Eastern President David Glassman urged students to not return to campus after extended spring break and announced that graduation will be canceled during an emergency Board of Trustees meeting Thursday.
However, if students with Housing and Dining contracts do not return to the university for the remainder of the semester they will receive a refund or credit for their contract.
This decision comes amid the COVID-19 pandemic and mirrors actions made by other universities in the country, and Glassman said nine out of 12 public universities are doing credit or refunds.
He said if every Eastern student living on campus does not return that would equate to about a $3.8 million refund or credit the university will have to make for the contracts.
“This is not an insignificant financial issue that we are discussing here today,” he said.
Paul McCann, the interim vice president for business affairs, said about $1 million of the refund will come from current operations the remainder will come from the fund balance in the housing area.
Housing and Dining Contract
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved refunded or crediting students’ Housing and Dining contracts for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester.
If a student owes money to the university, then the refund will be applied to their account; if a student is graduating or not returning to campus at all and do not owe money to the university they will get a prorated refund; and if a student is returning to the university for the Fall 2020 semester they will receive a credit on their next bill.
Glassman said there are exceptions in place for students who need to return to campus including international students, students who do not have permanent homes or don’t have access to technology or students with any other extraordinary circumstance that requires them to return to campus.
He said those who will return to campus will be in their own separate room with no roommate and possibly will not return to the room they were originally assigned (although they will be permitted to retrieve their belongings). He said this is to ensure they are utilizing “social distancing” as advised by the Centers for Disease Control.
The measure applies to the residence halls, Greek Court, university apartments and University Court.
Glassman said all of the other universities that he is aware of are providing rebates to their students in the same manner that that Eastern is, though he does not know what model those universities are using.
“We know that there is some form of refunding or crediting that they are that they are doing due to these circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
For students returning to campus, Taylor Hall will be the only dining center open on a “grab and go” basis, Glassman said.
He also said the Counseling Center will be predominantly remote; however, there will be one person at least in the Counseling Center for any student who comes in in crisis.
Career Services will be remote as well, and the Office of Financial Aid has asked that people call or email first. It will also be changing locations to take social distancing into account.
Lynette Drake, the interim vice president for student affairs, said students will be able to check out their belongings from their rooms.
Checkouts will start at 1 p.m. on March 22 and will continue for two weeks, Drake said.
“We’re staffing enough people to be able to manage the checkout process during that period of time. It’ll be during limited hours but flexible hours for our residents. We just want to make sure we give them the opportunity to gather their belongings and head back home,” Drake said.
She said the details regarding the specifics of how many people will be allowed to check out at a time and how many will be allowed on a floor is still be discussed.
Glassman said the governor’s office and Illinois Board of Higher Education has requested that all universities provide a list of costs associated with the pandemic, which he said Eastern sent yesterday.
“We sent them, essentially, a list of costs. Some that are real, some that are tentative depending upon what happens, and some are a contingency. Obviously, anything that we have to pay for (as a result of) the COVID-19 pandemic,” Glassman said.
Paul McCann, the interim vice president for business affairs, said included in those costs were some related to the student abroad program cancellations, more cleaning on campus, medical supplies and adding additional people on staff to account for the increase in cleaning.
“Those are the things that we’ve added into the list. Camps and conferences over the summer may need to be cut depending upon the timing and nature of what happens in the next two to three months,” McCann said.
McCann said in terms of how much the university will save due to students not returning to campus is somewhere around a $1 million, which includes savings on food (about a $600,000) and not having as many student workers (which saves about $400,000). He also said they may have some savings in utilities, for example they may not have to use the air conditioning in one of the buildings, but that is harder to tell right now.
He said even though there are some savings, they do not offset the cost of the refunds.
Also, McCann said because of the refunds the university will see a deficit for the semester.
“However, the way it was structured initially with a full semester of fees and attendance and enrollment, we would not have seen, more than likely, a deficit for the semester. When we go back to the budget at the beginning of the year we estimated a small deficit but we had mitigated quite a bit of that throughout the year so I think that what we’re generating here is truly a deficit that we will carry forward,” McCann said.
Graduation will be canceled for May.
Glassman said all the graduates will be able to walk the stage in December 2020.
He said all students who complete all requirements will graduate in May and receive the program for May 2020 commencement, their diploma and the cover for the diploma.
“Unfortunately we have felt the need to cancel it,” Glassman said.
The story will be updated as more information becomes available. Glassman is expected to call the News today to respond to questions.
Analicia Haynes can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]