On campus

Oldham addresses uncertainty, health concerns of Tech community

  President Oldham discussed COVID-19 updates, university enrollment, tuition, and finances at the fall 2020 Chat with the President.

 This semester’s chat began with some opening remarks from President Oldham about campus updates. 

 “This is clearly a very unusual time in the history of our nation, in the history of this campus, so the environment here has changed a lot in the last three months,” Oldham said.

  He went on to praise faculty and everyone else involved with the sudden transfer to online delivery last spring. He congratulated students on record high grades for Tech last semester.

“The campus as a whole has done an absolutely amazing job at rising to this challenge,” Oldham said.

He spoke about the funding cuts the university received this year and that they had to make a few necessary adjustments to university finances.

He then closed his opening remarks by speaking on the university’s recent national rankings. 

Once again Tennessee Tech was ranked as one of only three public universities in Tennessee as a nationally ranked public university,” Oldham said.

  Oldham addressed positive cases in resident students after being asked about residents and resident assistants. If a resident on campus tests positive for COVID-19 and chooses to go home or leave campus, they will not be classified as an ‘on campus’ positive case. Therefore, the on campus positive cases may not accurately reflect how many on campus residents have contracted the virus. 

Oldham was then asked about the 10 faculty terminations that took place over the course of the summer, despite receiving CARES Act funding. Since the CARES Act advises against terminating employees during this time of financial crisis. And how terminating these people aligned with the ‘Wings of Kindness’  initiative Oldham and his wife launched last semester.

President Phil Oldham answers questions during Chat with the President. Oldham discussed uncertainty and health concerns on Tech campus. Photo by Emily Higdon

 “Terminations are always unfortunate. I don’t like them. But they are reality. As far as, is it kind or unkind, it’s a situation that we had to deal with,” Oldham answered.

 He went on to discuss how the university provided severance to those employees and they tried to help them anyway they could.

 When asked about the percentage of students and faculty on campus at one given time and the possibility of giving individual departments more say in what is online and what is in person, Oldham and Provost Lori Bruce highlighted that the university was only ever trying to find balance. The goal was always to provide as much flexibility as possible for students and faculty. If a faculty member was uncomfortable with coming to campus and wanted to work remotely they could always speak with their department chair, and if it was for a medical issue they could speak with human resources. 

Oldham then addressed university growth and enrollment. 

  “The recruiting process was drastically impacted because most high schools shut down in the spring also, so we didn’t have the same level of access to incoming freshmen that we had before … Right now we are sitting at about 10,200 students, which is just slightly above where we were last fall. We’re in good shape. That is not necessarily true at all the other institutions around the state,” Oldham said.

 Tuition has been increasing less and less over the past few semesters and one student asked Oldham if he believed that would continue. Oldham was hesitant to predict the future but stressed that their goal is always to keep tuition as low as possible. He also brought up how tuition did not increase for returning students this year, for possibly the first time ever. 

 Oldham stated that his biggest concern as the university president right now is the unknown. 

 “I think it’s always what I don’t know … It’s always the unknown that probably scares me the most,” Oldham said.

 The Center Stage fund was created to help bring more artists to the university. This year the fund took a hit of about $100,000. The money for this fund comes from student fees, and those fees were taken out this year despite the hit the Center Stage fund took. Oldham was asked if the funds taken from Center Stage would be returned to the fund at a later date. 

 “My understanding is that it was a temporary hold back of funds. I’m not aware of any permanent reduction to the Center Stage funding … There’s restrictions on student fees, on what they can be utilized for .. If that’s what they were accumulated for then that’s how they will be spent,” Oldham answered.

Oldham also addressed the work the university has done with student groups and organizations to prevent students from partying and going out. 

 Overall, Oldham was pleased with where the university is during this unusual semester.

“We know this virus is a difficult moment and we’re not out of it yet so we’ll continue to monitor the situation. I feel really good about where we are now,” Oldham said.