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Zoom Q&A with staff, July 20, 2020

Jul 20, 2020

President Christopher Callahan, along with Vice President for Business and Finance Ken Mullen, held a Zoom meeting with Pacific staff on July 20, 2020. 

I know it's been going around the athletic department for sure, but what's the actual latest you're hearing about international [students ... Obviously, you've stressed that only a few classes are going to be in person. What's the latest that you're hearing there in terms of visas and people being allowed in?

President Christopher Callahan: As you know, there were multiple challenges with getting our international students enrolled. The biggest one, I'm delighted that we have overcome, the federal government had put into place briefly this, quite frankly, rather offensive regulation that essentially said if you were an international student and if your university went to a remote environment, you couldn't study there.

We actually went to court on that, along with 19 other universities, the next day the federal government rescinded that order. That was a huge, huge potential obstacle for us that has been removed. That was actually great news. In terms of visas, it really is very country dependent, but I'll tell you, so the good news is most, my understanding is, most of our returning international students are in country. They never went back home and that was real ... That's been true pretty much nationwide, with exceptions, of course, but most of those returning students are here, so obviously not a visa problem. The visa problems would manifest themselves with new students who are coming from their home country to the U.S. but, of course, now that we're all remote, they can study in the remote environment from wherever they are for the fall semester.

My question was in regards to, since we will have potentially several more months of not having an open campus, fully, will we be doing any more planning efforts specifically towards testing of COVID-19 to be available for students, staff and faculty at Pacific?

Callahan: Certainly not while there's nobody here, which is largely the case now. What we are going to have in place, we're actually talking about this at the cabinet meeting tomorrow morning, is just to make sure that the few people who are here on campus, much of them in Ken's team, are following our protocols: are social distancing, are using face coverings.

We are going to fire up this app, which we were going to wait for, but we may as well do that now where people take their own temperatures and report any symptoms that they have. Since there are really no students involved, that it's just our employees, and we would do what we would have done, even if we were fully open, which is, if there was an indication that there was a symptom to recommend that they go to their primary health care physician, who would then possibly recommend a test and send the results to us.

I have a number of questions, but one of the easier ones is how is the university determining how many students will be living on different campuses?

Callahan: You are a mind reader because that's our next meeting at 5:30. I'll tell you, there's a couple of different factors in play. We're fortunate the way our residential hall system is designed, we have a lot of apartment-style living, which is much safer in a virus environment. What we don't know is, is if we actually have permission from the county to bring students in.

If we did … we'll look at the pool of students who requested housing, who we were planning on housing in the fall semester, see if they are still interested, a lot are not going to be interested, but some are, but what we want to make sure of is that we're taking care of, first and foremost, our students who are housing insecure. That this is their home. They have no place else to go.

As you may know, we still have students who are in that situation on campus now. They never left. Hopefully, we'll have those students who need it. I suspect international students very often will need that sort of housing, so depending on what we're allowed to do, we'll populate the apartment-style living on campus. I'll have a better idea of that after our meeting.

My question was about student staff and having students on campus for a specific non-academic related thing. I know as staff we're allowed to come on campus for getting this and that, and I have student staff that it would be really helpful to be able to bring them on campus to pick up some stuff, to do some set activities. Are those things that we're going to be able to do or are all our activities the student staff have to be online?

Callahan: I'm going to ask Ken to take a crack at that and then I can always chime it.

Ken Mullen: I think the thing about being on campus is it's for essential work, and so whatever we deem as essential, which is you should be talking with your supervisor if there's any question on that. For example, facilities, there's essential work on campus facilities need to do. If there are essential work and employee, and a student worker is an employee, has to do and come to campus to pick something up, something like that, they should follow the protocols, the safety protocols, wearing a mask when they should wear a mask, social distancing, and so forth, but on campus, we ought to be keeping that to a minimum. Again, bare essentials, services and work that needs to be done. If you just need to come to get something, then come and get something and leave, and that's in the case for most of us, what we would have to do.

How does going online impact our budget strategy? I know Ken, you've spoken about different levers that might get triggered, and I'm sure other people are wondering the same.

Callahan: As I was telling our students earlier today, if we made this decision based on finances, then it would be the easiest decision in the world. We would open up all three campuses, period. Because, as you know, by going all remote, we're losing revenue, on one hand, and we have more expenditures on the other. I know students don't quite understand that, but I think they are starting to get that.

What's going to happen is, and we're going to have to ... we're really measuring this over the next couple of weeks. There were two variables that are really in play in a significant way. One is enrollment and the other is housing and I'll see if I can dig down a little bit on each one. On enrollment, we talked a little bit earlier about whether or not we can open up our apartment-style living. If we can ... Actually, half of it, a little more than half of our beds on the Stockton Campus are an apartment-style living.

That would be a huge benefit, quite frankly, to our finances because losing all those students, closing down all the residence halls, is a nontrivial financial hit. The first factor is whether or not we can bring students into the apartments with the understanding that, quite frankly, the rest of the campus is closed. We don't want them to think, oh, I'm back in college, not really, but some students, for a variety of different reasons, really want to come back.

Some again, have no place else to go. Some don't want to go home to their home country. We have student-athletes here who want to be here. We have other students who are working in the area. We have some students who, I think, are just sick of mom and dad. There's a whole variety of reasons, so that would be variable number one. Variable number two is enrollment. Are we going to lose students because we went remote? I can tell you before this, we designed all of this week ... We have dubbed this week, re-recruitment week. We are literally, when I say we, I'm not really doing anything, but Student Life is calling every one of our students, returning and incoming. The deans are then also doubling back and calling each student, and then athletics will be calling their students, so each of our students, every student at Pacific, will be contacted at least twice this week to see if they're coming, if there's anything that we can do, et cetera.

We're really going to make a big push, but we're not going to know either of those probably for another two weeks, would be my guess. I'm very hopeful because of, as I was telling the students, of course, you want to be here. We want you to be here. We want to be here, but the learning that goes on has nothing to do with the classroom. It has to do with who is teaching. It has to do with who your classmates are. It has to do with what the content of the course is, what the goals are, what the learning outcomes are, and on all those dimensions, nothing has changed.

They're even taking the course on the same day and at the same time. The library facilities will be completely open to them. Our tutoring and disability services and the like are totally open to them. Everything on the academic side really will be the same. Nevertheless, we understand that it's not what they expected. We're just going to have to see, but Hector, we will work as hard as we can this week and next week to minimize any loss of students. I hope that addresses your question.

Knowing that you had a webinar with students and parents earlier today, what was their response to us fully being remote for fall semester?

Callahan: Yeah, it was mixed, as you can imagine. First of all, we can assume everybody's disappointed, right? Everybody would prefer that we're here and that there was no COVID-19. I think the parents were largely relieved. I think many of the students were largely relieved because of health and safety concerns. Finances came up because they always do, and we walked them through what we're doing on finances.

I can take a second to tell you and others. On the tuition, as you know, we actually have this really great, for incoming freshmen, a four-year COVID-19 scholarship, which gives students almost $1,500 a year extra on top of their financial aid pack. We're waiving some of the fees, all course fees. We have a lot of course fees, especially in science courses. We're waiving all of those for the fall semester.

We're waiving our rec fee on the Stockton Campus for the fall semester. We're providing technology subsidies for any students who are having difficulty connecting, whether or not that's because of computer problems or internet connections. We'll have some money available to them to help support them on that end.

Then financial aid is looking at families that were hit very hard financially by COVID to see whether or not there's more federal funding available because they're finding the situation has changed since they filled out the financial aid forms. Again, overall, I think the social media over the weekend was largely positive. I had a conversation with a parent today who was just passionate. And she said, "Come on, just open." And I get that. I mean, I feel the same way a lot of times. Right? But at the end of the day, as you know, and I think most everybody understands. It's just the situation with COVID-19 just does not allow that. And I think there's some confusion. Not confusion, but not every school has made that decision yet. Many have, but not all have. I may be wrong, but I think most will over the course of the next few days it looks like.

I have sort of a question slash statement. We all know, the spike happened and we reopened. Just reopened. And I'm guessing that, so it is expected that the trend will go down now and over the fall, and then we'll open up in the spring. And then again, we might have another spike, and then the summer comes. And we are in this kind of rollercoaster of things. How do we as a university prepare for that? And will we continue just kind of being on the fly here? And working remotely. I just can't imagine what you guys are going through, planning on all of this.

Callahan: To Ken's point earlier, so many people on this call, have been so instrumental in the planning and execution of this. What's going to happen in the future? Of course, we don't really know. I am very optimistic about spring. If we get this flattened out, the plan we have in place, we're ready to execute. We're still ready to execute it. Part of it we have executed, if you were on campus, you would see some footprints on the ground and some plexiglass up and the like. So, and certainly our PPE supplies and all that. We're ready to go. Once COVID-19 gets to a level that we think is safe to bring folks back, we are ready to go.

How long is this going to last? Well, Dr. Fauci said a couple of weeks ago that, "he was cautiously optimistic that we would have a vaccine by the end of the year." Boy, wouldn't that be the best holiday present in the world? Because once we have the vaccine, then that doesn't alleviate all the problems, but it certainly, makes our future look much brighter and much more predictable. But if not, if there is no vaccine by then and we go into January, as long as it's safe to open, we will basically implement the plan that we've worked on a lot already for spring semester, instead of this fall.

The WCC announced that sports competitions will begin September 24. Will our student-athletes be staying in training on campus and then taking their classes online? And will the games be played or do we know yet with fans or without fans?

Callahan: I was part of the president's vote for WCC last week and your date's right. But I'm going to frame it a little differently because the presidents, we framed it differently. We didn't say we're going to start September 24. We said we weren't going to have games until at least September 24. And of course, like everything else, it'll depend on health conditions in terms of COVID-19. If you were to ask me, what are the chances of having fall games on campus with fans? No decisions are made on that. I can tell you my personal opinion. I think the chances of that are zero, they're zero.

My hope is things improve to the point where we can actually get competitions going and in a safe environment much like they're doing in major league baseball now. Which looks really weird, I must say. It sounds really weird. I wish they would just throw in a soundtrack over it. It's very disconcerting to listen to.

But then Janet [Lucas] and I are actually, she has a meeting with the WCC ADs tomorrow morning. And then Janet is coming up with a couple of different scenarios on how we can bring our student-athletes back, and what sort of training we could do. But even that will be highly modified.

So, for instance, if we're able to bring back some of our student-athletes and start workouts again, my guess is we're going to do all that outside. So there's still going to be a lot of modifications to this. But as you know, our student-athletes are such an important part of the fabric of Pacific. We want to get them here. We just want to get them here safely.

Thinking ahead to a tentative spring re-opening and the complexities of having the holidays fall in the immediate weeks prior to that semester. Determination on a spring re-opening with a similar timeline, maybe five or six weeks ahead of time. Where a January start program, we’re in our class on January 3. So, we're thinking about those decisions now.

Callahan: One of the many things that I'm learning now that I am on day 20 of my position here at University of the Pacific, is apparently we have different start times for every program possible. So, I'm still learning about this.

I'm not saying it's a bad thing. It just makes it a little more complicated for planning purposes. Our sweet spot is we want to be able to give people enough time to prepare, but we want to be able to also take advantage of much time as we can in order to make the right decision. So, this year we pushed it to four weeks.

Let me put it this way, I don't imagine a scenario where we would make a decision in less than four weeks. Just because people have to plan. And again, we're staying very optimistic and we hope that by the time let's say October rolls around, it'll be really clear that we're all going to be back.

I work in sustainability, which I didn't mention previously, but just moving forward with how do we give students our best experience knowing that we are going online? So, what are some of the ways that we can learn about the different efforts to engage students virtually, so that we, not just us, but all the university partners have an idea and can better plan and coordinate and work more in partnership rather than everyone doing their own thing?

Callahan: On the teaching side, on the classroom side, we have the Center for Teaching and Learning, CTL, which is really working on a lot of different innovative ways of how you engage students in the classroom.  But what you're asking is really important and quite frankly, I'd love to hear your ideas on what we might be able to do in terms of getting people together? Brainstorming ideas on how we can engage students … On how are we going to engage them in that way. Thinking creatively and in a different kind of way. I'd just love to hear, I don't want to put you on the spot, but I'd love to hear your thoughts on that. And if not right now, maybe we can get a smaller group together and kick ideas around. Send me a note, so you can remind me of the conversation. And I have a couple of ideas that I could send your way, but I like the idea of amplifying this across our university. So, I think you're thinking exactly the right way.

So, my question is just around budget cuts and department cuts, and obviously additional staff cuts. And if what we did, feels like forever ago, it was recent, was kind of enough to get us through this? Or, and if not, if you have an idea of kind of when you'll have a better sense? Because I know it's all kind of dependent on enrollment and we won't know until school starts. So just your thoughts slash comments around that.

Callahan: Our financial plan with everything we've done already, with a lot of sacrifice on the part of our entire community. Was really based around a model where we would have students back in the fall. So, without that, there are, there's potentially significant revenue loss that we would have to address.

The two factors, you mentioned one, enrollment. But housing is the other. So, if we're able to stem any sort of erosion of enrollment in a significant way, and if we're able to bring back a large number of students onto the campus, then that will really diminish any sort of financial problems that we have.

We'll know more before the beginning of school, but we're really not going to have a sense of it probably for another two weeks, three weeks. And then at that point, we're going to look at it and then go forward from there. Which again, why we're so sort of hyper-focused this week and next week on this re-recruitment mode, and why Ken and I right after this, we're having a meeting about housing. Because those are really two most essential questions that we need to resolve and hopefully resolve in very positive ways for us to have a successful fall semester.

I just was wondering, so I know students are off campus through the fall, are staff also off campus through the fall? Or is that still kind of wait and see?

Callahan: That's a great question. As of right now, all things will continue as they are currently. So most, not all, most of our colleagues are working remotely. That will continue for the foreseeable future. My hope is as things get better, we can start, slowly phasing folks back onto campus. But certainly, in the short term, we're basically going to be in the same mode as we've been in for the last few months.

I had seen that UC Berkeley post their campus COVID-19 cases online and test on-site. Has there been any consideration yet in doing this as well?

Callahan: I guess sort of a couple of observations. I didn't realize they were doing that. Number one, Berkeley's had a lot of cases. Number two, I assume they're not like saying who the people are because that would be a violation of privacy. We haven't had—and correct me if I'm wrong—I think we had precious few positive cases of COVID-19 to date. Ken, is that fair?

Mullen: That is very fair. Yes. Very, very few. Single digits far as I know.

Callahan: Yeah. Now, of course, a lot of that is we're not ... Most of us aren't here. And obviously, we're a smaller community than Berkeley but I'll take a look and see what they're doing. That's interesting. Again, hopefully, they're not identifying the people but I'll take a look, see what they're doing.

I work at the March Lane office and there have been some confirmed cases there last month, but I'm on the academic side. But there are some units like in Ken's division that have been working on a lot and comparing myself as an employee and comparing, for example, my sister. She works at a nonprofit downtown and the PPE that they provide her, the temperature checks that they do, I don't see that happening at Pacific. And so, we've been relying a lot on our own personal handmade masks. So, I was just wondering if there are updates on the personal protective equipment on campus available to employees that have been there during this time?

Mullen: So just to make clearer—you mentioned March Lane. And I understand there were four cases that are all non-university employees. So kind of good and bad but we surely don't want any cases. But we do have personal protective equipment in-house already ordered and delivered. So, for example, we ordered three cloth face coverings for everyone with Pacific there. It says, Pacific. We also have thermometers on order. Those have not yet arrived. I think they're due this week, is my understanding or early next week. So thermometers for everybody as well. We also have a tremendous amount of wipes that are just waiting to be used and distributed.

Of course, that was in anticipation of people coming back to work and to class. As well as the hand sanitizer in every building, all those units have been installed by the doors and are there. And as President Callahan already mentioned, the markings on the floor and so on. So we do have a lot of personal protective equipment here and ready to go. And again, as President Callahan mentioned, we're going to have this screening app being rolled out soon so that people for them to come on campus, will have to use that app to be self-screening before they come to campus. Does that answer your question?

Yeah. And I have a follow-up: I think in previous meetings, there have been questions about disseminating information on the protocol and how we should be visiting campus or while we stopped by, like what do we do? And I haven't really found a guide as to what we should be doing. Is there going to be something like that posted so that we know what to bring when we come to campus, who we tell?

Callahan: We'll have that out but one of the things we've been doing in this interim period is because quite frankly, there are so few units that have, or should have people on our campuses that were doing it at the unit base level. So, I'm sorry … Because there are so few units that are authorized to come on campus, that we've been doing that at the unit level. To Ken's point, we'll roll with something that everybody will have so when we get to the point when people start phasing back in, it'll all be ready. But I'll be honest with you, I've been reluctant to push out sort of a grand plan because I don't want people to then think, "Oh, then it's okay to come back to campus." Because for most of our employees, it's not yet. We know people are frustrated and quite frankly in some cases, working from home but we don't want to do anything that might signal, "Come on back." But we'll get that out, certainly the PPE to the folks who are here on campus already once those are coming in.

If we can't have housing for students, are we able to rent out the dorms to the community to generate income? And building off of that question, if we do that route, how long would the lease run for our spring into 2020? And even if we don't do it through the community to like the public, what if we just did it to Pacific staff where they could have like a subsidized living situation … So, like while some people's salaries have been reduced, they would have like a cheaper living situation but the school would still be able to generate some money off of the rent of the units that would not be occupied by students.

Callahan: Sure. Well, I love the innovative thinking behind that. I guess my reluctance would be we're gearing up to have all of our students back on campus. So even if we were able to do something like that and I'm not sure if we would be, maybe. I don't know. It's certainly an interesting idea. It would be for an unbelievably short term. It would be for a few months before we would need to kick the folks out to get everything ready to go for January. So Ken and I will run that up the flagpole because it's an interesting idea, but I guess that would be my main concern that we would ... No matter what, we would have to design something so come December, we can roll people out. So come January, we could have our students because, at the end of the day, we're here for our students. But it's an interesting idea. So we'll kick it around at cabinet meetings tomorrow morning. I don't know where that came from but whoever suggested that, thank you for your creative and innovative thinking.

How will being remote impact work study funds?

Callahan: It's actually a question of the functionality of the job. We still have work study funds. We still want work study students. Unfortunately, some work study positions are you need to be here, but others not. So the funding mechanisms will still be in place. It's just a question of whether or not the students can do their jobs remotely. And many will be able to.

Is there an approval process to reopen? Is there an approval process from a government agency that we had to take consideration of? Or is this a decision that the university can make itself?

Callahan: Yes, is the answer. The first step is the governor's office puts out guidelines for each sector, for each industry, and they send that to the counties. The governor to date still has not sent out any guidelines for higher education. Amongst us friends, it's been a little frustrating because most of the secretaries have gotten their guidance and we have not. So it's left us a little bit in a guessing game. Once that happens, those go to the county, and then we already have literally, we have three county health plans for each of our three counties, written, edited and just signed and ready to deliver. And in some cases, we've actually previewed them with the folks who were making the decisions. So we are queued up to get that local authorization when the time comes. But right now, and I will tell you, I've heard again that the governor's office is going to release those this week, which on one hand is exciting. On the other hand, we have heard that now for I think, eight consecutive weeks that it's this week. So, I am not putting any money down on that.

If enrollment drops, what is the plan for more cuts or is it going to be work reductions or budget operational cuts? Which division departments?

Callahan: Yeah. It's a great question. And right now, there is no plan because we need to know if there's going to be a deficit from where we are and if so, how much. And then I have to make difficult decisions around that but right now, we're trying to spend the next two weeks maximizing the enrollment so we don't have to make those sorts of decisions.

If the opposite happens and we have a much better turnout in enrollment and things go up and we see a surplus. If we see a surplus because everyone's had to take these cuts, if the university sees enough of a surplus, would there be considerations for like a one-time bonus? It doesn't seem fair for all the staff and faculty that are taking cuts to take the cuts and then if the university does really well to be like, "Well, the university's making a profit." But we all still took a cut.

Callahan: I will say that in the extremely unlikely scenario where we have a nice surplus as we're starting projecting into let's say the fourth quarter … that would be a wonderful occurrence. I'm being completely honest with you, I think the chances of that are zero. If you look around the country and look at what other universities are doing, and the Chronicle of Higher Education, nobody is talking about, "Huh, what happens if we get into Q4 and we have a surplus?" But I will tell you, if in that very unlikely scenario, the first thing we would do is reinstate our employees and our workforce for the folks who had to take time reductions. That would be the very first thing to come back. But again, I don't want to hold out any hope for that

You started Pacific with racial and social justice issues intensifying throughout the country, and a lot of important discussions are taking place, have taken place and should continue to be taking place. How do we continually strengthen this conversation and make it meaningful for our students, our faculty and staff, especially since we're largely off campus and remote now?

Callahan: I'll just spend a minute because I met with a number of our African American staff and faculty today, which is part of a continuum, a short-term plan, I will tell you. So, just to give you a little bit of a sense of how I've been thinking about this, on July 1, which was my first day in office, I spent that day pretty much in totality speaking one-on-one to some faculty members, African American faculty members and staffers on their perceptions and their experiences. The following week, I met for two hours with a number of our black alumni to talk about their experiences, both as alumni of Pacific and as students, and it was a neat cross-section of age and different generations were represented. The week after that, which was last week, I met with a group of black students and student leaders to get their perceptions and their experiences as being a black student at University of the Pacific. Today, we met with black faculty and staff in another Zoom meeting, again, the same thing for me, because I'm trying to get smart on all these issues very, very quickly, so listening to experiences of our black staff and faculty. Next week, I'm meeting with another group of black student leaders, and then in August, my plan is to get folks back together again and to come up with an action plan that will include things that we can do immediately and things that will take a longer time, but that will have markers of success and progress.

I can tell you I've been in higher education for 30 years. Universities are fantastic about defining challenges. Universities are fantastic about talking about challenges. Universities are fantastic about creating committees to explore challenges, and universities are wonderful at writing reports about what should be done about the challenges. What universities have not excelled at is actually doing stuff, and in my career, while it's important to listen and to gather the facts, I'm much more interested in what we can do to help solve problems as opposed to talking about problems endlessly. This is not a criticism of University of the Pacific, this is a criticism of quite frankly, of higher education. I've seen this for 30 years at a number of fantastic universities. It is just part of the culture, and I don't know what those solutions are going to be. Actually, I have a pretty good idea what some of them are because they're kind of obvious. What we'll do, we'll put into place a short-term plan, and then a long-term plan with measurables along the way, and I will also just answer that COVID-19 is a challenge of historic proportions, but it should not stop us from making advances on all other fronts, and I think social justice issues are absolutely essential area for that. So, we are going to advance on that front and other fronts while we're doing battle, sometimes hand-to-hand, combat with COVID-19.

Is there a possibility of reimbursement for staff who are working online with increased usage of phone, internet service, printing, electricity from their own home?

Mullen: The thing that I would say there is that if you have additional expenses that you can document that you're personally paying for and they're clearly business expenses, we would gladly reimburse those. So that's the key, is just being able to document them and show that there were business expenses and for what purpose, and we would that we would do that.

Where are you now with our enrollment numbers and where would you like to be after the recruitment efforts over the next couple of weeks?

Callahan: Yeah, well the answer to the second question is more in terms of where we'd like to be. I will tell you right now, our enrollment is steady in terms of what we were looking at a month ago, so that's the good news, but this is all before we announced that we're going to be remote, and our concern of course is, are we going to lose students because they don't have the ability to come to campus? So that's what we really need to measure, that's we need to fight against over the next two weeks, that's what we need to measure. If we were able to hold steady from where we are today, that would be an enormous win, an enormous win. And I will also add, getting that federal regulation, that ICE regulation rescinded was huge because we were looking at a scenario, as were other universities, where basically we have our international population of students offline completely, it was just wiped out. That would have been dramatic, so just that has been a major, major help. But right now, it's basically been holding steady, it's where it's been over the last month or so, which is great.

Now, we need to do everything we can over the next two weeks in this re-recruitment mode to make sure we can keep every one of our students here, and I think we can, because again, the academic experience is driven by the professor and the quality of the professor, the quality of the education. It doesn't matter, it shouldn't matter, where that is delivered, and then all of the other, which you saw in my letter on Friday, all the other co- curricular activities that we're really, really focusing on to get students excited, to really show the value added of Pacific, no matter where you happen to be studying.