Tuesday, UW System President Ray Cross sent a letter to the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers which would allow the system to move the start date of the semester.
Though the system hasn’t made any fall semester plans beyond Cross saying back in May they fully expect to reopen, the letter requested the state legislature allow the system’s schools’ flexibility to shift the start of their fall term. Right now, the UW System schools cannot start until September 1, according to an existing statue. This legislation would remove that statue for the 2020-2021 school year only.
“Many experts expect a spike in coronavirus cases to occur in late fall, so many institutions want to start classes early and use an expedited schedule to get through the entire semester by Thanksgiving,” Cross said in the letter.
The system’s campuses may want the flexibility to begin a week or two early, since COVID-19 cases could spike in the late fall, UW System Media Relations Director Mark Pitsch said in an email to The Herald.
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Many schools across the country are modifying the duration of their academic year. Notre Dame, the University of South Carolina, Syracuse, Duke and the University of Virginia are among schools planning on starting the semester early and ending their semester by Thanksgiving.
The letter also requested an open line of credit, which would allow the system to borrow money to assist with cash flow, Cross said in the letter. The state would not be held liable for any debt incurred by the system under such a credit line, instead the UW System would have to pay it.
“This will allow our institutions to use a tool, available to the private sector and other public and private institutions of higher education,” Cross said.
So far, the pandemic has saddled the UW System with losses totaling $212 million through the summer. This includes $78 million in room and board refunds for students the universities asked to leave dorms in March.
The letter referenced the recent decision by Indiana University’s Board of Trustees to allow their school to open up a $1 billion line of credit.
The letter requested regulatory relief, citing the many reports the system is required to compile under state law. Cross recommended the passage of SB-486, a bipartisan bill from 2019 that died in committee. The bill would have removed financial reporting requirements across many state agencies and boards.
Eliminating such requirements would allow the system to devote more resources towards helping students get through the pandemic and planning for the fall semester, Cross said.
“The UW System is one of the most regulated higher education systems in the country, and these reporting requirements are more burdensome during these difficult times,” Cross said.