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University of Colorado Board of Regents Chair Glen Gallegos had a blunt message for a group of faculty leaders on Thursday: We need to work together as a system if CU is going to survive.

Gallegos and Regent Lesley Smith, who is vice-chair of the board, addressed faculty members from all four campuses at the system’s first faculty council meeting of the academic year.

“Our goal for the next year or so, maybe even longer, it may be for us just to survive,” Gallegos told faculty members assembled on Zoom. “I think there is a great threat to how much longer we may be around if we cannot really navigate some of the stuff that’s happening right now — the dollars, the ability to keep kids in school. I don’t think we will ever again be able to sell to parents and to students the model that we have right now. I don’t think that will happen.”

CU’s four campuses are offering a mix of in-person and online learning as the semester begins, though that may change quickly if coronavirus worsens.

Gallegos said he’s looking at the next three weeks to see if students will be able to remain on campus and if faculty and staff feel like they have a role in the decision process.

How many students enroll in an unprecedented college semester will also determine the fate of CU’s budget this year, which has already been battered by unexpected expenses because of coronavirus and a sharp drop in state funding. Student tuition makes up the majority of CU’s funding, and Gallegos said he was particularly concerned about enrollments at the Denver and Colorado Springs campuses.

Gallegos also raised the current reckoning with systemic racism and injustice, issues that have persisted throughout his 50-year career in education.

“We haven’t solved it, we haven’t done well with it and at the University of Colorado our record is pretty abysmal,” Gallegos said. “It’s something we need to do something about, but we need to work on that together. I don’t think we need to pit campuses and faculty and administration and regents against each other. If we’re going to do anything, we need to do it together, otherwise we won’t make it to the 145th year (of CU).”

President Mark Kennedy also raised the uncertainty of the upcoming year while addressing faculty members.

The system’s financial state is still similar to what it was when the Board of Regents approved the annual budget — along with across-the-board budget cuts — in June, Kennedy said.

But that certainty is tied to enrollment, which is counted in September, and the impact of coronavirus on the upcoming academic year.

“How many days, weeks and months do we continue without facing a challenge from a COVID perspective that is bigger than we can surmount with all of our preparations, our testing, isolating and contact tracing?” Kennedy said. “I’m hoping we have the resources to do that throughout the whole year, but as you know each campus has multiple levels they’re willing to go to as things progress.”

System leaders are also restarting work on the strategic plan, which was slated to be completed this summer but was put on hold in May amid the pandemic.

This time around, the groups tasked with developing action steps for the strategic plan must vet those goals through how much of an impact they would actually have, how much they would cost and what’s the case for that action, Kennedy said.

The goal is to have the strategic plan finished and presented to the Board of Regents for approval in July.

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