BGSU president reflects on coronavirus toll, and plans for the future

The numbers are mixed concerning students returning to Bowling Green State University after spring
semester was dramatically impacted by coronavirus.
President Rodney Rogers said that, overall, he expects a 6% decrease in enrollment between the main
campus and Firelands.
“Our first year students, with housing deposits is down from a year ago, so that is we’re trending down
on that one. Our retention and persistency, which is the number of students coming back for the fall, is
a little bit above from a year ago,” Rogers said in recent interview. “On the new students coming in, on
the undergrad, we’re down a little bit on. The graduate students, that’s up a little bit. Overall on the
assumptions we’re making on fall enrollment, I’m still pretty comfortable with those numbers — that we
will see an overall decline in enrollment.”
On May 15, the trustees voted to lay off 119 people, saving $13.5 million.
“We worked very hard to minimize the number of individuals that were impacted, but I know that that
doesn’t really speak to those individuals that were impacted and it doesn’t really help the individuals.
It’s one of the worst parts of the job I have, when you have to ultimately make those sorts of
decisions.
“But also as the president of Bowling Green and working with our trustees, it is important that we
position Bowling Green to continue to thrive in a post-COVID world, so we can protect future jobs.”
The budget must be balanced, Rogers said, and that meant cutting $29 million from the budget, as directed
by the state.
“We can’t print money at Bowling Green. We have to live within our means and because we are so heavily
dependent upon people to do what we do, a big percent of our budget is personnel,” he said.
As part of meeting the budget cuts, Rogers took a 15% reduction in his annual salary which had been
raised to $480,000 in September. Trustees had also awarded him an $84,900 performance bonus, which he
did not take and had redirected to the BGSU Foundation.
The senior leadership team agreed to take 10%, he said.
”I’m held accountable to the trustees who have the long term fiduciary responsibility to make sure the
institution thrives and so what I’m focusing on is making sure that Bowling Green is positioned to
thrive in the future and I’ve got to think about every employee,” Rogers said. “I also have to think
about the 187,000 alumni and I have to think about the 20,000 current students we have at Bowling Green
today, the 3,400 incoming students, actually a few more than that, with the grad side as well, the
nearly 4,000 new students that are coming to Bowling Green.
“My job currently as a president is to think about all of those groups and try to make the very best
decisions I can that allow Bowling Green State University to continue to thrive.
What’s to come is anyone’s guess, as residence halls are reconfigured, masks are mandated around campus
and face-to-face classes are held, among coronavirus.
“We are in a period of uncertainty. Many times, large organizations you know it’s difficult to deal with
periods of uncertainty,” Rogers said. “We’re uncertain of exactly how many students will be at Bowling
Green, We’re uncertain of this virus and the impact it will have on our economy long term. So there’s a
great deal of uncertainty.
“So going into this we made the best assumptions based on the information we’re getting from the state of
Ohio and the guidance there as well as what we believe enrollment will be. And that overall we believe
will lead to about a $29 million dollar reduction in our budget and therefore, the math is the math and
we’ve got to figure out how to reduce the costs by $29 million.
The financial concerns continue into the future, he said.
“Is there another round coming next year? In a year from now will we need to reduce the budget $13
million? And the answer is we don’t really know,” Rogers said. “If enrollment goes lower than we
thought, obviously next year there would have to be some additional cuts. That’s true whenever a
university sees an enrollment decline. If enrollment went up, we would hire more people, of course.”
BGSU classes in the fall will have a technology-based component, he said.
”It’s different from remote learning. It’s going to be different from what we did this past spring. It
will be a more intense online, with these smaller groups.”
The classroom setting will also be different, when there is face-to-face teaching.
“How do we design, or redesign our classrooms, or retro-fit the classrooms to make sure that we are
providing appropriate space for the health and wellness of our students and each of our employees,
faculty and staff, of course,” Rogers said.
“We’re looking at the density of our residence halls and making sure that’s taken care of. We’re working
with the Wood County Hospital and health department, to make sure that we’re thinking about our students
off campus, and how to make sure we’re being a good partner with the city of Bowling Green to make sure
that all of our community is safe and that we have reduced the risk as much as possible.”
Returning students will most likely be asked to sign some kind of social contract, he said.
“You know more than ever, this whole crisis has just shown how interconnected everything is. How
interconnected the economy is with individuals and public health and how a person’s health can impact
others health. So it’s important that in all of this that we do the detailed planning to make sure that
we are reducing the risk, based on what we understand the virus to be,” Rogers said.
“Between now and August we’re going to learn a lot more about this virus. We’re going to learn a lot more
about how many people are truly impacted, how many people maybe have the antibodies, you know we are
just going to know so much more and that’s why we are constantly in contact with the Ohio Department of
Health and the state and certainly the CDC on the federal level to make sure we are using the best
science and the best knowledge of this virus to do the planning for the fall, to ensure that people are
in a reduced risk kind of environment.”
In May, Rogers’ twin sons graduated from college. The president was asked, hypothetically, if he would
feel safe sending them to BGSU to attend classes in the fall.
“The answer to that is yes, because based on what we know today, and knowing all the planning that is
going on right now, in terms of making sure that we have physical distancing, we’re rethinking how we
are doing our curriculum to make sure that in some ways students are going to see smaller in-person
class sizes,” he said.
Rogers said he has tried to find a positive in this crisis.
“If there is any bright spot out of this, and I’m not sure that there’s many, but if there is anything
it’s how do we learn, each of us, how do we learn how to be more adaptable, resilient and be willing to
adjust and try to make positive things come out of a very negative and devastating global pandemic.”