Use of Federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) at UCR

July 13, 2021
Elizabeth Watkins
Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor
July 13, 2021

Dear Campus Community, 

The coronavirus pandemic wrought substantial devastation on our nation and community since the first diagnosed U.S. case in January 2020. In the 18 months since then, Congress has passed three rounds of stimulus acts, each of which offered financial relief to institutions of higher education. Chancellor Wilcox and I, in consultation with campus leaders, have sought wherever possible to direct these funds to support, acknowledge, and recognize the tenacity and commitment of our students, staff, and faculty. The people of UC Riverside are our greatest asset, and I know that many of you have experienced untold personal and professional challenges as a result of the pandemic.

While these relief funds will not fully compensate for the many tens of millions of dollars of losses UCR sustained, nor for the losses in learning, research, and other university activities, the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan provide opportunities for us to recover and rebuild in strategic and targeted ways. Closing much of the campus during the pandemic resulted in delayed progress toward degree completion, suspended research and creative activities, and hiring pauses that caused hardships for our campus community members. 

Each round of federal financial relief was mandated to be split between student financial aid and partial restoration of lost revenue or offsetting of expenses directly related to COVID-19.

The Campus Finance Committee, which advises Chancellor Wilcox and me on major institutional budget decisions, met several times over the past two months to review proposals for use of these one-time relief funds, which must have a direct nexus to the pandemic and will be audited for compliance. We have accepted the committee’s recommendations, which are intended to support our students, faculty, and staff as we make strides toward a mostly in-person fall quarter.

Below is a summary of the approved recommendations that will be implemented this fiscal year.

FACULTY
For assistant professors and assistant professors of teaching, the campus will fund employment of a PhD or MFA student (GSR) for one academic year, paying their tuition, fees, and salary. If the faculty member chooses not to hire a graduate student to support their research, they can instead receive a one-time grant of $15,000 to fund research expenses.
 
Unlike associate and full professors, assistant professors do not yet have security of employment. Many of them experienced disruptions to their research programs due to the pandemic. Graduate students also experienced disruptions in their research, delays in their progress toward completion, and increased challenges securing funding. This plan is designed to assist both groups.
 
Faculty should contact their dean’s office for further information.
 
STAFF
Many staff never left campus when the Governor’s “stay-at-home” order was issued. There are campus functions that require a physical presence, so these colleagues endured risks to health, emotional stress, and safety mitigations shared by on-site workers across the country. Other employees had to create makeshift, sub-optimal workstations in their homes, balancing work with childcare, online school, family financial uncertainties, and myriad other distractions.

We are mindful of the significant burden placed on staff during this time and will respond with several programs using one-time funding intended to offer relief and recognition during FY2021-22, including:

  • Expansion of R’Pantry with a one-year pilot program to include access for UCR staff experiencing food insecurity
  • Funding for colleges, schools, and administrative units to purchase equipment and furniture for staff approved to work hybrid or remote schedules
  • Expansion of mental health and wellness resources for staff 
  • Funding for career-related trainings and resources for employees and supervisors, including training for individuals working on a hybrid basis, to make up for many training and professional development opportunities missed due to COVID

More information will be forthcoming as these programs are implemented.

GRADUATE STUDENTS
The pandemic seriously disrupted graduate education, notably at the dissertation (research) stage, and across disciplines. For humanities, arts, and social science students, access to archives and research sites was significantly restricted. For many in the life sciences, restrictions on travel to field research sites has meant an inevitable delay in those projects tied to natural cycles. Lab-based disciplines also saw delays. 
 
In order to address the financial and other stresses our early-career researchers face as they work to complete their PhD and MFA degrees, the campus will allocate funds to expand the Graduate Division’s dissertation fellowship completion program to support 150 students between fall 2021 and summer 2023.

UNDERGRADUATE AND PROFESSIONAL STUDENTS
The pandemic’s effects were magnified for UCR’s student population, many of whom are first-generation university students. Many were sheltering in homes with multiple distractions, digital access challenges, no dedicated study space, and the mental health challenges of isolation and hypervigilance. 

The Campus Finance Committee reviewed a range of student success interventions to support a return to campus and made recommendations that will be implemented during this academic year. They include:

  • Financial assistance for students adversely affected by the pandemic
  • Expansion of tutoring and supplemental instruction 
  • Technology upgrades across campus, including classroom and conference room upgrades, expanded Wi-Fi and laptop access, and online student advising and services
  • Expansion of peer mentoring and advising
  • Events and programs for incoming students who have spent little to no time on campus
  • Research experiences for undergraduates

In addition to these specific programs, one-time funding was provided to all core units to help mitigate the impacts of budget reductions. 

None of the activities and interventions described above will allow us to reclaim the 18 months we experienced as a community and a nation. Through the allocation of this one-time emergency relief funding, in strict adherence to the federal guidelines, we hope to provide assistance, encouragement, and recognition to our faculty, students, and staff as we return to campus in the fall. 

I wish you all the best for the coming academic year.