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Auburn University finances weathering COVID-19 storm, say executives

Auburn University finances weathering COVID-19 storm, say executives

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Auburn University’s finances are holding up, apparently, despite a drop in some revenues from the coronavirus pandemic.

Overall, the university is off by $20.7 million from original budget projections since the spring COVID-19 outbreak, according to Kelli Shomaker, vice president for business and finance and chief financial officer. That number reflects less revenue from several sources, including the university’s veterinary, pharmacy and childcare programs; however, it’s offset somewhat by federal CARES Act money and cuts in spending on travel and other expenses.

Shomaker told the trustees that, in addition, there are roughly $60 million in contingency funds set aside in the university’s operating budget for the previous and current fiscal years. She added that state officials have, thus far, not indicated any clawback of funding support for this year or next.

“So we’ll enter next year in good shape?” Board President Pro Tem Wayne Smith asked Shomaker.

“That is true … in every key metric, we are doing extremely well,” she replied.

Athletics, hotel

The story is a bit different for athletics programs and the university’s hotel and conference center, which are not included in Auburn’s annual budget.

Shomaker told Smith that athletics’ revenues are off by $62 million since the spring, due to the cancellation of spring sports and lack of ticket and other revenues for the current football season. She was quick to add that the athletic department has also found $11 million in savings over the same period — likely due to much less travel and related expenses.

Shomaker acknowledged the hotel isn’t generating any money for the university right now. Ithaka Hospitality Partners, which manages the property, has not sought any subsidies from the university since the coronavirus outbreak, nor does Shomaker expect them to do so.

Trustee B.T. Roberts noted that the hotel operation has not been cash cow for Auburn in recent years, once profits are split with the operator.

“That sounds pretty good to me…we’re not go finish in the red,” said Roberts.

Spring plans

Provost Bill Hardgrave told trustees that more classes will be taught in-person in the spring — about 72 percent — but students will be able to choose whether they take the classes online or in-person or a mix of both.

Hardgrave didn’t acknowledge recent complaints from faculty members about a lack of say-so in campus COVID-19 planning. He instead chose to emphasize the buy-in from students, staff and faculty to make the current semester work.

“We never had to shut down a single day,” Hardgrave pointed out. “… I’m very confident spring will be a success. We have learned a lot and I think we will be successful … I anticipate being back on campus more in the spring than we were in the fall.”

Meeting change

University administrators briefed the Board of Trustees Thursday via Zoom and telephone work session, after the planned in-person meeting was scrapped due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases locally.

“Hopefully we can have an in-person meeting for the February meeting,” Smith told trustees.

The board is scheduled to host a renaming ceremony Friday at 2 p.m. The Harold D. Melton Student Center will be rechristened Friday afternoon. Melton, the first black Student Government Association president at Auburn University, is Chief Justice of the Georgia Supreme Court. He will become the first black person to have a campus building named for him.

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