President’s Update: Fall Semester Off to a Good Start; Cost-Reduction Measures Taken

August 28, 2020

Dear Clemson Family:

Today we completed our first full week of classes for the semester, and it has been amazing to hear about some of the ways our faculty is using technology to connect to our students.

I’m hearing that students are using the collaborative tools associated with Zoom to help one another with questions during class sessions, adding a layer of interactivity that we don’t always see in a traditional classroom setting. Also, one of our biology professors is holding discussions with her students on how to best engage online, which led to a student effort to create a music play list to welcome students as class is getting started each session.

These are just a couple of the many examples of great work being done by our faculty and students to make the most of a challenging situation. At the same time, we know that everyone is excited to get back in the classroom and on campus – and I can’t wait to welcome students back to campus beginning Sept. 11, and to the first day of in-person instruction on Sept. 21.

Our enrollment continues to hold steady, and we are projecting that on-campus residence halls will be nearly full. The enormous amount of work our faculty and staff have done over the past months to prepare for this semester allowed us to start the semester on time. I am extremely thankful for their great effort.

Difficult, but Necessary, Cost Reductions Announced

I remain confident that Clemson will emerge from the pandemic strong, but this unprecedented situation continues to take a financial toll on our university – and all of higher education. Our current projections place the economic impact of the pandemic on Clemson at between $120 and $180 million for the current fiscal year.

Because of that, the University took the step this week of announcing a combination of furloughs and voluntary pay cuts that will save the university the equivalent of 150 median-level positions. A guiding principle in our decision was to insulate our lower-paid employees, and more than half our workforce will see no impact from these reductions.

The furloughs are designed so that the more one earns, the more days he or she is furloughed – up to a maximum of 12 days over the next four months. In addition, nearly 90 employees in Athletics who are under contract and exempt from the furlough program took comparable voluntary pay cuts, with all those earning more than $400,000 taking at least a 10 percent reduction. I also took a voluntary 10 percent pay reduction.

Updated COVID-19 Testing Policies for Students

Broad testing of our student population remains an important piece of our plans for a safe return, and our strategy continues to evolve as testing technology improves. Students who are living on campus this fall or who will be taking classes in-person must provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test (either nasopharyngeal or saliva) within 10 days of their return to campus or have proof of a positive antibody test from within the last 40 days in order to move in.

We also have begun to offer free testing to off-campus students in order to get a baseline for the prevalence of the virus in our community. Our goal is to conduct several thousand COVID-19 tests a week before and during the semester.

Clemson Ring Order Deadline Extended

The Clemson Ring is a symbol of the bond among the Clemson Family and celebrates the accomplishments of all who have graduated from Clemson University. Students who have completed 90 or more credit hours can purchase their Clemson Ring and join the tradition, which began with our first graduating class in 1896.

The Clemson Alumni Association has extended the deadline and students can still purchase their Clemson Ring through this Sunday at midnight. Rings can be ordered here.

Students Stepping Up

A number of major universities have moved to completely online instruction for the fall in the past two weeks after reporting spikes in COVID-19 cases at the start of their fall semesters. In many cases, the increases in positive COVID cases were traced to groups of students who weren’t following recommended safety protocols.

Our students began arriving in the area early this month, and I’m happy to report that so far we have had few reports of students gathering in large groups.

Now is not the time to let our guard down, however. We must all continue to be vigilant in our approach to preventing spread of the virus – especially our students who are naturally inclined to gather with their friends in groups.

Our Commitment

As I have said before, we find ourselves in uncharted waters as we continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. There are no easy answers, only difficult decisions, but I am more convinced than ever that our team is doing everything it can to deliver on our promise to students and to our state.

Our guiding principles haven’t changed. We remain steadfastly focused on providing a true Clemson experience to our students in a manner that safeguards the health of the entire Clemson community to the greatest extent possible.

I am excited to see our students on campus next month, and am very proud of the care and commitment shown by our employees in order to make that possible. Thanks, as always, to all those working to make Clemson University better every day and to those who support our work.

Go Tigers!

Clemson University's 15th president, James P. Clements