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UNM moves forward with hybrid fall semester plans

A cyclist rides past Zimmerman Library on a deserted University of New Mexico campus July 5. Officials are planning to begin the fall semester under a hybrid model in which most coursework would be done remotely, but some would happen in person. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Journal)

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

Thermometers will be included in welcome kits for students.

Masks and social distancing measures will be required.

Any case of COVID-19 will be addressed with cleaning and contact tracing.

University of New Mexico officials are forging ahead with a hybrid fall semester. That is, most coursework will be done remotely, but some will take place in person.

Their vision for the term was discussed during a Board of Regents meeting Tuesday that, like most classes next semester, was on Zoom videoconference. Courses are scheduled to start Aug. 17.

The regents also approved revised budgets for the main, branch and health science campuses. The total main campus budget – operating and capital – is expected to drop from $905 million to $872 million due to lower revenues and added expenses caused by the virus. Departments will be asked to scrub their budgets for ways to cover the deficit.

Meanwhile, the peak number of students on the UNM campus is expected to be at noon on Tuesdays, with about 1,200 students taking a course in person and as many as 4,000 total people on campus, including faculty, staff and residents, Provost James Holloway said. By contrast, a normal day on campus pre-COVID would perhaps draw as many as 30,000 people at a given time, he estimated.

“Our goals have been to limit, but not eliminate, face-to-face instruction,” he said. About two-thirds of courses are now scheduled to be entirely remote, but that number could increase, Holloway said.

Two thousand students will be allowed to live on campus, with just one person in every traditional dorm room. About 2,300 students were living in campus housing in March when they had to abruptly move out because of coronavirus, but housing officials said that was well under capacity.

The university has created protocols for how to clean areas after a confirmed positive case of COVID-19, which have been used once so far, Holloway said.

“Contact tracers” – those trying to track who might be infected – will be hired specifically to work infections at UNM by the start of the fall semester, officials said.

“We will hire contact tracers for the campus community, but they will be supervised by the Department of Health,” Holloway said during the meeting.

UNM President Garnett Stokes gave a presentation that mentioned the overall state capacity in testing because she said it remains limited and needs to be rationed. She said the school plans to have more information in the future about testing.

Cinnamon Blair, a spokeswoman for the university, said UNM doesn’t have its own system for collecting samples and testing for coronavirus. People are waiting for hours in lines to get tested.

Plans may change

With confirmed cases in New Mexico rising at a significant clip, Regent Rob Schwartz asked whether the university planned to have a trigger in place that would automatically move the university to remote instruction. The rate of spread or an inability to do contact tracing are possibilities, he said.

“We’re not going to set a specific number that would lead us to reverse course, because it is going to be a constant evaluation,” Stokes said. “We know that we’ll have to monitor these things every day.”

Face-to-face instruction is expected to end before Thanksgiving break, and students will complete the semester and take finals online, according to UNM’s website.

With so much of the curriculum planned for online, there has been a recent effort by UNM students to call for tuition and fees to be lowered. Mia Amin, president of Associated Students of the University of New Mexico, told regents during the meeting about a petition to lower tuition and fees that has been signed by more than 4,700 students.

“I don’t think we can turn a blind eye to this petition,” she said. “Virtual learning does not provide the same experience as in-person learning, and therefore the students are wanting a break on tuition.”

Amin requested a “good amount” of discussion before regents approved a revised budget.

Regent President Doug Brown said the university would consider some type of relief for students in terms of their fees.

Little discussion

However, regents on Tuesday approved budget revision plans for the main, branch and health sciences campuses with a few questions from regents but little discussion.

The revised plans reflect significant declines in state appropriations and revenues, as well as COVID-19-related expenses, said Teresa Costantinidis, the senior vice president for finance and administration.

On the main campus, total revenues in the revised budget are about $872 million. That is down from the original proposed budget of $905 million, according to UNM documents.

Within that revised budget for main campus is about $483 million in “unrestricted revenue,” which is essentially an operating budget that doesn’t include capital project and grants and contracts. The budget revision has about $498 million in “unrestricted expenses.”

Costantinidis said individual units across campus will be expected to look in the coming weeks and months for ways to absorb that roughly $15 million shortfall.

The administration’s budget plans were passed by regents and will now have to be approved by the state Higher Education Department.

“Even though I would have liked to see some discussion before the budget adjustment request was put to vote, I understand why the regents decided to approve it,” Amin said after the meeting. “I look forward to working with student leaders and campus administrators to continue to advocate for college affordability.”

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