concern about the lack of shared governance in this process, which Cross characterized Sunday as “aggressive and quick.” Cross did not comment on shared governance explicitly in the interview, but said that the board “will seek input from folks in the process” (below).

If they (the Board of Regents) choose to adopt a blueprint, then the faculty and staff around the campuses and communities will be engaged in the process of trying to evaluate this through an objective model that is well known through higher education. How do you refine your mission and make choices on priorities? How do you evaluate programs and services?

Regent Executive Committee to Meet to Discuss Creation of Employee Furlough Policies

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents Executive Committee will meet at 2:30 pm today to discuss granting UW System President Ray Cross and UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Black the authority to create policies and procedures relating to employee furloughs in response to the immense budget pressures due to COVID-19:

“The University of Wisconsin System is facing increased fiscal challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. As a result, the Executive Committee of the Board of Regents, under the authority granted to the Board in Wis. Stats. s. 36.115, is being asked to modify Regent Policy Document 20-21 to authorize the UW System President and the UW-Madison Chancellor to create furlough policies. The furlough policies will provide options in addition to the other workforce reduction and cost saving measures, to address these financial challenges in a way that minimizes layoffs and maximizes the UW System’s ability to continue to perform its critical educational and outreach mission.”

The meeting will be webcast live here.

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Additional COVID-19 Resources

UW-Madison and UW System each have COVID-19 websites with resources for faculty, staff and students:

UW-Madison announced today that face-to-face instruction is suspended for the remainder of the semester. Students who are unable to return home will be allowed to remain in residence halls with limited dining. Information about spring commencement will be announced soon.

A new employee leave policy was also announced today. UW-Madison is providing an 80 hour leave bank in additional to current leave policy. Beginning Wednesday, March 18, on-campus work is required only for those delivering essential services that cannot be done via telecommuting. Workers who cannot telecommute and who are not involved in essential services may use leave.

UW-Madison’s COVID-19 website includes a section on instructional continuity to help faculty and staff develop remote teaching. Webinars are offered daily.

Students who return home may find they have limited access to broadband or reliable internet services. Several providers are offering free or reduced cost service to students, including Charter, TDS and Comcast. A link with Wisconsin providers and service areas is here.

Some students remaining on campus may face financial challenges. Please encourage students to utilize the resources found on the COVID-19 FAQ page (scroll down to Financial Matters). UW-Madison has also created a special emergency support fund to help students with travel, food and housing costs. Contributions to that fund can be made here.

COVID-19 Updates from UW-Madison

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has created a website with information relating to the university’s response to COVID-19 (Coronavirus).

In-person instruction will be suspended this Friday prior to spring beak, and distance learning will begin March 23. Students who live in residence halls are asked to remain off campus after break if possible.

Chancellor Rebecca Blank held a news conference yesterday with additional information about changes to campus operations due to the virus. A portion of her remarks are below. The full press conference is here.