UT System debriefs, says goodbye to Fenves at Board of Regents meeting

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Joshua Guerra

Editor’s note: This story is part of The Daily Texan’s coverage of how coronavirus concerns are affecting UT-Austin. Read the rest of our coverage here.

The UT System further developed a plan to reopen in the fall at the Board of Regents teleconference meeting Wednesday.

After speaking with the UT System university presidents, System Chancellor James Milliken said eliminating large lecture classes, spreading out class schedules to have fewer students in a building at the same time, holding exams in isolation and having single-room occupancy for residence halls are a few options institutions have for when campuses reopen in the fall. He said many universities he has spoken to, including Texas A&M and Baylor, have committed to returning in the fall. 

“I talk daily with our presidents and with higher education leaders from around the country as well as medical experts, and I believe everybody is approaching this in much the same way,” Milliken said. “The question is not whether we will be open and have class in the fall, it is how it will be done.”

At the meeting, Milliken gave an overview of the UT System’s status as it contends with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. The CARES Act, a federal stimulus bill passed last month, allocated the System $173 million for emergency student financial aid. However, the universities are still awaiting instructions from the Department of Education on how to distribute the emergency financial aid to students. 

The institutions will receive $86 million for operational funds across the system, but Milliken said that money has not yet been made available to the institutions.  

“UT-Austin reimbursed $26 million in auxiliary payments alone,” Milliken said. “(UT-Austin) will be eligible for $16 million for institutional funds under the CARES Act, thus leaving it $10 million short on that one line item alone.”

UT health institutions are also facing financial difficulties with an average loss of $10 million per day, totaling between $300 million and $400 million for the fiscal year, Milliken said. The health institutions have conducted more than 41,000 COVID-19 tests. With a capacity for 5,000 tests per day, they are only averaging about 2,000.

Milliken also said the system has received emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to start trials of Remdesivir, a possible COVID-19 treatment. 

The Board of Regents also approved an expansion of the Medical Liability Benefit plan, which provides insurance for damages in malpractice cases, to protect all licensed, certified or registered health care providers at the same levels of coverage as physicians and dentists. 

At the end of the meeting, the board presented UT-Austin President Gregory Feneves with a certificate of appreciation. Chairman Kevin Eltife said they hope to hold an in-person ceremony sometime in the future. Fenves will be leaving his position in June to start as the president of Emory University. 

Regent David Beck said he remembers when he received the phone call from Fenves that he was leaving UT-Austin.

“My first reaction was ‘Greg, say it ain't so,’” Beck said. “I can't tell you how much I admired the calm, mannered way you dealt with serious problems. I can certainly tell you how much I admired the way you listen to all sides of the problem before making what you believe was the correct decision.”