LARAMIE — The University of Wyoming has not yet received a final commitment from the governor that it will receive more than $26 million in coronavirus relief funding that it says is needed to reopen on time for the fall semester.
UW had previously told the governor that it needed that a “written commitment” by last Monday, June 15, now almost a week ago.
“Without a firm commitment by June 15, the University will be put in an extremely precarious position for acquiring the needed teaching and medical supplies prior to opening on August 20,” Neil Theobald, acting university president, wrote to Governor Mark Gordon on June 8.
As of Thursday afternoon, Gordon’s office had not made a final commitment.
“The university’s funding request is currently in the review process,” Michael Pearlman, a spokesperson for the governor, wrote in an email. “The Governor has expressed his support for funding the fall reopening of UW.”
The university feels it has gotten enough assurance from the governor that it feels comfortable moving ahead with its reopening plan, UW spokesperson Chad Baldwin said.
“The communications we’ve received from the governor and his office have provided a high level of comfort to allow us to proceed with the fall semester plans,” Baldwin wrote in an email.
Wyoming was given $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money from the CARES Act, which is set to be distributed among the state and local governments to alleviate costs incurred fighting the pandemic. The funds are restricted to costs that are directly related to the pandemic, so they cannot be used to make up for lost revenue due to the pandemic-related economic decline.
UW asked for $26.5 million in CARES Act funding, to pay for its plan to reopen campus. These costs include upgrading technology in classrooms, purchasing masks, and testing all of the university’s students, faculty and staff.
A Boomerang article last week reported that the university was seeking $25 million in funding. That number came from a Board of Trustees meeting, and $26.5 million is a more precise figure.
All classrooms on campus will receive cameras and microphones, so that courses can be taught both in-person and online. Technology upgrades are expected to cost more than $8 million, including enhanced Wi-Fi.
This setup is meant to ensure social distancing in classrooms, which will not be able to hold as many students as usual. A student would attend one class session in-person then participate online for the next session.
In addition, more than $4 million of the funding will be used for a “pedagogical overhaul,” to retrain instructors and redesign some curricula so that classes can be of the same quality online as in-person.
The university had originally planned to ask for $79 million in CARES Act funding. Some of the two-thirds drop in the requested amount came from lower expected costs. Expected testing costs fell by $17.8 million due to technological advances.
On the other hand, more than $32 million in possible funding was cut before the most recent request to “lower the amount UW is requesting,” according to Theobald’s letter to the governor.
This includes $20 million in financial aid for students whose families have been affected by the economic crisis, bringing the closed Crane Hall back on-line as a dorm, and expanding access to mental health resources on campus.
The economic situation appears to be depressing enrollment for the fall, Theobald wrote in the letter.
He wrote that 13% of Wyoming resident undergraduates have yet to register for fall classes. A “large majority” told the university that economic factors could prevent them from returning in the fall.