Campus News

Tripathi calls fall semester a success, despite COVID

Students wearing face masks stand in front of Abbott Hall with their horns up.

President Satish K. Tripathi credits the successful fall semester to the "terrific job" of UB students, faculty and staff in following the university's health, safety and testing protocols. Photo: Douglas Levere


Published December 16, 2020

“Even within the considerable constraints of a pandemic, our mission of excellence has persisted. ”
President Satish K. Tripathi

An extensive, university-wide planning process resulted in a successful fall 2020 semester, despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, President Satish K. Tripathi told the UB Council on Monday.

Updating council members via Zoom, Tripathi noted that the semester “progressed without any disruptions” — students continued to receive an exceptional education and faculty continued to advance their research — because the university community “did such a terrific job adhering to our health, safety and testing protocols.”

“Even within the considerable constraints of a pandemic, our mission of excellence has persisted,” he said. “We have refused to allow the pandemic to deter us from our ambition of becoming a Top 25 public research university within the next decade.”

The public health crisis, though, has strained both the state’s and UB’s finances, with UB anticipating significant reductions in direct state tax support — perhaps at the level of 25% — for fiscal year 2020-21, Tripathi acknowledged.

The potential reduction in direct state tax support would be compounded by a $46.7 million revenue loss from state tax support, auxiliary services and fees in 2019-20 due to COVID.

While UB did receive $12 million in CARES Act funding for institutional use, this money only partially offset the 2019-2020 revenue loss, Tripathi explained.

He cited a number of strategies that have been implemented to address “this serious financial situation.” Among them were reducing expenditures by more than 18% from April 1 through Nov. 30; assessing every decanal and divisional unit a one-time, 10% reduction to their state operating budgets for the 2020-21 fiscal year; directing units to significantly reduce all state expenditures; and instituting a “hiring pause” across all funding sources.

“While we have taken these steps, we also continue to advocate for the public good that our great public research university serves,” Tripathi said.

And while the university anticipates this serious financial situation to continue for the foreseeable future, “our university was on sound financial footing when the pandemic began, and we will be on sound financial footing when the pandemic is behind us,” he said.

UB’s president addressed several other topics during his update on the fall semester:

  • The President’s Advisory Council on Race presented its recommendations on how UB can dismantle structural barriers to equity for its underrepresented minority community — particularly Black, Indigenous and Latinx students, faculty and staff. A series of university-wide Zoom meetings will be held during the spring semester, after which planning will begin to implement the recommendations.
  • UB received a number of highly selective federal awards, including $8.1 million from the National Institutes of Health to expand its role in the Women’s Health Initiative, $3.7 million from the NIH to advance MRI technology and $8.5 million from the Department of Energy to study hybrid rockets. Overall, UB’s sponsored research expenditures for fiscal year 2020 were $178 million and, despite the pandemic, expenditures are on track to increase in fiscal year 2021.
  • UB has successfully moved many student activities and programs to a virtual platform, including mental health programming, career services, tutoring and experiential learning.

In other business, Provost A. Scott Weber briefed council members on plans for the spring 2021 semester.

After a fully remote winter session, classes for the spring will begin on Feb. 1 offering in-person, remote and hybrid instruction. Students living on-campus, taking an in-person class or participating in any on-campus activity must be tested for COVID-19 just prior to returning to campus or within five days of returning to campus.

Spring break is cancelled to minimize student travel and the spread of the coronavirus.

Weber said the plans for spring align with guidance provided by SUNY, the state Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and UB faculty experts.

“UB’s top priorities remain preserving our mission as a place-based, public research institution, and providing the best possible educational experience for our students while protecting the health and safety of the campus community,” he said.

Weber noted that UB has conducted over 35,000 COVID-19 tests since the beginning of the fall semester, including 16,425 tests during pre-Thanksgiving exit testing for students, with an overall positivity rate just below 0.5%. This positivity rate, he added, was “significantly lower than the surrounding community.”

Random surveillance testing is continuing for any student, faculty and staff member who live, learn or work on campus post-Thanksgiving, he said.