Virtual Town Halls Connect Tech Employees, Leadership
President Cabrera and Institute leadership held two virtual town halls with Georgia Tech employees on Wednesday, April 15.
More than 3,200 people logged in on April 15 for the first in a series of virtual town halls addressing the impact of COVID-19 on Georgia Tech. In both the morning and afternoon discussions, President Ángel Cabrera was joined by several campus leaders including Rafael L. Bras, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs; Chaouki Abdallah, executive vice president for Research; Kelly Fox, executive vice president for Administration and Finance; and Kim Harrington, associate vice president and Chief Human Resources Officer.
“My thoughts go to all of you who are dealing with the disease on a more personal level,” Cabrera began. “Yesterday we had a record number of deaths nationwide. It is a tough reminder that this is a very dangerous disease, and we need to do everything possible to protect ourselves and to protect others.”
He reminded viewers, “We still need people on campus to take care of students who are living there. And we have police running basic services as well as a COVID-19 testing site that administers about 1,000 tests a day. That would not be possible without the presence of Georgia Tech police.”
The Road Ahead
Cabrera spoke frankly about the economic impact of the pandemic and answered questions about how that might affect Tech employees.
“I won’t sugarcoat it. This is perhaps one of the most complex situations that most of us have experienced in our lifetimes,” he said.
Administration and Finance has been modeling the current and potential future financial impact of COVID-19. The team has identified at least $55 million in losses between now and June. This includes revenue in Housing, Dining, and Parking and Transportation, as well as a decline in revenue from study abroad and Athletics.
“When you project out, it could be two, three, or four times as much over the next few months,” Cabrera said. “Then there is the real possibility that the investment the state of Georgia makes in Georgia Tech may be cut as the state sees a significant decline in its tax revenue.”
He said some of those funds may be offset by federal stimulus money, some of which has already been announced as part of the Care Act. In the first phase Georgia Tech has been allocated $10.5 million, which will be distributed to students in financial need. The second half, which is a little more than $5 million, will help offset some of Tech’s financial losses.
“I think it’s fair that we start getting ready for a scenario next year in which we have to cut expenses pretty drastically. At that point we need everybody on board,” he said. “This is not a question for our colleagues in Administration and Finance to solve. This requires all hands on deck.”
And he addressed a question that is on the minds of many: Will there be employee furloughs or layoffs?
“We need to do everything we can to keep our existing employment intact. The job market will be down and if we lose jobs people will suffer. That’s why I emphasize that every dollar counts. Everything that we can do without we should be doing without until things stabilize. With help from everyone we may be able to minimize the chance that employment will be affected. That should be our very last option.”
Leadership fielded questions from viewers, some submitted in advance and others in real time during the town hall. Here is a sampling. A complete recording of both employee town halls will be uploaded to Tech's COVID-19 site.
Question: Many companies around Atlanta are offering voluntary leave without pay, reducing salaries by a certain percentage, furloughing or laying off staff, or offering early retirement. What is on the table at this point in terms of what Tech is considering?
Kelly Fox: The important takeaway is that everything that we can do today to mitigate our expenses helps us with our long-term goal of maintaining our employment. As soon as we have more information, we will get it to you so you can know both what the situation is we’re dealing with and strategies to deal with it.
Question: Where is the best place (within the organization) for faculty to get information and updates to pass along to students?
Rafael L. Bras: We’re in touch with the deans of every unit. In many ways the process remains the same. The deans meet with me and others almost daily. Any questions can be routed to the deans and they will get a response. Every day we distribute a summary of information of anything that is new, and we repeat anything that needs to be repeated.
Question: Has there been any consideration for tenure deadline extensions for assistant professors?
Bras: The answer is yes. You will be getting a report to that effect. There will be modifications and mitigations put in place for tenure decisions. You will hear details very soon.
Question: Georgia Tech is producing protective gear for first responders. Is it possible to provide a shield to employees who are required to work in close distance with others? Disinfectant spray and gloves are not enough protection.
Chaouki Abdallah: We’re engaged in many activities to support the effort at the state and national level. At last count 25,000 face shields have been produced. Hundreds of thousands can be produced for the nation. We will have face shields for employees when the need arises. We have a couple of designs for ventilators and we’re trying to get FDA approval. We have people working on solutions for this infection at GTRI, and we’re trying to scale it up. We have people working on modeling in ISyE and the School of Physics. We’re supporting the CDC and the state at many levels. GTRI has also been engaged. I’m probably missing about 10 other projects, but we have been engaged at all levels.
Question: Does the Families First Coronavirus Response Act affect Georgia Tech’s non-closure emergency leave?
Kim Harrington: These are two distinct benefits. The Georgia Tech non-closure emergency leave is paid leave when the work has been reduced. When someone’s work has been reduced, they are eligible to receive leave with pay. The Coronavirus Response Act is related to an individual and their ability to take sick leave when they are ill or when someone in their care is ill. There are a lot of complexities involved, and HR would like to partner with you to apply it appropriately.
Question: Will there be more town halls in the future, both during and after the crisis?
Cabrera: I’m in. Whatever it takes to keep a sense of community. Let me know if you have ideas to make it better or more effective. Whatever we can do, we’ll be there.
Read more about how Georgia Tech is joining the battle against COVID-19 with our expertise, innovation, and indomitable spirit: https://c.gatech.edu/COVID19Help