Unprecedented. Extraordinary. Evolving.
These are three words we see more and more to describe our current world situation. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. The measures required to control the spread of the coronavirus are extraordinary. As we continue to learn more about the virus and the disease it causes, our solutions are evolving.
Those same three words also describe UC San Diego’s response to this public health crisis.
Health-wise, we responded by looking after the health of our students, faculty and staff; by building capabilities and capacity within the health system to test and take care of patients; and by mobilizing our research enterprise to develop testing solutions, produce medical equipment and search for cures.
Operationally, we addressed the need for social distancing by shifting to remote learning, decompressing on-campus student housing, adapting our extensive research enterprise, and virtualizing as much of our administration as possible. The speed and grace at which our faculty and staff were able to pivot complex education, healthcare and business procedures and practices has kept our academic enterprise moving forward during uncertainty.
UC San Diego is also a public institution. As the region’s only academic medical center, we have a responsibility to care for members of our community especially in times of great need. Because of our community mission, we contracted with the County of San Diego to provide 350 rooms in a new campus housing building that is not currently occupied by students. The building serves as a creative medical treatment center that accepts “step-down” and low-level cases of COVID-19 to make room for more serious cases at area hospitals. Step-down cases are those who have recovered and passed the most severe stages of COVID-19.
The effects of COVID-19 are far-reaching, and UC San Diego has responded to this public health crisis in extraordinary ways. Yet as you have heard from leaders throughout the country and the state, the fiscal challenges we are and will be facing are compounding. For example, a decline in state tax revenue may result in decreased state funding. We continue to work to limit these effects, however, as a public institution, we will be impacted.
As of today, we estimate the financial impact of pandemic-related disruptions to UC San Diego to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. This includes housing and dining refunds to students; potential impact on fall 2020 enrollments and on state funding (we will not know of such impacts until the fall); reduction in indirect cost recovery due to research disruption; the loss of revenue from parking, retail, child care, conferences and cultural venues; and the loss of clinical revenues in order to create surge capacity in our hospitals. At the same time, we have had to cover additional expenses to maintain a functional campus for students and employees.
We are aggressively working with federal, state and local government agencies to secure emergency funds and access programs to reimburse us for some losses and expenses, and we will continue to do so even after this crisis passes. We are tracking all COVID-19-related costs and impacts and rigorously pursuing government support (CARES Act, FEMA, research funding).
In order to maintain our fiscal health, we have also taken steps to reduce costs and expenses. The campus and the health system have already responded by acting upon multiple levers, the most significant of which is hiring. Staff and academic hiring controls are in place across campus and the health system, and all expenses are being reviewed and/or reduced.
At this time, capital projects that have already broken ground are proceeding. Projects currently in design are being assessed and may be revised at an appropriate time to ensure they meet post-COVID-19 needs. We will continue to review and adapt these strategies over the next few months.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 will continue to have dramatic effects on our world and on higher education. As Tritons, we will continue to work together, continue to look deeper at the situation and the world around us, and continue to find equitable solutions to complex problems.
Times of crises present opportunities to rethink practices and innovate. We are working hard to come out of this pandemic stronger and more resilient than ever. I thank you for contributing your talent and energy, and for continuing your support for our academic enterprise.
With kind regards,
Pradeep K. Khosla