By Kevin Wilson

ENMU starting semester online

Plan will cancel nearly every on-campus event, including all sports


August 2, 2020

Kevin Wilson

Eastern New Mexico University plans to conduct its fall semester online, and has required campus buildings be closed to students and visitors unless appointments are made.

PORTALES - Eastern New Mexico University announced Tuesday evening it would begin the fall semester as it ended the spring semester - online while the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

A message to students and staff from Interim Chancellor Patrice Caldwell stated in part:

"Although we have been excited to return to campus and see our Greyhound family in person again," Caldwell said, "we also know we must support efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

"The University will not take chances with the lives of students, faculty and staff, not even to bring everyone back to campus, which we all wish to do."

The plan will close campus buildings to students and visitors except by appointment and cancel nearly every on-campus event - including all sports.

Individual departments will contact students with details about the semester, and students can contact the Academic Affairs office for information.

Caldwell, along with Athletic Director Matt Billings and Director of Marketing and Communication Services John Houser, answered the following questions via emails from The News:

Q: Was the decision motivated in any way by concerns the University would not be able to set up a system that could test thousands of ENMU students and hundreds of staff in a meaningful way?

A: All universities in New Mexico are deeply concerned about testing and tracing for our students and staff. This is a national concern, not a local one.

While healthcare providers in Roosevelt County have been very supportive and helpful in providing all the testing they can, ENMU faced an additional challenge. The NCAA is requiring 72-hour testing prior to any athletic competition. This is a testing standard that would be difficult to meet anywhere in New Mexico.

Q: Will any types of courses simply not be offered because they aren't feasible in a virtual format?

A: Yes. Some studio art courses may not be feasible online; there may be other large music ensembles that cannot be offered. Academic Affairs is reviewing each class this week to provide students with complete information.

Q: Will students be subject to student fees for the semester, and if so are there any reductions planned? Student fees do fund several ongoing efforts, such as debt service for Greyhound Stadium. But the $102.25 per credit hour funds numerous things students won't get to use like Safe Ride and Associated Student Activities Board events.

A: We are looking into reducing fees, yes. It's the fair thing to do.

Q: ENMU applies a $17 charge per credit hour for online courses. Will students be required to pay these, since they aren't offered any other option?

A: No, we will not charge the online fee when students don't have any option. We did not charge students when we converted classes from face-to-face to online in spring, and we will not charge them the online fee in fall 2020.

Q: Are there any notable incidents where ENMU has used or will have to use force majeure clauses?

A: Thank you for invoking this elegant concept, force majeure. According to some legal authorities, a pandemic certainly qualifies as force majeure or an "act of God" or unforeseen circumstances. Normally, the force majeure clause would be invoked for relief from fulfilling certain contractual obligations. A catalog, to many, is a form of contract with students. However, ENMU will work with students to address their needs and requirements. We do not anticipate invoking force majeure.

Q: Has the university done any furloughs or downsizing due to the pandemic? Are any future furloughs or downsizing planned?

A: The University protects its mission and its people. At this time, we have not released or furloughed any employees. Certain positions vacated by retirement or resignation are being held vacant to maintain budget options.

The campus will conduct budget right-sizing reviews this fall (as we did during the last economic downturn in 2008-2009). This process will be a consultative and transparent review of budgets and program viability campuswide.

Q: Based on the experiences the university had creating virtual instruction on the fly in the spring semester, what are some ways you anticipate the college can be better since you're at least presented some time to plan?

A: We did convert a large number of classes to online in fall, it's true. We are fortunate that many faculty were already teaching some online classes and were familiar with online technologies and pedagogies.

This summer, all faculty were encouraged to prepare their classes to anticipate a sudden return to online, should pandemic conditions warrant it. Blackboard "shells" were prepared for all their classes, and faculty have had all summer to think about how best to deliver classes in-person as well as online. We will be ready with online delivery.

Faculty have great technology support from our IT people and lots of assistance from the Distance Learning office. This spring we purchased laptops for faculty working from home to enhance their instructional options.

Q: Is there any infrastructure work ENMU can expedite with a mostly empty campus?

A: There is a good deal of infrastructure work (parking lot paving, roof resurfacing, etc.) that we can do on a mostly empty campus. But we don't know yet if we will have funds for those projects.

Q: Regents approved a 6% cut for athletics this coming year, which presented a challenge at the time. With the elimination of travel, many supply purchases and the expenses of hosting events, what percentage cut from 2019-20 is anticipated? Also, how much was unspent during the spring sports season that was mostly eliminated by the pandemic?

A: The 6% reduction to Athletics was the result of a "reduction" to ENMU's Research and Public Service athletics appropriation by the Legislature during the June special session. To balance the budget shortfall, the New Mexico Legislature cut special appropriations (Research and Public Services or RPSP) for all universities by 6% and cut instructional and general budgets by 4%.

Each year, universities can apply for RPSP funds for special units like Athletics, KENW-Educational TV, and others, and we will again for the FY22 budget. However, we have been alerted that funding in FY 22 may be cut another 6%. The Regents elected to request the same amount in FY22 for Athletics that we received after the 6% cut - no additional reduction. The 6% cut to FY21 amounted to just under $142,000.

(For the spring) there were no unspent student scholarship funds nor salary savings (coaches, assistant coaches, graduate assistants). There was some savings in travel costs (buses, motels, food) since travel was canceled. Some costs relating to consumable supplies was probably saved.

Q: Are there any plans or desires to provide spring sports opportunities for the fall sports teams?

A: Yes. ENMU is communicating with other Lone Star Conference partners about conducting a shorter schedule of fall sport competitions during the spring. ENMU's athletic director and his coaches are working on those plans now. All of this will be contingent on the pandemic conditions, the Governor's mandates, and the health and well-being of our student-athletes.

Q: With the caveat that these are your decisions to make, what communications have you had with the Lone Star Conference, or other LSC schools, on these decisions? The LSC has already decided to delay fall sports, but between ENMU and Western New Mexico canceling fall sports will clearly influence conference decisions going forward.

A: The LCS institutional presidents have been meeting this summer to discuss these issues. The LSC athletic directors have also been meeting regularly to share the status on their campuses and to review guidance from the NCAA. There are 18 teams in Lone Star, and only two of them are New Mexico universities.

However, a number of Texas schools have elected, like ENMU, to defer, cancel or postpone fall sports with the possibility of offering them in spring. NCAA has promised more guidance in August. The LSC institutions will meet Aug. 7, to make their own decision.

Q: What will be the employment status for athletics staff, with many of them seeing their primary responsibilities disappear until February?

A: Coaches are ENMU employees. They have work to do with our student-athletes and recruiting our next group of college athletes. We need our coaches on the job.

Q: Will athletic scholarships be honored for impacted student athletes?

A: Absolutely, athletic scholarships will be honored. So long as students are enrolled, they receive their grant in aid.

Q: How will eligibility be impacted for these student athletes? Does the 2020-21 year just not count against a student's four years, or do you have to clear anything through the NCAA?

A: There is every reason to expect that NCAA and the LSC will grant an additional year of eligibility for students impacted by the pandemic. NAIA has already announced they will do so. The decision, however, must come from NCAA, and probably in August.

Q: ENMU fall sports coaches, working under the belief fall sports would be limited in many ways, have advised student athletes to consider using their redshirt seasons. Will this advice change, since there is no season to redshirt?

A: That may be the best option. But we will wait for guidance from NCAA. I'm sure the NCAA will do what is best and fair for our student-athletes.


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