On May 1, 2020, Hunter College President Jennifer J. Raab shared this update:
To Hunter College Faculty and Staff,
I hope that this communication finds you and your families safe and healthy. We continue to be deeply thankful for all your hard work throughout the semester. We know that these times are very difficult, and your support for our community and your commitment to the Hunter mission have been nothing short of inspirational. We wanted to share some additional updates as the end of the semester draws closer.
CELEBRATING OUR STUDENTS
During this uncertain time, it is more important than ever that we take a moment to celebrate the incredible accomplishments of our students. We are so pleased that so many of you have come together to plan recognition ceremonies for our graduates, and we have been working with chairs and program heads to provide centralized support for these events. This support includes technology and design resources and connections, where appropriate, for alumni and speaker engagement. Graduates have also been invited to walk at Commencement in January 2021 and will receive a graduation package with a cap, tassel, and Commencement program to bring the celebration into their homes.
In addition to completing their Hunter degrees, our students continue to do amazing things, and we are incredibly proud of them. As has become a trend in recent years, Hunter students continue to win prestigious scholarships. Four graduating seniors have received Fulbright Scholarships, a junior received a Barry Goldwater Scholarship, and a senior and a recent alum won Luce Scholarships. Please join me in congratulating these students, and all our students, for their incredible accomplishments.
SPECIAL COVID-19 FLEXIBLE GRADING POLICY / STUDENT DISCIPLINE RESOURCES
As a reminder, the CUNY Board of Trustees implemented a Flexible Grading Policy to provide students with maximum flexibility as they navigate the challenges associated with the University’s move to distance learning and the current crisis. Please note: This policy applies to all students and all courses at Hunter, including undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral courses. CUNY has created an FAQ to address common questions, and we encourage you to reach out to Vice President Eija Ayravainen with any additional questions you may have.
In addition, Vice President Ayravainen would like to remind faculty of student conduct standards and expectations and corresponding resources available through the Office of Student Conduct. We encourage you to review the policies and procedures that are in place to promote academic integrity and appropriate conduct. You can find more information on the Office of Student Conduct website or reach out to Vice President Ayravainen with any questions.
We are grateful for the way so many of you have responded to my call to make this summer as productive as possible for our students. We have already seen enrollment increase by 15% compared to this point last year, and our outreach and recruitment efforts continue. We have launched a new website full of resources, including financial support, for students, and we have enhanced advising for students to help them consider how they can best use this summer to work towards their goals. We are using our new data analytic tool Hunter Navigate to help faculty plan course and section offerings that meet student needs, and we are eager to help you adapt your courses and programs for the remote summer session. Given the unique circumstances of this spring and summer, CUNY has granted campuses the ability to temporarily approve new courses for inclusion in the Pathways curriculum. We are grateful to the Senate leadership for quickly developing a process for campus approval of new courses, and we strongly encourage you to consider if any of your courses meet the Pathways criteria. Please reach out to Associate Provost Mike Steiper with any questions or for help with submitting a proposal before the May 5th deadline.
We continue to create and enhance instructional support and resources for faculty and hope you will continue to engage with these resources. Please remember we will help you update or enhance your technology, including both hardware and software, to support your remote work and instruction; please reach out to your department chair, program director, or director to make a request. In addition to the webinars and office hours many of you participated in this spring, we have created a robust training series taught by experienced instructors and staff that will help faculty adapt their courses to remote instruction. We are in the process of purchasing software that will support remote lab instruction, as well, and will share that information when it is available. All of these resources and best practices are being consolidated into an updated “Handbook for Faculty” that will be available soon for easy reference. We are also supporting faculty participation in programs run by the CUNY School of Professional Studies, with the first cohort of faculty participating this month. For more information about resources available, visit our comprehensive website for faculty, or reach out to Associate Provost Jenny Tuten.
We are continuing to focus on to how to best support our students. We ask that you continue to direct students who need additional support to Student Services and to work with your department chair to help address academic issues that may arise. As a reminder, we have been able to obtain a significant number of laptops for long-term loan through private donations and an allocation from CUNY, and we have just invested in technology to help boost wireless signals for students that will be available shortly. We have recently launched a mobile distribution program through which we are bringing both food from our Food Pantry and laptops directly to students in their neighborhoods. We continue to distribute much-needed funds to students through the Coronavirus Emergency Assistance Fund and have invested significantly in financial aid for summer school. We ask that you encourage your students who might need additional support to apply for both of these opportunities.
The Governor’s New York on PAUSE executive order continues through May 15, and we will continue to watch for guidance on when our campus will physically reopen. We are also waiting to hear from CUNY about decisions for fall instruction. Please be assured that the Hunter leadership team is making plans for various scenarios to continue learning and staying safe.
CUNY has determined that some limitations on international travel are warranted for the Fall 2020 semester. For students, many study abroad programs have been suspended, and other programs, including experiential-learning trips, will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis; Hunter is making arrangements directly with impacted students to support them as they rework their plans for the fall. For faculty and staff, international travel will be permitted except to countries identified as Level 3 or Level 4 by U.S. State Department advisories, and CUNY has granted campus Presidents the authority to grant waivers for some international travel on a case-by-case basis. We encourage you to review the full policy and to speak with your chair, program director, or director about any international travel you have planned for the Fall 2020 semester.
As you know, the economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 crisis is significantly impacting the finances of the state and city, two of CUNY’s main funding partners, both of whom are projecting large budget deficits. The ongoing and unpredictable impact of this crisis is expected to continue through at least the next academic year; it creates uncertainty about our state funding for the new fiscal year that started April 1, 2020, and puts additional strain on Hunter’s already tight budget. So far, the COVID crisis has had an immediate and significant financial impact on the school in terms of both increased costs and decreased revenue. For example, we have committed unanticipated expenditures for technology to enable students and faculty to transition to remote instruction, heightened safety measures, supplemental cleaning materials, and refunded dorm fees. Hunter has however been allocated $19M through the Federal CARES Act, half of which will be distributed directly to students through a formula developed by CUNY; we are awaiting information from CUNY about the allocation, use, and timing of the other half of the federal funding.
In recognition of these unprecedented budget challenges, CUNY has instituted several new University-wide processes, including a freeze on all new hires and discretionary salary increases, limiting significant one-time recurring or new expenditures, and avoiding entering any new long-term contractual obligations. CUNY has also created a Vacancy Review Committee to evaluate exceptions to the salary and hiring freezes. To deal responsibly with all these challenges, we have been working closely with the Hunter leadership team including vice presidents, deans, program directors, and department chairs to evaluate and revisit many of our expenses and to plan adjustments for the Summer and Fall semesters. We meet regularly with both the College-wide Faculty, Budget and Personnel Committee and the Senate Administrative Committee. We consulted in April with the Senate Budget Committee, will meet with them again before the next Senate meeting, and will provide an update at the May 13 Senate meeting as well. We are also creating a Hunter Stakeholder Task Force consisting of a small group of faculty and staff to review the requests for personnel actions that will be submitted to CUNY and to consult on other strategic approaches to ensure that Hunter’s budget is aligned to our new reality.
Through all of this, please know that the Hunter leadership team is committed to transparency and collaboration as we move our beloved institution forward. I am confident that by working together, we will be able to weather both this economic crisis and the impact of the pandemic on our campus.
Thank you again for your continued perseverance throughout this crisis. You are an exceptional group and we are fortunate to have you in the Hunter family.
With appreciation and best wishes for a restful weekend,
Jennifer J. Raab