The University System of Georgia issued a new statement Saturday evening reiterating that a private developer with which it contracts for student housing services did not influence fall reopening plans and detailing key dates in planning to return students to campuses.
That statement came a day after Inside Higher Ed reporting described the developer, Rhode Island-based Corvias, pressing institutions this spring in at least two states to consider fall reopening plans' effects on housing fee revenue. May 29 letters from the company argued universities do not have the "unilateral right" to implement policies that would limit the number of students who can occupy certain student housing or to reduce housing fees under contractual agreements.
"As partners in a 40-year arrangement, we believe … interests should be aligned, and that critical decisions that could impact housing fee revenue should be made with consideration of the long-term financial viability of the on-campus student housing project," Corvias wrote.
Documents show that after receiving the letter and after reviewing institutions' plans for returning to campus, system staff evaluated legal, financial and operational implications of several potential housing changes the pandemic might prompt.
For instance, refunds sent after the Board of Regents unilaterally closed campus housing in the spring of 2020 totaled $13.4 million, according to a June 10 system office staff meeting agenda. The system office had funded 77 percent of that total.
"Corvias did not cover or share in responsibility for this refund nor indicate a willingness to do so for Fall 2020 if housing is similarly closed for public health measures," the agenda said before going on to lay out a legal discussion about the public-private partnership, or P3 agreement, it has with the company.
"Any BOR unilateral closure of P3 housing and refund will be at BOR's legal and financial risk," the agenda said. "BOR can reasonably anticipate Corvias initiating dispute resolution and legal proceedings if BOR provides refunds from collected Gross Fees without covering refunded amount."
The new statement from the Georgia system office mirrors earlier statements denying that the company influenced decisions. It further lays out the system's timeline for making fall reopening plans. The full statement reads as follows:
The University System of Georgia (USG) announced in early April plans to return to on-campus instruction in Fall 2020, if public health guidelines allowed. Over the next two months, the presidents of each of USG's 26 institutions led an extensive planning process detailing how best to do that on their campuses, with input from hundreds of campus stakeholders. Those plans, which included how each institution wanted to address campus housing, were due to USG no later than May 26. The plans followed guidance from USG, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
As part of that process, each campus made its own decisions about how to manage student housing.
On May 29, USG received a letter from Corvias, a company that manages campus housing for nine USG institutions. The letter stated the company's expectations for campus housing capacity and financial payment for fall semester, notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic.
No USG institution factored Corvias' demands into its campus housing plans for Fall 2020. Those plans had already been submitted to the system and followed DPH and CDC public health guidance. Nor did Corvias' letter cause subsequent changes.
USG has been and remains committed to the essential importance of health and safety for students, faculty and staff. The system continues to follow guidance from DPH, CDC and the Governor's Coronavirus Task Force. As their guidance evolves, the system's guidance will as well.
The June system staff agenda evaluates financial ramifications of Georgia State University plans to occupy 75 percent of P3 housing. That would cost $3.1 million in revenue and require additional money from Corvias or the system to prevent the project from falling below lenders' financial requirements and triggering a default.
A spokesman previously said that the system office performed an analysis, as it generally does in such situations. But it later became apparent that Georgia State was experiencing dramatically reduced student demand for housing, so the issue was rendered moot and the university's proposed plan was not implemented.
Several individual institutions in the Georgia System had already issued their own statements denying company influence in reopening plans. Another, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College, has now done so as well.
"Decisions regarding on-campus housing at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College for the fall semester of 2020 were made by the College based on what was believed to be in the safety interests of the college's resident student population," said that statement from the college's president, David Bridges.
A Corvias spokeswoman has not responded to requests for comment.