COVID-19 University Updates

COVID-19 University Updates
November 23, 2020

Highlights from President Trauth’s Virtual Faculty and Staff Town Hall: Updates to End the Fall 2020 Semester and Prepare to Begin Spring 2021

Health and Safety Measures

  • The university’s health and safety measures have been effective in preventing the spread of COVID-19 on our campuses. Contact tracing has yet to identify evidence of transmission in classrooms, residence halls, or offices.

  • Effective vaccines will be available in the upcoming months, with the first phase for healthcare personnel and first responders. Planning is underway to prepare for mass vaccinations on our campuses that may begin as early as February or March. Decisions about the priority group distribution of the vaccine will be made by the Texas Department of State Health Services, not by Texas State University.
  • Preparations for students returning for the spring 2020 semester should include avoiding social gatherings with people outside your household for 14 days and COVID-19 testing prior to returning to campuses or as soon as you arrive.
  • Consistent use of face coverings, physical distancing, and hand hygiene remain the core effective strategies. COVID-19 testing and report to Bobcat Trace to ensure rapid contact tracing are essential elements of the university’s prevention plan. Social gatherings remain a key source of exposure to COVID-19. COVID-19 transmission levels are increasing making travel, social gathering, and some activities higher risk for exposure.

COVID-19 Work Groups Update

We currently have 10 work groups, comprised of more than 150 faculty, staff, and students. To prepare for spring, we are re-starting five work groups to revise the fall plan -- or Roadmap. Those five work groups are:

  • Health, Wellness, and Safety
  • Faculty and Staff Morale
  • Continuity of Education
  • Continuity of Student Life
  • Commencement Planning

In addition, we recently created two new work groups: A COVID-19 Communications Response Work Group to enhance information sharing with the university community; and, a Mass Vaccination Planning Work Group to prepare for administering the vaccine, when one becomes available, to students, faculty, and staff.

Significance of COVID-19 Surveys and Feedback

  • We have conducted six surveys university-wide since August. Each one has addressed a specific theme – like communication, and employee morale, for example – plus additional surveys regarding commencement – to ensure that your thoughts, questions, and concerns are considered as we formulate strategies.

  • We take the information gleaned from these surveys very seriously as we plan initiatives related to persevering through this pandemic. 
  • For each survey, within two weeks of its release, responses are analyzed, themes are identified, and results are presented to the President’s Cabinet.
  • Based on the faculty and staff morale survey, several actions are being taken, including holding  Town Hall on November 23, 2020, and establishing a COVID-19 Communications Work Group to improve the flow of information to you.

Thanksgiving Holiday 

  • At this time, the university will remain open and is not changing its operations to remote delivery after Thanksgiving, including classes or final exams.
  • However, faculty do have discretion to change attendance requirements or delivery modes for their individual in-person classes and final exams if they feel compelled to do so while considering the learning outcomes, remaining assignments, and student success factors for those classes, in consultation with unit leadership.
  • The university community is asked to carefully consider how Thanksgiving plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and ensure a strong finish to an unprecedented fall 2020 semester.
  • To that end, faculty should review their contingency plans for the fall 2020 semester and consult with their unit peers and leadership to revise and share plans for continuity of instruction and final exams should they decide to move their classes to remote/online instruction after Thanksgiving.

Fall Commencement

Texas State plans to hold in-person commencement ceremonies outdoors in Bobcat Stadium for spring and summer 2020 graduates on December 10, 2020, and for fall candidates on December 11, 2020. A strict health and safety protocol is being finalized and details are forthcoming. On average, about 10 percent of the capacity of Bobcat Stadium will be used for the in-person ceremonies. Faculty and the majority of staff involvement in the in-person commencement ceremonies is voluntary. Every effort is being made to secure as many staff volunteers as possible.

Guidance regarding Instructional Delivery in Spring

  • Feedback through campus-wide surveys has illuminated the complexity of managing classes when not all students may be present at a given time. This is sometimes called the A/B model. Cameras and microphones are available for faculty to simultaneously teach in-person and online, known as hy-flex teaching. However, this strategy is not required of faculty.

  • There are many course designs and learning strategies that faculty may employ. Workshops, consultations, and training sessions from Distance and Extended Learning, Faculty Development, and IT are available to support faculty efforts in teaching a variety of classes, including those where student enrollments are more than 50 percent of the classroom capacity.
  • The University Registrar is working with departments, schools, and colleges to find larger classrooms. Chairs/school directors will move classes as appropriate to these larger venues to reduce classroom density and mitigate the need for the complexity of hy-flex teaching.
  • While some faculty and students are not ready for face-to-face environments, other faculty and students have been and wish to pursue in-person classes as long as health and safety measures are fully realized.
  • Now more than ever, students need the benefit of direct and consistent engagement throughout the semester. Based on campus-wide surveys, the Continuity of Education Work Group recommends more synchronous and live class events, articulate expectations for attendance, provide consistent office hours and active learning strategies, and other tried-and-true methods that have created teaching and learning success in the past.
  • For online courses delivered asynchronously (without a designated meeting time on the schedule of classes), flexibility is needed to ensure students are not required to complete exams or other assignments at times in conflict with their synchronous class schedules.
  • Electronic course fees: Texas State established temporary fee policies for spring 2021 to ensure students don’t pay more for having online courses than they would have paid for in-person courses.

Spring Break 2021

We do not plan to cancel spring break. We plan to abide by the current, published academic calendar, including the schedule of classes and final exam schedule, for spring 2021.

Summer Programming (Study Abroad and Summer Camps) 2021

  • The spring 2021 education abroad programs have been cancelled.

  • The summer 2021 travel programs are being reviewed for viability owing to the global pandemic impacts. A decision is expected in the next several weeks.
  • The viability analysis of future education abroad travel programs includes monitoring of global travel restrictions, health & safety requirements and practices, revised insurance coverage, and policies and practices. These decision-making processes are also informed by input received from the Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Carranco, the office of Risk Management, the Education Abroad Advisory Board, and faculty who participate in education abroad programs.
  • The viability of summer camps is under review due to the pandemic, too. A decision about summer camps is expected in the next several weeks.

Student Support Services – Spring 2021

In the spring 2021, similar to fall 2020, a mix of in-person, remote and hybrid student support services will be available. Details are forthcoming regarding how students can access specific academic and recreational support programming.

Updates on Legislative Session & University Budget

The process to prepare for the Session that will begin on January 12 started last spring as we organized our legislative priorities. We have six:

  1. First, equity funding. This is a request for an additional state appropriation that would bring our subsidy up to the average of the eight Emerging Research Universities or ERUs.
  2. The next two requests are for two buildings. During previous sessions, we have been successful in gaining funding during the same session for two buildings – one for each campus – when a statewide Tuition Revenue Bond (TRB) bill was passed. We are seeking TRB support for a STEM building on our San Marcos Campus to house computer science, mathematics, and Criminal Justice and Criminology.
  3. The other request for TRB support is for a health professions building on our Round Rock Campus to house Clinical Laboratory Science, Health Administration, Health Information Management, and Radiation Therapy from the College of Health Professions; the College’s Advising Center; and the Dean’s Office.
  4. Our fourth priority is for funding of a Center of Excellence for Community Health and Economic Resilience Research. The Center will bring together local authorities, business leaders, health professionals and educators to cope with and minimize the impact of public health emergencies when they occur.
  5. Our fifth priority advocates for continued funding of the Core Research Support Fund. This provision applies only to the ERUs and comes to us via a formula. Our Core appropriation is calculated based on two factors: total research and development (R&D) expenditures, and restricted research expenditures.
  6. Our sixth priority also requests continued funding for an appropriation that supports the ERUs -- the Texas Research Incentive Program (TRIP) fund. TRIP provides dollars to match philanthropic gifts the university receives to support research. 

  • For the current year, the ratio of tuition and fees to state appropriations for operations is three to one. In other words, we are three times more dependent on tuition and fees than we are on state appropriations for our general operations. Because both of these funding sources are based on enrollment, we devote a great deal of energy to our enrollment management process.
  • Texas State is preparing for a cut in our appropriation during the upcoming Session. because Texas went from having a $2.9 billion surplus at the beginning of 2020 to a $4.6 billion dollar deficit projection issued on July 20th.
  • We will not know the starting point for the budget until the Comptroller certifies the amount of the deficit in about two months. Then, it is up to the Legislature to propose a budget that is likely to contain some kind of a cut for higher education.
  • We are diligently working on enrollment and have committed to an increase in aid to help us enroll a fantastic freshman class next fall.