In light of recent events surrounding the coronavirus and its impact on business operations, Fourth View created the Return My Semester series to better understand how the virus has disrupted the education sector.

Fourth View sent FOIA requests seeking information surrounding finances and guidance connected to COVID-19 from approximately the time campuses began acting.

University of Texas, El Paso responded to our request, which yielded roughly 30 pages of relevant documents (ordered newest to oldest). Here are some highlights:

  • Pages 1-16: Norm Tarbox, Vice President of Weber State University, asks colleagues from many different universities around the country what their approach to “tuition collection efforts” will be like. Many senior staff confirm they won’t be refunding tuition in any capacity, adding “we are trying to hold the line there [refunding housing, dining and parking], but there are a lot of pressures.” Mark Heil, CFO at Boise State University, first noted this, with Paul Lasiter, VP of Operations and Finance at University of Montana, Lynn Johnson, VP of University Operations at Colorado State University, adding they are attempting to “hold the line” as well from mounting pressures.
  • Pages 17-18: A student asks Amanda Vasquez-Vicario, Assistant VP for Enrollment Services, for at least a partial refund of tuition for classes going online.
  • Page 22: Heather Wilson, President of UT El Paso, says, “(I sat in on one of the ‘how to’ webinars for teaching on line and it is pretty clear that I m in the remedial class! Sigh…) We have faculty ambassadors helping other faculty, and instruction designers helping all of us  Even so, it s not as though you are seeing an online product that someone worked a year to produce I m sure it s rough and it s probably frustrating.” This shows that, not only is the product that UTEP turning out inferior to their normal in-person instruction, she’s also reconfirming that they aren’t going to refund any portion of tuition, even with this in mind. Virginia Fraire, Associate Provost for Academic Affairs, responds and coordinates with SGA president Jessica Martinez to craft a message to send to students. Heather Wilson asks Jenn Crawford, Director of Communications, to keep an eye on social media. Crawford reports back to Wilson and Fraier that a petition calling for a pass/fail option garnered 3,700 signatures and found one student on Instagram asked about tuition refunds.
  • Page 31: J.B. Milliken, Chancellor of The University of Texas System, emails colleagues in the UT System saying, “Consistent with state law, there will be no reimbursement of tuition for withdrawal, at this point in the spring semester, from courses offered, which for the remainder of the semester will be provided remotely. Our position was confirmed, at least informally, by Commission Keller in a call yesterday late afternoon.”

The TPIA request sought communications, including emails, of President Heather Wilson, Vice President for Academic Affairs John Wiebe, and Vice President for Business Affairs Mark McGurk, that contained the phrase “tuition reimbursement” or “tuition refund” during the months of March and April of 2020.