ASU Board Hears Update on ‘Remarkable’ Campus Pandemic Efforts

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas State University System campuses “have done a remarkable job” handling safety challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic this fall, System President Chuck Welch told members of the Board of Trustees Friday at its regular meeting.

“We had a couple of spikes in September, but other than that our number of active cases has been relatively low,” Welch said. “Multiple studies show there has been benefit to being in the classroom. It’s external activities and community spread that we don’t have control over. But we aren’t going to let our guard down.”

A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said 2,900 students were in residence halls at the beginning of the fall semester and 2,600 remain, though most classes converted to online after Thanksgiving. ASU-Beebe Chancellor Jennifer Methvin said 40 students paid an additional fee to stay in campus housing through the Thanksgiving holiday “because it was the safest place for them.”

Welch said the system is hopeful regarding another federal stimulus package to assist higher education institutions and students. Damphousse noted that about $2 million was spent at A-State to prepare for students’ return this fall with more needs to be addressed for the spring semester.

Henderson State University received approval from the Higher Learning Commission to proceed with its plan to join the ASU System, Welch said. Interim Chancellor Jim Borsig reported that Henderson was already “integrating into the system” in several areas and is “in much better shape” since July thanks to efforts of the system and the entire faculty and staff. The merger is awaiting action by the Arkansas General Assembly.

In his report to the board, Welch expressed optimism about the state general revenue budget, which is exceeding forecast. ASU System campuses did not budget funds in Category C or D in the Revenue Stabilization Act, but Welch said he is “extremely comfortable that C will flow and pretty confident about D.” The ASU System has a combined $4.47 million designated in Category C funding and $4.47 million in Category D.

The board approved Arkansas State’s “Discover 2025” strategic plan for 2020-2025, which features five statements covering student success, teaching and learning, research and creative activities, community engagement, and campus climate. Under each pillar, Discover 2025 identifies specific progress indicators and projects at the university level.

“We’ve taken to heart the feedback we received and started making changes to fulfill parts of our specific objectives,” A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said. “I’m excited to see how each college and division at Arkansas State will take these five pillars and translate them into goals and objectives at their level.

“Our faculty have already begun to create new interdisciplinary centers of study, which will be the hallmark of the teaching, learning and research pillars,” Damphousse said. “I am also excited to see other large scale projects come to life – like our proposed College of Veterinary Medicine, the creation of a Rural Studies Center, the expansion of our P-20 Center partnerships with schools in the Delta, and the completion of our new Windgate Center for Three-Dimensional Arts, along with new collaborative degree programs like data science and applied artificial intelligence are on the horizon.”

Trustees also agreed to refund and reissue $12.27 million in housing revenue bonds for the A-State campus. The move is expected to result in an estimated savings of $1.9 million over the lifetime of the bonds and at least $125,000 annually in debt service expense. Stephens Inc. and Crews & Associates Inc. will serve as bond underwriters.

Welch and the trustees expressed appreciation to ASU-Newport Chancellor Sandra Massey, who is retiring and attended her last board meeting. “She has done a tremendous job and we appreciate her leadership and the work she has done,” Welch said.

The board elected the following officers for 2021: Price Gardner of Little Rock, chair; Christy Clark of Little Rock, vice chair; and Dr. Tim Langford of Little Rock, secretary.

In other business, the Board of Trustees approved:

• A resolution to provide ASU System employees a 50 percent discount on select undergraduate and graduate Academic Partnership online degree programs. The AP programs previously have been excluded from employee class discounts.

• An A-State resolution to offer a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational environmental safety and health.

• An ASU Mid-South resolution to offer an Associate of Applied Science degree, a Technical Certificate and a Certificate of Proficiency in Computer Programming, as well as a Certificate of Proficiency in Database Programming.

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