Responding to the Economic Impact of COVID-19

Rhodes College has adapted well to the immediate upheaval that COVID-19 forced upon us. Despite the need to teach and learn remotely and to develop extensive plans for our eventual return to campus, we have continued to provide an excellent liberal arts education to our students. Led by our values, we have made decisions with health and safety in mind and have preserved the quality and strength of our faculty and staff. We are in a financially stable position for the current academic year.

But this stability comes with a recognition that we must act quickly to prepare the college for the longer term economic impact of the pandemic. If Rhodes is to thrive in the years ahead, it will be because we are able to frame our challenges clearly and respond to them with creativity and a sense of broader purpose. We are fortunate to be guided by our college vision and our strategic plan. This is a difficult moment but also one of great opportunity.

Over the course of the next several months, Rhodes will engage in a three-step process of discernment and planning designed to strengthen our financial foundation and our ability to live out our mission.

Phase I – Planning and Priorities Task Force formation and charge (August 5 – October 1)

President Hass has established a Planning and Priorities Task Force to lead the first phase of planning. The charge to the task force is to:

  • Review the college’s strategic plan in light of recent changes to the broader environment as well as on-going societal and demographic change.
  • Review internal and external data to understand evolving student needs.
  • Consult broadly and communicate regularly with campus constituents.
  • Recommend priorities and budget guidelines to strengthen the college’s financial position, build academic excellence, and create conditions for thriving into the future.

The task force will complete its work prior to the October meeting of the Board of Trustees. The President will review the task force’s recommendations and present its work, along with her own recommendations, to the Board of Trustees in October. The resulting Planning and Priorities report, as endorsed by the Board, will be shared with our community.

Task force members: Kathy Bassard (Provost and Vice-President of Academic Affairs and Professor of Africana Studies and English, co-chair), Greg Peters (Trustee, co-chair), Veronica Lawson Gunn '91 (Trustee), two faculty members elected by the faculty, one faculty member appointed by the president in consultation with the faculty governance committee, J. Carey Thompson (VP for Enrollment and Communications, Dean of Admission), Sherry Turner (Vice President for Strategic Initiatives, Chief Diversity Officer), Meghan Harte Weyant (Vice President for Student Life), Jacob Fontaine (Student Trustee/RSG president). Mel Richey, Executive Assistant to the President, and Kyle Webb, Vice President for Finance, will serve as advisors to the committee.

Phase II – Review, Reflection, and Recommendations (October 15 to December 1)

During phase two, vice presidents will lead their units in developing plans for building new budgetary efficiencies and potential investments in keeping with the priorities and budget guidelines described in the Planning and Priorities report. While each vice president may structure the work of their division differently, broad consultation and input will be encouraged. This is a moment for creative re-evaluation of the ways Rhodes achieves its ambitious aims. Broad discussion and engagement are likely to yield better solutions, as will a spirit of collaboration and community problem solving.

Divisional reports will be submitted to the president by December 1st for her review. Based on these reports, she will prepare a set of recommendations for the Board that will strengthen the college’s financial positions, support academic excellence, and create conditions for thriving into the future. Ultimately, the Board bears responsibility for determining the plan for moving forward and ensuring that the college’s budget is sustainable.

Phase III – Shaping the Future

We begin development and implementation of our plan for a renewed Rhodes College after the January board meeting. A FY 22 budget will be presented to the Board of Trustees no later than May 2021.