By Tatyanna Carman
Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo presented a virtual fall convocation like no other to faculty and staff on Aug. 30, with central themes of uncertainty, flexibility, safety and continuity.
He shared information about the profound impact of the pandemic on the university as well as updates on enrollment, finances, athletics and renovations to the Rider community.
Projected pandemic expenses alone, Dell’Omo said, have thus far cost the university $1.5 million, which Dell’Omo said would probably increase.
In addition, Dell’Omo said having fewer students live on campus this year created further budget problems.
“From our original budget of 2020, last year again as I said before, it was looking at an $8.2 million deficit of our original budget last year. Here we’re seeing that we have actually $9.2 million less revenue primarily due to room and board and other loss revenues from enrollment that we did experience,” Dell’Omo said.
Nearly 450 Rider faculty and staff attended the virtual event, according to Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Planning and Secretary to the Board Debbie Stasolla.
Fall 2020 Semester Plan
Dell’Omo explained that the revisions to the academic calendar in the fall and spring were in a joint effort with the faculty union. Dell’Omo said the plan to start “a week earlier in the semester, run through Thanksgiving and then after Thanksgiving, go into fully remote instruction” had been the plan all along.
He addressed the several changes done to the format of the 2020 fall semester. Dell’Omo said because the state moved into stage two of its reopening plan in June, the administration thought that New Jersey would be in stage three by July.
Dell’Omo said that the university kept waiting “longer and longer” after it put the first Resolved and Ready plan together and submitted it to the state.
“What was really frustrating was that we had a number of conversations with the governor as well as the secretary of higher education, private conversations, both me personally but also with the other university presidents in New Jersey. [We were] trying to get a sense of if the governor was going to make the decision to get to stage three [and] when that would be because we’re running out of time and we just can’t flip a light switch and go from remote instruction to on-ground instruction overnight.”
He said that continuity and stability were the factors that contributed to the updated fall semester plan.
According to Dell’Omo, 82% of classes are remote, 14% of classes are hybrids with an even split between heavy and light hybrid classes and 4% are in-person. Science labs are operating with a “mix of on-ground and so forth,” according to Dell’Omo, and performance classes are fully remote for the semester.
“I want to say thank you to everybody. From faculty changing their courses, to people being able to adjust their working conditions to hail it all to sacrifices that the community had to endure and are still enduring,” Dell’Omo said.
Department Chair of Theater and Dance Ivan Fuller said in an interview with The Rider News, “Although I’m going to greatly miss seeing my students face-to-face this semester, I’m also excited about the new learning strategies they’ll be engaging in and the opportunities to create art in a completely new way that we will be giving them.”
Dell’Omo then focused on the return to campus and student housing. According to Dell’Omo, there are 22 beds set aside for isolation on West Long Drive and Hamilton House for those who contract the virus. In Conover Hall, 103 beds are set aside for those who have been exposed to others who contract the virus. Dell’Omo said that the university is anticipating around 900 students living on campus, which is less than 40% of the available housing.
He also highlighted dining and food, campus event guidelines and the student pledge.
Enrollment and Finances
Dell’Omo reviewed the fall student enrollment numbers and goal percentages for full-time and part-time undergraduates and full-time and part-time graduates. There are a total of 3,353 undergraduates for the fall as of Aug. 26, which is 116 students fewer than last year.
Dell’Omo said that the university expected that decrease because of the national decline in enrollment before the pandemic.
Dell’Omo then focused on state and federal funding as it applies to Rider. The New Jersey Coronavirus Relief Fund allocated $150 million to higher education and of that sum, the independent, not-for-profit sector received $1 million, which is split between 13 institutions, according to Dell’Omo. This resulted in Rider receiving $81,638. Rider received $3.6 million from the federal coronavirus relief bill (CARES act) and only $1.8 million can be used for COVID-19 related expenses. The other $1.8 million was for students.
Dell’Omo said that on the expense side, there were some savings on salaries and benefits and other expenses had a reduction, which relates to “going fully remote and canceling things that have expenses attached to them.”
“The net result though is that now, the $8.2 million budget deficit that we planned has now become an $11.3 million deficit,” he said.
In the analysis of the 2021 fiscal year operating budget, Dell’Omo stressed the importance of housing and residence life after explaining the decline in revenue since the 2019 fiscal year. He also analyzed the cash flow projection for the 2021 fiscal year.
Fuller said that the information about the university’s finances was [not] surprising since “this is consistent with what most schools in the country seem to be facing.”
Athletics and Facilities
Dell’Omo highlighted other areas like athletics and the various renovations being done on campus.
He reviewed the successes of the athletics program last academic year and evaluated whether fall sports will be able to compete in the spring in addition to “studying winter sports.”
Dell’Omo gave updates to renovations done to the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) and the student navigation office that will be located on the lower level of the Bart Luedeke Center, which will be done on Sept. 2.
He also mentioned updates and renovations to 107.7 The Bronc, Centennial Lake, Lincoln residence hall and renovations related to the transition of Westminster Choir College onto the Lawrenceville campus.
“Omega House has been completed. We have now 27 full-time faculty offices and nine adjunct offices and studios. Faculty have begun to move in there and we expect full occupancy being done by this week.”
He also said that Gill Chapel was “completely gutted” and being “rebuilt from the inside” to accommodate for performance needs. Gill Chapel should be fully operational by Sept. 21, according to Dell’Omo.
The Fine Arts building has also had upgrades to accommodate the WCC transition including three new music classrooms and a new music education classroom.