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Mizzou conducts virtual town halls

On Tuesday, April 14 and Wednesday, April 15, the University of Missouri conducted two virtual town halls using the internet interactive video software tool Zoom. Interested parties were able to download the software for free from the chancellor’s website

Each town hall was for a specific audience: Faculty and staff, and community. Speakers and panelists varied slightly for each session. Interested parties were able to submit questions through an online form by clicking on a button in the website.

Faculty and Staff Town Hall

During the first virtual town hall, on Tuesday, UM System President and Mizzou Interim Chancellor Mun Choi described the environment in which the UM System and Mizzou must operate today and the near future, including 2020 and 2021. He pointed out that the unemployment rate in the U.S. is up to 13%, and there are estimates that it can go to 20%. [In December 2019, it was 3.5%, a rate considered by some economists as “full employment,” meaning that everyone who is willing and able to work can find some type of job.]

Choi explained further that tax rolls are and will be down, and that the UM System already received a cut of $37 million from the state, while concurrently sending $25 million in refunds to students [for items such as unused room and board].

To protect their ability to fulfill the mission and maintain critical capabilities of the MU System, they already have made significant cuts in expenses, instituted a hiring freeze and canceled any raises this year. Administrators and senior leaders have volunteered for a 10% pay cut for the next three months.

Choi cautioned that very difficult decisions still must be made in the coming few weeks and months to address the funding deficits, including cuts to all expenses, consolidation of units, elimination of programs, and layoffs and furloughs.

Latha Ramchand, Mizzou provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs, expressed her amazement and thanks for what the UM staff was able to accomplish literally in a matter of days during March: They transitioned 7,400 courses from in-person classrooms to full online mode, while also making changes to commencements and to summer semester programming.

Community Town Hall

The second virtual town hall was at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, for the “Community.” The intended audience was Mizzou alumni, plus non-faculty, non-student, non-student-family residents of Missouri. The moderator was Todd McCubbin, associate vice chancellor for alumni relations and Mizzou alumni association director.

Opening speakers were:

  • Mun Choi, president and interim chancellor, University of Missouri
  • Latha Ramchand, provost and executive vice chancellor for academic affairs
  • Steve Hays, Mizzou alumni association president

Panelists were:

  • Jonathan Curtright, CEO of MU Health Care
  • Rhonda Gibler, vice chancellor for finance/CFO
  • Marshall Stewart, vice chancellor for extension and engagement and chief engagement officer
  • Gary Ward, vice chancellor for operations

During opening remarks, Ramchand described going from 6,000 students in Mizzou residence halls to only 200 in a matter of days in March.  She thanked the staff and students for all doing their part to make that happen safely and in an organized way.  She further said that the university has been working closely on a daily basis with the 200 international students still on campus, to ensure their safety and well-being during this time of great stress.

Dozens of questions were asked of the speakers and the panel.  Highlights of key questions and answers include:

How soon will Mizzou be back to normal?

Ramchand commented that “normal” has changed, and there will be a “new normal” going forward.  Timing of various phases still must be determined, based on what is safe and prudent.  She said that a decision about fall semester classes and students on campus has not yet been made, nor does she have a specific date for when the decisions will be made.  As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Mizzou will continue monitoring and obtaining input from various agencies and professionals to use as an informed basis for decisions.  Ramchand said that while options still are being identified and discussed, she welcomes suggestions and new options from the community.

What is Mizzou doing to keep everyone safe from the pandemic?

Ward explained that getting back to in-person classes and students in residence halls will not be like turning on a switch; it will be more like turning a dial, where various things will be ramped up slowly.  He clarified that all Mizzou buildings will be scrubbed and sanitized, beginning on Monday, April 20, with signs posted to indicate which buildings have been completed.  Those buildings then will be monitored, and re-cleaned as needed daily and weekly.  All of this will be following U.S. Centers for Disease Control [CDC] guidelines.

How will Mizzou address budget and funding issues?

Gibler said that Mizzou will receive $17 million less funding from the state, and it has had to refund $15 million to students this semester [for unused room and board, etc.].  She explained that while the overall MU System is to receive federal stimulus funds funneled through the state, MU does not yet know how much that will be, or what expectations will come with those funds [e.g. on what must the dollars be spent?].  That is the reason for actions being taken now to minimize expenses.  She explained that many options still are being considered, including potential layoffs and furloughs; more will be decided when currently unknown information becomes available.

What is Mizzou doing to help address pandemic issues statewide?

Stewart outlined several areas where Mizzou faculty and staff have been reaching out to advise, support, and help.  Those include working with K-12 school districts now having to support students online, where that was not done until just a few weeks ago.  Working across school districts, Mizzou helps spread best practices and provide advice based on what Mizzou has learned from its online classes.  Mizzou health care faculty are engaging with medical facilities across Missouri, and also are focusing on how to provide mental health support for living within the new normal.

What are the expectations for fall semester student enrollment?

Choi said that so far, new student and transfer student applications actually are higher than what was expected.  Returning student counts still are unknown, but the university is reaching out to all students and parents to encourage coming back to Mizzou, and are monitoring results.  He clarified that the big unknowns now include what the effect will be of the high unemployment rate and its reduction in funds planned for college, and what available family funds will be needed for other things.  Overall, this points to a softening of enrollment numbers and resulting reduced revenue.

What can the community and alumni do to help”

Hays and Stewart said information can be found in the Mizzou website in various tabs and sections for connecting and collaborating, outreach, alumni activities, and donating.

Students & Families Town Hall

A third virtual town hall for Students & Families is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Wednesday, April 22.

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