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Housing, commencement, worker pay decisions discussed at Board of Regents

An update on pension and COVID-19 update also discussed

March 18, 2020

COVID-19 updates at NKU, such as university housing, pension developments and faculty and student employment were discussed today at today’s digital Board of Regents meeting.

COVID-19 Updates

“The campus will remain open, albeit partially, and will continue with the essential university operations,” President Ashish Vaidya said in his presidential comments. “We have not made decisions about finals week or spring commencement yet, but the COVID-19 preparedness team, led by Sue Ott Rowlands, will continue to monitor the situation and will have recommendations very soon.”

Provost Sue Ott Rowlands led a presentation that covered faculty and student wages, housing and dining services and campus building operations.

According to Rowlands, the preparedness team has over 30 multi-departmental members that meet on a daily or, more recently, hourly basis to address concerns about campus.

Rowlands addressed how students who have federal and institutional work studies will be affected.

“Student employees will not need to report to their assignment, but they will continue to be paid for their assignment throughout the semester,” Rowlands said. 

Faculty and staff will be able to continue working either in an online capacity or on campus with a rotating schedule to promote social distancing. A staff member’s schedule must be approved by their supervisor, and Rowlands recommends managers be flexible to employee circumstances.

“Staff will remain in full-pay at least through the end of April,” Rowlands said.

If a staff member has health or family concerns and cannot work, they will be able to draw income from “COVID wages,” according to Rowlands. Employees who do not have sick days or vacation time left can still apply for COVID wages.

NKU Housing has remained open for students, though Assistant Vice President for Student Engagement and Dean of Students Arnie Slaughter said, “We anticipate that approximately 70 percent of our students will return to their permanent home locations.” 

According to Slaughter, residential students will receive a weekly form to continually confirm whether they are staying in residential halls. This form is an effort of Housing to keep track of their residential population and accommodate dining services accordingly.

In the case of a student with a high probability of having the virus, Slaughter said the team has secured self-quarantine spaces in a residential hall that will provide for the needs of the student and the safety of the community. The spaces can be increased if there is a need, according to Slaughter.

Beginning this Saturday, Norse Commons will operate under traditional hours for students. Chartwells has also made the decision that students with meal plans can use their All Cards during the extended spring break period for on-campus dining at open locations. 

Slaughter said the team has also been working closely with FUEL NKU to offer more affordable food options to students. The organization should resume traditional hours next week.

“We want to make sure that not only are residential students receiving the food they may need but students who commute and/or students who live on campus but also need additional food sources,” Slaughter said.

The COVID-19 team also provided updates on study abroad programs and participating students.

All Education Abroad programs scheduled for May and the remaining summer have been canceled. NKU has recalled all students currently overseas in study abroad programs. According to Rowlands, most of these students have either already returned or are in the process of returning, but some have not been responding to NKU’s message. Faculty and students returning from outside countries must be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival.

The Health, Counseling and Student Wellness Center will remain open for student health and counseling needs. Faculty will separate students there for health needs and those for counseling needs. Phone calls or virtual sessions are encouraged to limit walk-ins. Crisis phone calls from counseling will be available during off-hours as well as operating hours.

The Campus Recreation Center has closed its operating hours, but virtual sessions for events such as yoga and family work-outs will be held in the coming future. More information will be posted on the Recreation Center’s website when it becomes available.

RELATED: Campus Recreation Center to close Wednesday

The Early Learning Center will cease operations on Friday. 

Operational hours of campus buildings are still being discussed, and a decision will be made shortly. 

Regent and SGA President Jarett Lopez asked about spring commencement, graduating students’ necessity for in-person assignments such as clinical trials and possible refunding of fees such as meal plans and parking passes. Rowlands said the team and administration is currently in conversation about those topics, but no decision has been finalized to report. A decision of some of those concerns, such as refunding, will be made within a few days, according to Rowlands.

Pension updates

Kentucky legislators are still scheduled to make a decision regarding pension relief options by April 15, and NKU is projected to make its own decision by April 30. 

The state legislation is to decide on four pension-related bills: HB1, HB171, SB249 and SB88/HB262 (which is the same bill, filed separately in the house and senate).

NKU contacted outside agencies, Segal Group and Commonwealth Economics, to analyze state legislation and university statistics to inform the university’s ultimate decision. The university has the option to hard freeze, soft freeze or resume the status quo, which will affect which NKU staff members will remain in the Kentucky Retirement System.

According to both agencies, KERS did not provide complete data on NKU, such as how many active employees are a part of the university or are taking benefits from the system. Because of this, it is difficult to make strong recommendations. 

Also, due to the market instability caused by COVID-19, both agency representatives were hesitant to talk about long-term effects and consequences. Because the KERS pension fund is only 13 percent state-funded, the representatives also said the overall effect would not be as dramatic as seen in other state programs.

Multiple regents asked how state legislation could be affected by COVID-19. According to Assistant Vice President of Government, Corp and Foundation Engagement Adam Caswell, a minority member of the house has proposed HB592, which would postpone state legislators’ decision by one year. However, both Caswell and Vaidya expressed confidence that state legislators will not postpone any decisions beyond the April 15 deadline.

“At this point in time, we should be encouraged by what we’re seeing out at Frankfort in the level of cooperation to get this budget done,” Caswell said.

The Northerner is currently investigating the impact of the switch to online learning, including but not limited to how housing, dining, student workers, labs, studios and the office of Health, Counseling and Student Wellness will be affected. For any questions you’d like to know about the decision, contact us anytime on Twitter or Instagram. For questions or concerns about how the virus could potentially affect campus, contact us or email covid19@nku.edu. Keep checking The Northerner for all updates on NKU’s switch to alternative instruction.

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