CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Board of Trustees heard updates during a special meeting Thursday on the university’s budget, OSU’s fall COVID-19 resumption plan, and the university’s public safety plans for the Corvallis campus.
The board also approved issuing up to $366 million in general revenue bonds to take advantage of historically low interest rates.
With OSU’s 2020-21 academic year starting Wednesday, the board heard a report on the university’s plans for COVID-19 prevalence testing; Corvallis community wastewater surveillance testing; a community-wide health education campaign being led by OSU, the city of Corvallis and Benton County; and changes in university operations to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19.
This fall, approximately 95% of Corvallis course instruction will be delivered remotely. At OSU-Cascades in Bend, about half of classes will be offered in person or with a combination of blended in-person and remote instruction.
The university has implemented a four-tiered COVID-19 testing system. This includes:
- Diagnostic testing of symptomatic students.
- Prevalence testing, which involves randomized prevalence testing of up to 1,000 students and employees weekly in Corvallis, at OSU-Cascades and at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.
- Weekly wastewater surveillance testing on the Corvallis and Bend campuses and at HMSC and community-wide surveillance testing in Corvallis.
- Mass individualized testing for students moving into OSU residence halls, a preventive measure that tests individuals as a form of screening.
The public health education campaign features print, digital and social media communications, lawn signs and other actions to reinforce the importance of personal preventive health practices. Public health measures being promoted include wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance from others, washing hands frequently, conducting daily health checks and keeping social get-togethers to fewer than 10 people, whether indoors or outdoors.
The university also is working closely with students to observe public health measures and has set up a system for community members to report concerns of OSU students not observing the university’s COVID-19 public health measures.
The university’s budget continues to be in flux due to impacts of the pandemic. The projected overall budget shortfall for the current fiscal year is $202 million across all of OSU’s statewide operations. This includes OSU’s statewide public services, including OSU Extension; restricted funds; and university auxiliary units, including athletics and housing and dining services.
Since the board’s last meeting in August, shortfalls at OSU’s campuses in Corvallis and Bend have improved, in large part due to stronger than expected projected enrollment. But anticipated shortfalls from auxiliary units, particularly athletics and housing and dining services, have increased.
OSU’s budget projections may improve as current totals for enrollment and residence hall occupancy are ahead of earlier forecasts.
The board’s approval of the university issuing up to $366 million in general revenue bonds will allow OSU to refund some existing debt, resulting in savings for OSU due to current low interest rates. The bonds also may provide funds to cover some lost revenues related to the pandemic; contribute to a long-term reserve to repay outstanding debt; and provide funds for strategic campus building projects that may not receive anticipated funding support from other sources.
The board also approved a change in the approved budget for the $158.8 million renovation of Cordley Hall, the largest teaching and research building on the university’s Corvallis campus. The cost of the renovation remains the same, but a portion of the funding was shifted from budgeted university funds to state-paid debt and university debt proceeds..
Trustees engaged in extensive conversation regarding the university’s public safety plans. OSU is progressing in its plan to shift law enforcement services from the Oregon State Police to a university-run police force on Jan. 1. Trustees received an update from the co-chairs of the OSU Public Safety Advisory Committee on continued efforts to address concerns being heard from some OSU community members about licensed law enforcement bearing weapons on campus.
The committee recently received input from Counseling and Psychological Services staff. Other campus programs, including staff from the Survivor Advocacy Resource Center; Student Care Team; Human Services Resource Center; Student Conduct and Community Standards; Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life; and University Housing and Dining Services are scheduled to provide input to the advisory committee. Meanwhile, OSU President F. King Alexander will meet soon with Corvallis and Benton County elected officials to discuss implementation of a local crisis response program that involves trained personnel with experience in mental health. A similar program called CAHOOTS exists in Eugene.
A national search for OSU’s chief of police is about to begin, while sergeant and patrol officer positions have been advertised and some interviews have taken place.
Alexander said OSU’s public safety program would feature many layers of service and community engagement, adding that OSU will emphasize the recruitment, selection and training of a unique kind of police officer.
“This responsibility requires a different kind of a person on a college campus like Oregon State University,” Alexander said. “Our officers’ No. 1 priority will be to help students graduate by providing a safe and a welcome environment.
“Our officers will be educators, too. We are going to hire and train the people who meet Oregon State University’s qualifications and fully support the university’s mission and community values.”
The board heard public testimony from seven university students, a faculty member and a community member in opposition to OSU creating its own police department.