The George Washington University is receiving more than $9 million in federal pandemic-related relief. Given the challenging economic situation GW is facing, we believe it is important that our membership understand the stipulations of this aid, and that University leadership respond to our questions and concerns. The following highlights aspects of this legislation that we believe require a thorough response from University leadership. We are sharing it with all of you because we believe in transparency and shared governance. GWUFA membership should be informed about this massive influx of funds, the concerning guidance accompanying them, and what has up to this point been silence from upper administration about these developments.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) passed on March 27 allotted approximately $14 billion to be divided among the nation’s universities. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, GW is set to receive $9,118,529, with at least $4,559,265 of those going to students for emergency financial aid. The agreement signed by recipient institutions stipulates that the funds are to be used “promptly,” and where possible, within a year of their receipt.
Given the enormity of these figures, and the fact that institutional recipients maintain a great deal of discretion in distributing the funds, GW faculty, staff, and students should be aware of the parameters and restrictions in the law and the questions they raise about transparency and prioritization of need.
As a recipient institution, GW will be required to provide an accounting for the use of the funds to the Department of Education, its Inspector General, and/or other federal agencies. The GW community also has a right to know how over nine million dollars is distributed over 365 days. GW must provide full disclosure and a full accounting for how the CARES Act funds are spent.
Stipulations of the CARES Act
…THE EMPHASIS IS ON AID TO STUDENTS
The law does not mandate that only half the money granted to institutions can be used for direct aid to students. Rather, it states that up to half of the funds can be used for “university purposes” and at least half should be given directly to students “for their expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child-care expenses.” Recipient institutions must agree to “take strong measures” to ensure these emergency grants to students “are made to the maximum extent possible,” including using funds earmarked for institutional costs “especially if Recipient has significant endowment or other resources at its disposal.”
We want to know if GW will prioritize emergency aid to students over other institutional needs. An accounting of how many students got aid, the average amount, and the types of aid allotted should be made public.
…PROVIDING FOR Undocmented AND DACAmented STUDENTS
After the CARES Act passed, the Department of Education released guidance excluding undocumented and DACAmented students from aid. Inside Higher Ed recently reported that the guidance issued by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is even narrower in terms of eligibility, restricted only to students who qualify for financial aid.
We want to know whether GW will obey these restrictions. If so, how does GW plan to get emergency aid to the many students rendered ineligible by DeVos’ guidance?
…LIMITATIONS ON UNIVERSITY USE OF MONIES
The institutional portion of the funds can cover costs associated with changes to the delivery of instruction (reimbursing itself for room and board refunds, or for hardware, software, or internet connectivity purchased on behalf of students). However, funds may not be used for “payment to contractors for the provision of pre-enrollment recruitment activities, which include marketing and advertising; endowments; or capital outlays associated with facilities related to athletics, sectarian instruction, or religious worship.”
We want to know what the University is considering or what has already been decided about how these funds will be spent.
FUNDS SHOULD BE USED TO PROTECT JOBS
The law stipulates that each institution that accepts funds will “to the greatest extent practicable, …pay all of its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to the coronavirus”, although emergency funds cannot be used for this purpose.
By taking these funds, is GW committing to retaining all faculty and staff? If so, what are we to make of part-time contracts that have already been canceled? Is it also committing to continuing (or resuming) contracts such as the one with Disney?
In the interest of transparency and shared governance, GW should provide full disclosure and a full accounting of how the CARES Act funds are spent. We’ve got our eyes on you, GW Administration.