President LeBlanc, Faculty Senate Discuss Financial and Operations Planning

The university is making adjustments and anticipating the future effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on GW.

April 6, 2020

Photo of GW Professors Gate on Kogan Plaza

The George Washington University has taken several immediate steps to protect its financial health and is continuing to plan for the future in the context of COVID-19, President Thomas LeBlanc told the Faculty Senate on Friday.

“This pandemic has introduced a lot of uncertainty,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “It’s affecting every aspect of our campus life.”

GW is managing the uncertainty with some immediate steps already announced, including working to increase liquidity, or the funding that largely allows the university to continue its day-to-day operations, from $600 million to $1 billion. The university also has suspended nonessential hiring and noncritical capital projects. The university intends to continue with the Thurston Hall renovation, but it is subject to ongoing evaluation based on any changing circumstances.

Dr. LeBlanc also announced recently that GW would pause the strategic planning process.

Three of the main reasons for taking this action, Dr. LeBlanc said Friday, were the university’s necessary shift in focus to the health and safety of the community; changes in the assumptions that were informing the plan, in areas such as enrollment, hiring and the budget; and the difficulty collaborating remotely with faculty and staff who now must address more immediate priorities.

“I want to be clear that pressing pause on the process does not mean we are pressing pause on our aspirations for the future of our institution,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “But it does give us an opportunity to consult with the faculty about fall enrollment.”

Dr. LeBlanc estimated the negative impact of COVID-19 on the university’s fiscal 2020 budget is currently approximately $25 million, which includes a housing refund for students of $18 million. It also takes into account other losses and expenses as well as cost savings. The figure does not take into consideration possible funding to GW from the federal CARES Act and any impact on the Medical Faculty Associates (MFA) budget from the postponement of nonessential surgeries and doctor visits and incremental expenses.

In terms of future contingency planning and the fiscal 2021 budget, the university is “watching very carefully” how the pandemic could change summer and fall enrollment, and Dr. LeBlanc provided an overview of revenue from various populations of students that could be impacted. The severity of impact is still “very uncertain,” he said.

Provost M. Brian Blake noted that fall enrollment models remained strong and administrators are convening a committee to discuss instructional contingency plans for the fall.

He added that even though strategic planning has paused, the work of the Future Enrollment Task Force continues, and it will pivot to addressing immediate needs in protecting enrollment given COVID-19.

The findings of the faculty-led strategic planning committees also remain relevant, Dr. Blake added. Final committee reports will be posted online soon, and some recommendations will inform day-to-day operations and priorities.

Libraries report
Geneva Henry, dean of Libraries and Academic Innovation (LAI), provided an update on the libraries.

During the current crisis, LAI has been providing phone and email support six days a week, 13 hours per day, Ms. Henry said, adding that it is going smoothly.

“I have the most extraordinary team,” she said.

LAI priorities include digital and computational fluency for all, equitable access to information, student academic success and research support, Ms. Henry said.

Opportunities include providing services to enable success in STEM and computational work, regardless of major; redefining vacant positions to best support the university’s needs; enhancing quality of online courses; and supporting digital skills for faculty and staff members.

Some challenges remain, including staffing, annual inflation rates for digital collections, the Gelman building’s ability to meet current and future library needs and financial shortfall from the elimination of the voluntary student gift.

President’s remarks
Dr. LeBlanc thanked all faculty for going “above and beyond” in supporting students during virtual education. He gave special recognition to health and safety faculty and staff, and particularly GW’s health care providers at the MFA.

“In every crisis there are heroes,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “Our heroes are our front line medical staff.”

Dr. LeBlanc added that the university stands ready to provide any support and resources the MFA or GW Hospital may need in the coming weeks.

Provost’s remarks
Dr. Blake noted recent updates about virtual learning for summer instruction, tenure extension and pass/no pass policy adjustments. He also echoed the gratitude to faculty.

“Faculty have done an amazing job to make this experience something that our students can still cherish even in the context of what’s going on,” Dr. Blake said.

Other Faculty Senate news

  • The senate passed a resolution to amend its bylaws in part to state that the group should “normally” convene at 2 p.m. and adjourn at 4:30 p.m., which is meant to give members an expectation of the latest a meeting may last. Members are also asked to “keep the time of the day in mind in framing their remarks.”
  • The senate’s executive committee previously passed a resolution detailing procedures for electronic meetings in light of COVID-19, said Sylvia Marotta-Walters, chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee. Friday’s meeting was held via WebEx to comply with social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders.
  • The senate recognized members whose terms are ending and approved nominees for the 2020-21 standing committees, executive committee, as well as parliamentarian and dispute resolution committee chair. School of Business Associate Professor of Finance Art Wilson was approved as the new executive committee chair. All names are available online.

    Dr. LeBlanc and other faculty members also thanked the outgoing executive committee and Dr. Marotta-Walters, who finished her service as chair with the conclusion of the meeting but will continue to serve as a senate member in 2020-21.

    “I would like to acknowledge with deep gratitude her extraordinary service as chair,” Dr. LeBlanc said, applauding Dr. Marotta-Walters’ advocating for faculty and shared governance. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her selfless service to the senate and the university.”

    Dr. Marotta-Walters also thanked the faculty and administration.

    “It has been a privilege to be in this role,” Dr. Marotta-Walters said. “I am leaving this role very pleased with the status of shared governance at the university.”