St. Bonaventure University intends to resume in-person classes in August and is taking steps to prepare for the upcoming academic year and cut costs, including furloughing 80 employees. Earlier this week, Tom Missel, chief communications officer at SBU, provided TAPinto Greater Olean with additional information on the university’s plans.

TAPinto Greater Olean: During his Town Hall meeting on May 19, Dr. Dennis DePerro, the university’s president, said, “We meet several times a week with government and health officials.” Which officials are the university meeting with?

Missel: You name it. Dr. DePerro and his presidential colleagues in Western New York have met more than once with Lt. Gov. Hochul, Congressmen Reed and Higgins, U.S. Sen. Gillibrand and state legislators Borrello and Giglio. And private school presidents across the state meet regularly with Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities leaders based in Albany to ensure that the voices of private colleges in New York are being heard.

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We also meet regularly with Cattaraugus County Director of Public Health Dr. Kevin Watkins, and Olean General Hospital conducts weekly meetings with area business leaders, including Bona’s. And we’re always seeking guidance from our lawyers to make sure we are interpreting things like executive orders and the federal CARES Act correctly.

TAPinto Greater Olean: The Western New York Region has just begun Phase 1 of the state’s reopening plan. Educational institutions will not reopen until Phase 4. Under ideal conditions, Phase 4 still is several weeks away. Will the university have ample time to comply with the requirements of the governor’s plan?

Missel: With the phases being staged two weeks apart, and assuming we don’t go into a holding pattern because one of the seven thresholds our region needs to maintain falls short, we think we have plenty of time to comply. We’re building contingency plans as we speak so we’ll be in a position once Phase 4 begins to be flexible once we know exactly what we need to do to reopen for campus life in the fall.

TAPinto Greater Olean: Who are the members of the team involved in the university’s decision-making process? Are faculty and students represented?

Missel: The Senior Executive Management Team (SEMT) is the primary decision-making body, but it does so in close consultation with the President’s Council (which includes SEMT, all the deans, chairs of the University Planning Commission, the director of Facilities, HR director, and assistant VP for Student Engagement); the Faculty Senate; and the Board of Trustees. Ultimately, though, the president makes all final decisions, taking into consideration recommendations and input from all of the above.

Students aren’t on any of these committees, but, for example, we surveyed the 2020 graduates about their interest in coming back to campus for commencement. And all the Board of Trustees committees have a student representative.

TAPinto Greater Olean: During his Town Hall meeting, Dr. DePerro announced that the senior management employees are taking 10% reductions in compensation. Does this group include members of the athletic department staff? Faculty?

Missel: To be clear, it was a 10% reduction in compensation; compensation includes salary plus health and 401K benefits. In our case, that means the 10% reduction for highly compensated employees will all come from the 10%-of-salary contribution that the university makes to each employee’s 401k plan. And the threshold is those making more than $130,000, which is the federal definition for “highly compensated” employees. And, yes, it includes all university employees, faculty and staff (which includes athletics). There are currently 18 people at SBU above the $130,000 threshold who will forsake the 10%-of-their-salary university contribution to their 401k packages.

TAPinto Greater Olean: As the university looks to cut costs to offset revenue losses, will elimination of D-1 athletics be considered or is it completely off the table? Playing before an empty arena (or an arena with reduced spectators due to social distancing requirements) would likely reduce the revenue that offsets the operational costs of the program.

Missel: Student-athletes represent a significant percentage of our student body so that’s not a desirable option. Of course, Tim Kenney and Dr. DePerro meet often with their peer athletic directors and presidents in the Atlantic 10 and the emphasis is on smarter scheduling and travel limits to assist in containing some costs. No question, losing fans – either in total or at least in part -- at the Reilly Center during basketball season is something no one wants to think about. But Atlantic 10 men’s basketball earns money from its TV contracts and other revenue sources that will be relied upon to help the members schools deal with this issue if needed for the upcoming school year. 

TAPinto Greater Olean: As the university looks to cut costs to offset revenue losses, will elimination or reduction of the university’s contract with Keypath Education LLC be considered? The 990 form shows the university paid Keypath $793,773 in 2017, the highest payment it made to any independent contractor. What is the payment for?

Missel: We contracted with Keypath a few years ago to market and structure our online graduate programs, and even though we pay a significant portion of our tuition share to them, we’d be in dire straits without them. Every year we’ve been aligned with Keypath, we’ve exceeded our enrollment projections. At a time when on-campus graduate programs were eroding across the country, Keypath provided a lifeline and has helped us sustain and grow our graduate school portfolio, both in enrollment and in net-positive revenue.

For more information on the Coronavirus in the Greater Olean area, visit  TAPinto Greater Olean's Coronavirus Updates page, which is updated continuously.

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