University Administration Misuses $14 Million in Emergency Funding for Teaching and Learning

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by Congress in late March set aside almost $14 billion to support higher education. San Francisco State University was allocated $28,725,948 from this pot of money.  The university was required to dedicate half this money to direct emergency financial aid grants to students. The other half–$14,362,974–was dedicated to institutional support. We believe SF State administration has misused this portion of the CARES money and has ignored provisions of the law requiring recipients to maintain their payrolls.

Section 18004 of the CARES Act, otherwise known as the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, explicitly states the following: “(c) USES OF FUNDS… an institution of higher education receiving funds under this section may use the funds received to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus…” 

In a letter accompanying  the release of the “institutional support” component of the CARES money, the Secretary of Education elaborates: 

Section 18004(c) of the CARES Act allows your institution to use up to one-half of the total funds received under Section 18004(a)(1) to cover any costs associated with significant changes to the delivery of instruction due to the coronavirus. [...] While I know you face many challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic, I encourage you to use the portion of your award for Recipient’s Institutional Costs to expand your remote learning programs, build your IT capacity to support such programs, and train faculty and staff to operate effectively in a remote learning environment. These activities will help ensure that learning can continue for your students during the Nation’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and strengthen your position to support continued learning in the future.

The guidance issued by the Department of Education is clear: SFSU’s $14 million in institutional support should be dedicated to the core “business” of the university–teaching and learning.  Instead, as the figures below demonstrate, SF State administrators have directed only about a third of the CARES money to support the academic mission of the university.

Proposals & Funding:                                          

  • Student Housing Program ($9,000,000)
  • Faculty Professional Development ($3,000,000)
  • Student and Faculty Technology and Connectivity ($1,900,000)
  • Health & Safety Costs for Face-to-Face Activities ($500,000)

Total: $14,400,000

The overwhelming bulk of the university’s CARES money–$9 million–has instead been funneled into an auxiliary enterprise–Housing–that is designated as one of the university’s self-support programs.  Self-support programs depend on revenue generated by their own operations.  At SF State, these include: Housing, Parking, Student Health, and Campus Recreation.  As the name “auxiliary” implies, these operations are not central to “instructional delivery” or the academic work of the university.

The university’s shift to “remote instruction” for fall 2020 means that dormitories will be empty and student cafeterias will be shuttered.  However, federal law and Department of Education guidance dictate that CARES money be allocated to support faculty and students, not to shore up losses to auxiliary enterprises.

Section 18006 of the CARES Act also stipulates: “A local educational agency, State, institution of higher education, or other entity that receives funds under Education Stabilization Fund, shall to the greatest extent practicable, continue to pay its employees and contractors during the period of any disruptions or closures related to coronavirus.”  Based on this provision, PSC-CUNY, the faculty union at the City University of New York has sued CUNY administration over its recent efforts to layoff almost 2,800 employees.  As the SF Chronicle recently noted, while United Airlines plans to furlough 40% of its workforce, “[t]he company cannot furlough workers before Oct. 1 because of restrictions on the $5 billion in aid the company received under the federal CARES Act.”  California State University received $525 million through the CARES Act yet announced this week that it has begun implementing layoff provisions throughout the university.    

We call on SFSU President Lynn Mahoney and SFSU Provost and VP for Academic Affairs to comply with federal law and allocate the entire $14 million of CARES money to support the instructional and academic activities of faculty and students.  Further, SFSU administration must abide by the employment provisions of the CARES Act–no furloughs or layoffs.  

The CARES money can and should be used to: 

  • reduce class size and enhance the academic experience for SF State students,
  • more fully support the conversion and provision of “remote instruction,”
  • preserve faculty jobs

Improving education under radically new and stressful conditions must be the first priority for our university.