September 20, 2020

A message from President Paino about the start of on-campus instruction

A message from President Troy Paino:

 

To our faculty and staff,

Like you, I have been closely following recent trends with the COVID-19 virus. It goes without saying that the increase in the number of cases in Virginia and across the country gives us pause. We had hoped and believed, just a month ago, that we were headed in the right direction. However, after careful study of the most recent data, a thorough discussion of our options with the COVID-19 Implementation Team, consultation with our local public health and health care officials, and deliberation with my senior leadership team, we have made the decision to delay move-in and the start of on-campus instruction.

This means that we now aim for the following:

  • All classes will still begin on Monday, August 24, but in-person and hybrid courses will be conducted remotely for the first three weeks.
  • Residential students will return to campus by Monday, September 14 (move-in will take place September 10-13).
  • Classes on September 10 and 11 will be cancelled to support residential student move-in.
  • Residential students will still return home on Friday, November 20.
  • As previously announced, classes will resume remotely on Monday, November 30, and the semester will conclude with exams the week of December 7.

What has caused us to adjust our plans? Since we completed our plan – #ForwardUMWand shared it with you at the beginning of July, the pandemic’s impact has worsened, both here in Virginia and around the country. The number of daily cases has gone up, as have hospitalizations and test positivity rates. We remain fortunate that our region (the Rappahannock Health District) has not witnessed the increases in cases and hospitalizations that are cause for alarm in other areas of our commonwealth. In addition, our health care partner, Mary Washington Hospital, continues to report that the demand remains low for intensive care beds – a key measure of hospital surge capacity. Nonetheless, we have observed that both here and nationally the availability of tests has tightened, while the return time on results has lengthened. Both of these conditions – trends in public health and the ability to test adequately – are critical to our ability to return fully to campus this fall. Today’s announcement provides a little more time to monitor and evaluate these conditions.

You might be asking, “why shouldn’t we just move the entire semester online at this point?” I understand this perspective. It would be an easier way forward and would provide the certainty that we would prefer to plan our courses, organize our labs, and design our assignments. It is not, at this time, the right approach for our students. Deciding prematurely to forego an on-campus experience for our students would deny them a critical opportunity for growth and development that is optimized through the residential experience. We have invested significantly and developed substantive engagement opportunities at every level of the institution this fall. Therefore, we need to extend, as much as possible, the chance for our students to have an experience that we all recognize as transformational.

To move forward, I have asked Provost Mikhalevsky, to work with the college deans and the leadership of faculty governance to recommend any adjustments to the academic calendar that this delay may require. I expect that those decisions will be made by the end of this week and shared with you as soon as they are final.

I know that for our faculty members who had planned to start their classes in-person, whether face-to-face or hybrid, this is difficult news. While our decision to start with remote learning is not something any of us were seeking, I know that your preparation and talents in the classroom will translate to our students,  regardless of modality. I am well aware of how much we have asked of you these past few months and am so very grateful for your continued dedication and commitment to our students.

And to our staff, who have been working so diligently to provide for an outstanding student experience, irrespective of whether our students are on campus or at home, I know that this is also disappointing news. However, I am confident that your efforts to engage and support students through advising, counseling, activities or events will be realized in new and different ways.

We are all here to welcome our students to the fall semester, regardless of modality or on-campus start date. We know that our students are eager to join us. We also know that their desire for residential living, despite the circumstances, remains high. We will do everything we possibly can to see that this is possible in what will now be a more compact on-campus experience. We do this because we know that residential living provides opportunities for growth, discovery, and personal development that cannot be realized in any other way.

Finally, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge again what I have said previously, this pandemic has put us – along with our colleagues in higher education across the state and around the nation – in a precarious financial situation. This decision, made in the interest of public health, is the right one for us despite the fiscal challenges that it presents. Difficult decisions often don’t offer simple solutions.

We will continue to provide updates to keep you informed and are planning Q&A sessions with both faculty and staff, as well as students and their families, next week. In addition, we have focused on Tuesday, September 1, as a date to provide further updates about the fall semester.

So many have done so much in support of our return to campus this August, and we have done everything in our control to make this possible. And though we cannot foresee the future, we will continue to adapt and respond as new information is available. While this virus has repeatedly demonstrated that it doesn’t care about our best laid plans, I am confident that the strength of our community will prove resilient and ready.

 

Troy