University administrators speak on current challenges, hopes for future at ASUSF Senate Town Hall meeting

Zoe Binder

Staff Writer

(From left to right, top to bottom) John Iosefo, Julie Orio, Diammyra Cruz, Jeff Hamrick, Marcella DeProto, Michael Beseda, and Shirley McGuire took turns presenting on a number of topics during Senate’s virtual town hall meeting. Screenshots SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN.

A panel of eight representatives from USF’s administration met via Zoom on Wednesday, Oct. 28 to discuss some of the most pertinent issues currently facing the Dons community. The event was co-hosted by ASUSF Senate President John Iosefo and Vice President of Internal Affairs Diammyra Cruz. Each panelist began by giving a short presentation on updates from their department, followed by a Q&A section with questions sent in from the USF community.

Julie Orio, vice president of student life, began by addressing how USF is working to keep the community safe amid the coronavirus pandemic. “We continue to meet with the SF Department of Public Health, and we are ensuring we’re aligned with all of their guidance and mandates,” Orio said. She said that nursing labs have begun to reopen, and essential housing will continue to be offered to students in the spring. “Our goal for spring is to be abridged to the fall,” she said. “We are hopeful that we will be able to offer many more on-the-ground HyFlex [hybrid] classes, and campus will be more like what our continuing students are used to.” HyFlex classes are designed to allow some students to attend class in-person while others use Zoom. 

In regards to on-campus COVID-19 measures, Orio said, “We have signage all around campus about mandated wearing of masks,” adding that the University has put a daily symptom monitoring screening in place, and students in essential housing are being tested regularly. 

Orio also mentioned the ongoing Title IX investigation surrounding the men’s soccer team and said, “The outside investigators are continuing to interview former and current employees and have met with many current students and alumni.” Orio said updates on the investigation will be shared with the USF community as they are found.

Michael Beseda, vice provost of strategic enrollment management (SEM), gave an update from his department, which oversees financial aid and student enrollment. Beseda highlighted that, so far, 7000 students have participated in virtual events sponsored by SEM, despite the fact that hundreds of students deferred in the fall

Beseda recognized that many students are facing unique financial challenges due to the pandemic, and offered encouragement. He said, “Our funds are not unlimited and you may not receive what you hope […] but nearly 400 students have appealed and received additional funds.” Lastly, Beseda addressed the fact that some students depend on student employment to afford their education and said the department is working to ensure that “every job is filled as soon as possible.” 

Jeff Hamrick, vice provost for institutional budget, planning, and analytics offered specifics of the University’s budget plans. “We have a formal revised budget for fiscal 2021 that features approximately $60 million in both revenue and expense budget reductions,” said Hamrick, who explained that about 40% of the revenue shortfall was due to vacant residence halls. Another 40 % of the shortfall comes from a lack of tuition payments. “We were 200 students short of budget, and we had 200 continuing students that we had previously budgeted for not return,” Hamrick said. He later added, “If I had to wager a guess at this point, I would guess that there will be some tuition increase.”

According to Beseda, the remainder of the revenue loss stems from an inability to host events and outsiders on campus. Sales of athletic tickets, parking tickets, and Koret Center memberships, to name a few, have stopped entirely. This has caused the department to suspend previously scheduled pay increases for some employees. Hamrick said that cutting these raises, among other actions taken by his department, has saved the University about $60 million in an attempt to offset the revenue decline. Financial aid packages were not touched during this process, and there were no cuts in the budget related to recruitment efforts for the next class of USF students. 

Senior Vice Provost of Academic Affairs Shirley McGuire discussed areas of students’ academic lives that her department is taking into consideration. She explained that they are focusing on three areas: flexibility in the landscape of virtual instruction, improving the current learning environment, and peer interaction. Regarding flexibility and the pass/fail option, she said, “ASUSF [Senate] did an excellent job pulling together your feedback and putting a proposal forward, I will be working to put that on the dean’s agenda to see if it’s appropriate next spring.” 

In addition, she highlighted that “people have been impacted by the fires, there are those who have Wi-Fi issues,” and that her department is working proactively to address these issues. 

McGuire said that the USF community will continue to practice COVID-19 protocols in hopes of a return to in-person learning in the fall. For those who will be in the San Francisco area, she mentioned that her office is coming up with safe opportunities for groups of students to gather. 

Marcella DeProto, director of International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS), addressed issues facing USF students living abroad. “We have about 400 international students outside of the U.S.,” she said, adding that these students have been facing time zone differences, internet connectivity issues, and privacy issues that she is working to improve. One solution from her department is the first-year cluster course program, in which classes occur in the evening and are grouped together so that students can get to know each other and their faculty. 

DeProto has also worked to ensure hybrid classes are available for students with unique immigration needs. Regarding the election, DeProto said, “We have set up support sessions to discuss what to expect,” but added that none of the predictions concerning students’ post-election immigration statuses can be confirmed. DeProto said her department is looking into how to shape this spring schedule to make sure it accommodates international students. 

The panelists each offered their understanding of the hardships that the student body currently faces and ensured that they are always open to questions. Each department is available via email, and the ASUSF Senate encourages students to voice their opinions to them.

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