KU to continue to pay employees; some resources available for students, others

photo by: Nick Krug/Journal-World File Photo

A bus whirs by as University of Kansas students wait along Jayhawk Boulevard on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016.

Some 30,000 students, faculty and staffers at the University of Kansas had their lives upended Tuesday as officials made the decision to largely suspend campus operations for the academic year amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

Classes moved to online-only instruction for the remaining 34 academic days beginning on March 23; over 5,000 students who live on campus were told that KU Housing facilities were closing on Friday, they had until then to move out, and it would be a while before they could return to get their belongings if they were away from campus; staff members were left wondering for a short time whether they would be paid during the disruption in on-campus activity.

Simply, it’s a tumultuous time for the KU community. Student Body President Tiara Floyd told the Journal-World that the main concerns she’s seen from students have been financial, as well as how exactly the academic structure of the university will operate. Students, especially seniors, are also disappointed with not being able to be around their friends anymore.

“Low morale all around is what I see,” Floyd said.

To help assuage some of those concerns, especially among low-income students, Student Senate — KU’s student governing body — is hoping to establish an internal fund in conjunction with other campus departments to help students with emergency needs.

“We are exploring how to financially help students,” Floyd said. “We need to make sure we aren’t breaking any rules or policies on where the money goes or how it’s distributed because it’s state money.”

An option Senate is exploring is a LaunchKU fundraiser — which is essentially a KU-sponsored GoFundMe page that can solicit community donations.

The university does have an emergency grant application process in place for students, as well as more specific emergency scholarship programs available through its financial aid office.

The emergency grants range from $1 to $1,500, with the average award around $500, according to the university’s website. It’s unclear, though, how much is currently available for KU students facing a financial emergency. Dedicated funding for graduate student emergencies is currently listed on KU’s website as unavailable.

Michelle Tevis, a spokesperson for KU Endowment, told the Journal-World that the organization does make funds available for students in the form of need-based scholarships, loans and emergency grants.

Endowment is also in the position to respond to any requests from Chancellor Douglas Girod for additional emergency funding, Tevis said.

KU spokesperson Erinn Barcomb-Peterson confirmed that aid is available through Endowment if Girod makes a special request, but she did not elaborate on whether he intends to do so.

From the standpoint of staff, which includes thousands of both salaried and hourly workers, initial concerns centered on whether workers would be paid during a significant decrease in campus operations like the one that came Tuesday.

Those concerns, as well as unease about how the campus would operate, have been assuaged by KU administration, Staff Senate President Robert Waller told the Journal-World.

Under current plans, salaried workers will continue to be paid their salary, while hourly workers will make an average of what they make during a two-week pay period, Waller said. For example, if an hourly worker made $120 one week and $100 the next, they would continue to receive a paycheck of $110 per week even if their services aren’t deemed critical to campus.

“The administration has worked wonderfully both communications wise and making sure staff are taken care of,” Waller said. “No one is being taken off the salary now.”

Waller said two concerns across campus that do still need to be addressed are food insecurity and mental health.

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KU has a campus food pantry called Campus Cupboard that normally operates Monday through Friday while classes are in session. Waller said discussions are ongoing about how to keep the pantry open while maintaining health officials’ recommendations for social distancing.

Addressing mental health concerns is also a challenge while people are asked to stay 6 feet away from one another. It’s challenging, Waller said, for both students and staff to suddenly be told to self-isolate after months of being around dozens of coworkers and friends on a daily basis.

“That is one of our major concerns specifically is trying to reach out to all staff members and reach out to the entire community, outside of what (Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer) has already said and reach out and check on people,” he said.

Trying to keep a sense of community for the thousands of people who walk KU’s campus daily will be no easy task, but Waller said he wants people to know that everyone is addressing the challenge together.

“We’re in a new world, and we’re all trying to adjust to that new world — understanding that it’s not over and there is no end in sight right now,” he said. “Everyone is trying to adjust to the new normal.”

More coverage: Coronavirus (COVID-19)

As the pandemic continues, the Journal-World will be making coverage of COVID-19 available outside of the paywall on LJWorld.com.

Find all coverage of city, county and state responses to the virus at: ljworld.com/coronavirus/

What to do if you think you may have COVID-19

Patients who have symptoms — difficulty breathing, cough and fever — should stay home, immediately isolate themselves from others and call their health care providers. Patients should never show up unannounced at a medical office or hospital. Instead, they should call ahead to explain their symptoms and give health care workers the ability to minimize the risk to others.

If patients do not have health care providers, they may call the Lawrence Douglas-County health department’s coronavirus line, 785-856-4343.

For updated information on the outbreak, Kansas residents can email COVID-19@ks.gov or call 866-534-3463 (866-KDHEINF), which is staffed 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

More information can be found through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s website or the Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health website.

Contact Conner Mitchell

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