Baylor regents approve reduced operating budget

(Baylor University Photo)

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WACO—Baylor University regents adopted a $679.9 million annual operating budget for 2020-21—down $14.2 million from the most recent academic year’s budget and $70 million below the pre-pandemic projected budget for next year.

Regents also passed a resolution supporting the university’s continued commitment to its mission, while seeking to ensure the health and safety of the Baylor campus community in the midst of the health risks caused by COVID-19.

Making budget adjustments in light of COVID-19

The operating budget approved by the board incorporates $30.3 million in cost reductions, $18.5 million in cost avoidances and $24.5 million in one-time funding reallocations from reserves.

Rather than “across-the-board” adjustments, the board-approved budget reflected strategic planning and review undergirded by a strong desire “to protect the academic core,” President Linda Livingstone said in a videoconference with reporters after the board meeting.

Following the May 15 meeting of the Baylor University board of regents, Baylor President Linda Livingstone (top right) and Chair Jerry Clements (2nd row center) respond to questions from reporters in a videoconference. (Screen Capture)

While the academic division’s operating budget was cut by 4.2 percent, other areas took larger reductions—student life, 5.7 percent; athletics, 8.8 percent; and administration and support functions, 19.7 percent.

The budget actions involved suspending merit increases for faculty and staff until at least January, reducing Baylor’s employee retirement contributions and reducing staff positions in some areas, Livingstone reported.

“These are certainly difficult decisions, but necessary for the greater university given this time of significant uncertainty and to fulfill our mission and aspirations of becoming a preeminent Christian research university, she said.

Livingstone noted about 50 unfilled staff positions have been eliminated. “Strategic position reviews” are ongoing, and Baylor is reducing the number of adjunct faculty and temporary employees, she said.

Board authorizes president to prepare for safe return

The board-approved resolution regarding Baylor’s response to COVID-19 expressed appreciation to faculty, staff and administration for remaining committed to the “spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical development and well-being” of students while moving “quickly and efficiently” to a distance learning model during the spring and summer semesters. It also praised Baylor students for their “commitment, resilience and flexibility.”

“The board remains focused on preserving and strengthening the university’s core academic and Christian mission while ensuring the continued health and safety of our campus community,” Board Chair Jerry Clements said.

The resolution authorized Livingstone and university administration to “take all necessary actions to ensure a return to a safe and educationally fulfilling on-campus environment” in the fall.

In particular, the resolution granted authority to:

  • Study and, when appropriate, implement systems for testing for the COVID-19 virus for members of the Baylor community using on-campus facilities.
  • Work with the Baylor University Health Services and the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District to establish contact tracing, isolation and quarantine processes for the Baylor campus community.
  • Accommodate in a reasonable and practical manner the health needs of students, faculty and staff who are at-risk for the COVID-19 virus.
  • Study and, if appropriate, implement occupancy limits, sanitation standards, social distancing measures, the application of face coverings and any other government recommended or mandated processes for Baylor facilities and buildings.
  • Study, research and implement academic schedules that, while consistent with all federal and state medical and health guidance and accreditation standards, provide for enriching and rewarding learning experiences in each class taught at Baylor.
  • Explore creative and innovative measures to preserve Baylor’s traditions to enrich and supplement the university’s educational and residential experience.
  • Receive and study guidance from athletic conferences, federal and state medical and health officials for the return of intercollegiate athletics for the benefit of the university’s student-athletes and community overall.

President updates board

In her quarterly report to the board, Livingstone noted the growth in research at Baylor. Research expenditures shifted from a 10 percent annual growth rate to 30 percent over the past year, and research awards grew to $22 million, a 21 percent increase over the previous fiscal year.

Baylor’s Give Light philanthropic campaign raised $864.3 million toward its $1.1 billion goal as of April 30, she reported.

A campus-wide team is working with the Provost’s Office, Division of Student Life and other groups to develop and evaluate plans and decision timelines for the start of the fall semester on Aug. 24, Livingstone said. Plans depend on the continued decline in the number of COVID-19 cases within the greater Waco area, as well as guidance from federal, state and local government and public health officials, she added.

“While we cannot eliminate all risks, we intend to mitigate these risks in every reasonable way we can,” she said. “Over the summer, we will work diligently to refine our preparations to create a safe, productive educational environment, but above all, the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests must lead our decision-making regarding all activities. These include adapting our classroom and residential life models and on-campus activities, as needed, while continuing to offer the distinct on-campus college experience for which Baylor is known.”

In other business, the board of regents:

  • Approved three new graduate degree programs: the Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders; the Ph.D. in School Psychology, a five-year full-time program with the fifth year consisting of a yearlong internship; and a dual-track Master of Arts in School Leadership, a hybrid program of on-campus and online learning in conjunction with Baylor’s Center for Christian Education that will allow leaders to remain in their current professional roles while completing their degree and culminating research project in 18 months.
  • Elected Mark Rountree of Dallas as chair. The board also elected Larry Heard of Houston, Melissa Purdy Mines of Austin and Dennis Wiles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington, as vice chairs.
  • Elected three new at-large regents: Paula R. Hurd, of Atherton, Calif.; Todd Patterson, of Richmond; and Melissa Purdy Mines of Austin.
  • Welcomed to the board as an alumni-elected regent Kristina Doerner Guidi of McLean, Va.
  • Re-elected to three-year teams as regents Mark E. Lovvorn of Dallas; Neal Jeffrey, associate pastor of Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano; Jill Manning of Dallas; and Alicia D.H. Monroe, of Missouri City.
  • Confirmed as regents elected by the Baptist General Convention of Texas last fall Michael Evans, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, and Dennis Wiles, pastor of First Baptist Church in Arlington.
  • Approved as a regent nominated by the Baylor Bear Foundation Faith Beaty of Highland Village.
  • Confirmed as a faculty regent for a three-year term Sara L. Dolan, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience.
  • Approved as a voting member of the board student regent Sher Isada, a junior University Scholar from Euless.

The article includes information provided by Lori Fogleman, assistant vice president for media and public relations at Baylor University.

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