K-State president Richard Myers

K-State president Richard Myers

K-State officials are estimating that financial impacts to the university from the coronavirus situation will total $21 million, president Richard Myers told the Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday afternoon.

At a virtual meeting of the Regents, Myers said K-State is taking a $21 million hit from the university’s decision to move classes online for the rest of the semester and to send students to their hometowns.

In addition to the university’s emergency operations costs and continued payment to employees, K-State officials said they will be issuing prorated refunds to students in the university’s residence halls. That’s especially concerning for K-State Housing and Dining, Myers said, because the department relies on a monthly cash flow of about $700,000 a month, and it faces a bond payment on renovations coming up in April.

“That was gathered pretty hastily,” Myers said of the financial data, “but that’s the magnitude of what we’re dealing with, and we could be in a financial hole without a lot of shock absorption. We don’t have a lot of management reserves, if you will.”

However, those numbers will likely change as the situation changes, or even by tonight, Myers told the Regents.

The university is working with the KSU Foundation to determine financial hits to the K-State’s endowment, which provides scholarship dollars, among other funding. Myers said he and provost Chuck Taber had spoken with Greg Willems, the foundation’s president, and K-State won’t see any dip in foundation funding until June, as the funding is based on a 12-month rolling average.

“For those endowments that go below a certain level, they’ll shut off any distributions, because if you keep that up, you won’t have an endowment,” he said. “We don’t know the impact of that yet, we don’t know what the market is going to do. It’s probably going to require — or for sure will require, at least in our case — a redoubling of efforts with our alumni and friends to help fund scholarship or bump up their scholarships.”

Myers said K-State isn’t “shut down” in the traditional sense, but all campus operations should be done remotely if possible. All residence halls — with the exception of Jardine Apartments, where quarantined students, athletes, and some students with no alternative housing available — are closed, and campus buildings will be locked once professors collect any materials they need to teach remotely. Myers said he plans on working from home, whenever possible.

About a week ago, K-State officials checked in with Canvas and Zoom — the companies that provide the university’s online course management and teleconferencing softwares, respectively — and they indicated there was enough capacity to handle the sudden load of users for distance learning. That may have changed since then, Myers said, but he said he didn’t view the internet as having a capacity limit.

As far as recruiting, Myers said the university’s efforts have to continue, with in-person campus visits changing to virtual tours of the campus.

Essential research activity will continue, Myers said, although researchers are looking for clarity on where their funding will come from. Lafene Health Center has coronavirus tests available for students, faculty and staff, although campus health officials have had trouble getting into contact with the state testing laboratories, where the tests are sent to. Myers said the university is looking into using its Biosecurity Research Lab to conduct virus testing or even research.

“Having that lab gives us some capability, and if we can share that, we’re certainly going to do it,” he said.

Myers said K-State also received a request from Manhattan medical professionals Tuesday to reopen the university’s Center for Child Development to take care of their children. University officials are considering the request, Myers said.

“Medical care providers can’t go to work if they don’t have someplace for their children to go, and of course, their children will be exposed to the virus like no other children, because their parents will be exposed,” Myers said. “We’re going to work through that.”

In other business

The Regents approved K-State’s request to start a bachelor of science program in integrative physiology. The program, to be housed in the kinesiology department, will start in fall 2020 and is expected to attract about 50 new students by fall 2022.

The Regents also approved K-State’s request to name the university’s Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering after Carl and Melinda Helwig. The Helwigs, who own Helwig Farms in Columbus, Kansas, never attended K-State, Myers said, but over the years, they supported and mentored students on K-State’s quarter-scale tractor team.

“Carl and Melinda Helwig personify the generosity of the K-State family,” Myers said. “Their investment in the success of the Carl R. Ice College of Engineering faculty, students and programs not only elevates the college but brings prestige to the university and helps propel K-State toward being nationally recognized as a student-centered, public research university.”

The board approved calendars for the 2023, 2024 and 2025 academic years. K-State officials had previously discussed a student-led initiative to implement a fall break in early October to break up the semester, but the approved calendars will keep the university’s existing calendar structure of having a weeklong Thanksgiving break.