Noland talks budgets at Thursday virtual town hall – Johnson City Press (subscription)



ETSU President Brian Noland hosted a virtual town hall Thursday to answer budget questions.



East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland hosted a virtual town hall Thursday to answer key questions about the school’s 2020-21 budget.

Ahead of the town hall, Noland released a video stating that the COVID-19 pandemic has “significantly impacted higher education” across the state and country.

“I am struck by the things people are saying about how this virus has the potential to change the landscape of higher ed,” he said.

In June, ETSU administrators were bracing themselves for a 12-15% cut in state funding — $8 million from ETSU’s appropriations — before the state announced no reductions for higher education.

Noland said the university will still need to cut 4.3% from academic costs and 5.3% from administration costs to make up for potential shortfalls.

“I feel that we can manage our way through the situation that’s in front of us,” he said, adding that salary enhancements associated with tenure and promotion are still included in the fall budget.

Interim Provost Wilsie Bishop said officials are looking at everything they can to make sure they have a comprehensive staffing plan in each department and college. She said more definitive plans will come into shape in the next few weeks.

“This week, the colleges and departments are receiving a translation of what the percentage means in dollar amounts for each of their units,” she said, adding that staffing plans are currently being developed.

“There will be adjuncts hired. We had a plan for adjuncts when we are at our most concerned with budget cuts,” she later continued. “If you’ve not gotten a contract, it doesn’t mean you won’t.”

In a recent United Campus Workers union petition asking the campus to commit to no layoffs for adjuncts, the union suggested cutting salaries for some of the university’s highest-paid employees instead if financial conditions called for bigger cuts.

Noland said he would be the first person to take a pay reduction if the budget worsened. He said he would also ask senior leadership to do likewise.

“We’re not in a position to implement that at the time,” he said.

Noland said enrollment could fall more than 400 students from last year, according to Thursday’s projections.

Noland said the campus will offer online, in-person and hybrid classes while working to protect the health and safety of students. He said students shouldn’t delay their dreams of obtaining a degree. The institution will not back away from commitments to students for athletic and academic scholarships, he said.

Noland said day-to-day uncertainty about enrollment has been a major concern for ETSU officials since only 24% of the university’s funding comes from state appropriations. The rest comes from tuition fees and other non-state sources. The bulk of those revenues go to salaries, benefits and operations.

“As we look at enrollment moving into the fall, if there’s any word that describes our enrollment landscape, it’s ‘fluid,’” he said, adding that enrollment projections at other institutions have indicated more significant declines.

“The bulk of this projected decline is at the undergraduate level.”

Campus community members also asked about ETSU’s recently-released reopening plans for the fall. Noland said everyone will be required to wear masks when they return in the fall, but other specific reopening plans are still to be determined.

Noland said university officials will plan another town hall to talk more specifically about those reopening plans and requirements.

He said the campus and health officials are closely monitoring the pandemic in Washington County as the fall semester approaches.

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