July 2, 2020
As we head into the July 4th weekend, I want to update you on a variety of important subjects.
Before I do, however, there is no better time for a quick public service announcement reminding you of the importance of wearing a face covering, respecting physical distancing and washing your hands.
Reopening Plan - On July 6, all Virginia public higher education institutions are required to submit plans to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) outlining strategies for fall in areas such as instruction, dining and housing. Once the ODU submission is acknowledged, we will publish it on the University website. Many of you have contributed to this, but I want to particularly acknowledge Vice President Greg DuBois, Assistant Vice President for Public Safety Rhonda Harris and Emergency Management Director Jared Hoernig for leading the efforts. You should know that faculty and staff continue to meet daily on COVID-related matters.
State Budget - While we probably will not know specifics for another several months, we have received promising news on Virginia's revenue deficit, which at one time was predicted to exceed $1 billion. Some forecasts now project the number to be closer to $500 million. While that would still represent a large obstacle, we would be trending in the right direction heading toward fall. We remain hopeful that some of our previously approved state appropriation will be restored or that reductions will take into account historical funding discrepancies.
Enrollment - Our summer enrollment numbers will hold at about 7 percent higher than last year. It is still a bit premature to predict the fall. However, we remain on track in all areas for new students - from freshmen to graduate students - and we believe that, barring another virus outbreak, our full-time enrollment could hold close to 2019-20 numbers. My concern is with returning students who are still navigating financial challenges, travel restrictions and, of course, family concerns resulting from COVID-19. We are providing as much assistance as we can to those with financial holds and helping them understand how to apply for some of the relief monies now offered by both the state and federal governments.
Building Updates - Despite a series of setbacks from suppliers, both the Chemistry Building and Hugo A. Owens House are on target for mid- to late-fall semester occupancy. The Koch Hall and Visual Arts renovations are nearly complete, and we remain optimistic that the volleyball facility in the Jim Jarrett Building will be ready for September play. The Virginia Beach Memorial, located between Gornto and Batten Arts and Letters, is also nearly finished, and I hope we can hold a dedication ceremony when gatherings are determined to be safe.
REYES - Our faculty and staff have been creative and resourceful in transitioning to online education. Perhaps the most recent example is the Remote Experience for Young Engineers and Scientists (REYES), a free, eight-week STEM-based summer program covering topics including artificial intelligence and coronavirus simulation. REYES, led by Assistant Vice President for Strategic Communication and Marketing Giovanna Genard and Assistant Professor of Physics Raul Briceño, has attracted almost 7,000 participants from 119 countries.
Campus Discussions - Many of you took the time to comment on my letter about the murder of George Floyd or participated in the March for Justice organized by graduate student Mufu Taiwo. I want to inform you that the President's Task Force on Inclusive Excellence, the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Division of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services and the Office of Academic Affairs are all planning events and broader discussions to coincide with our reopening. In fact, many events and discussions on social justice issues in our country and beyond have already been held virtually since our March departure. I thank Director of Faculty Diversity and Retention Narketta Sparkman-Key, Director for Diversity Initiatives Veleka Gatling and Executive Director of Intercultural Relations Lesa Clark for spearheading these initiatives.
An example of a recent success was a virtual tour of Ted Ellis' 400th Commemoration Art Exhibit at Goode Theatre, where he served as guide. More than 1,000 people from around the world tuned in live, and the tour is now available on the University's website. I appreciate the work of the College of Arts & Letters and the Office of Community Engagement in making this event a success. If you have not viewed it, Ellis accurately calls his exhibition the middle ground to talk about race, social injustice, inequality and police brutality.
Building Names - From time to time, inquiries are made about the nature and history of our campus buildings. Occasionally, specific questions are asked about the individuals for whom the buildings are named and whether they warrant such an honor. A committee led by Vice President Alonzo Brandon and Provost Austin Agho is tasked with reviewing these matters and working with state and local historians when conducting this research.
Finally, I wish to thank all of you for your hard work and efforts during these challenging times. Your respective vice presidents, deans and supervisors will alert you as more information becomes available. In the meantime, enjoy your 4th of July break.
John R. Broderick