October 1, 2020

President Paino: UMW Will Persevere Through Pandemic

A situation easily seen as short on hope is filled with it because of the hard work and dedication of faculty and staff, University of Mary Washington President Troy Paino said Monday morning during an all-University address delivered on YouTube and Zoom.

UMW President Troy D. Paino

UMW President Troy D. Paino

From the early clearing of campus last spring to the recent delay of in-person classes, employees have shown resilience throughout the COVID-19 crisis, he said, working together to pursue UMW’s primary mission of serving students. Visibly moved by the months-long effort, he expressed personal gratitude to individuals, departments and the collective community, and pledged that the preservation of jobs will remain a top priority.

Despite challenges that lie ahead – from public health and economic crises to political upheaval and a renewed focus on achieving racial equity – Mary Washington should emerge stronger than ever, according to Paino. That’s because of the institution’s bedrock principles. “Our care, compassion, empathy and commitment hold us together in the face of all those forces that could have divided us,” he said.

Noting the faculty’s lightning-speed, four-day transition last spring from in-person to online instruction, Paino singled out creative feats like UMW Theatre’s impromptu livestream production of Much Ado About Nothing and the fiscal maneuvering of a budget cut by millions. With nearly 2,000 attendees across the globe and dozens of facilitators, the COVID-19 in Context course, launched by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger and Professor of Communication Anand Rao, spoke to the University’s resilience, Paino said, and helped make sense of the world.

A COVID-19 task force, directed by Chief of Staff Jeff McClurken and Associate Provost for Academic Engagement and Student Success Tim O’Donnell and splintered into working groups involving more than 100 faculty and staff, was charged with preparing for the return of students this fall. The entire UMW community, Paino said, from frontline workers to alumni, “did not skip a beat,” rising to meet the demands of a rapidly shifting reality while maintaining care and concern for one another and for students.

The COVID-19 in Context course, launched by College of Arts and Sciences Dean Keith Mellinger and Professor of Communication Anand Rao, spoke to the University’s resilience, Paino said, and helped make sense of the world.

In his all-university address, President Paino said UMW’s popular COVID-19 in Context course spoke to the University’s resilience, and helped make sense of the world.

“It’s uncertain when the uncertainty will be behind us,” said Paino, adding that UMW will continue to monitor the virus’ spread, testing capacity and other factors before reaffirming its plan to begin welcoming students back onto campus Sept. 10. He reinforced the decision to issue pro-rated room and board discounts to compensate for reduced time on campus and re-iterated his resolve to save jobs. “We want to do everything we can, we want to look under every rock, before we ever get to that point.”

A renewed focus on its core values, including civic engagement, and diversity and inclusion, will help see UMW through the pandemic, Paino said, acknowledging the unwelcome interruption of the yearlong Farmer Legacy 2020 celebration. The commemoration recognizes not only the 100th birthday of the late civil rights icon and Mary Washington professor James Farmer but also the centennial anniversary of women’s right to vote and the 30-year mark of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The recent renaming of Trinkle Hall in honor of Farmer, Paino said, demonstrates UMW’s commitment to continue the commemoration.

New initiatives like ASPIRE Speak, emphasizing respect, empathy and civility in discourse, and the student-led Day on Democracy, aimed at encouraging and enabling all to exercise their right to vote, he said, will serve to keep the University moving in the right direction. He also emphasized the need for the entire Mary Washington community to adhere to the mantra of the #ForwardUMW MMDC campaign: monitor, mask, distance and clean.

Plans for fall in-person learning to end before Thanksgiving, and students’ return to campus in late January, 2021, will give the University ample time to prepare for what will hopefully be a full spring semester and two May Commencements, for the Classes of 2020 and 2021.

“If we’re able to get there, I cannot think of a more joyous occasion for the Mary Washington community,” Paino said. “On the other side of this pandemic … I see a stronger and more self-assured UMW. This has brought us together in a powerful way, and now it is up to us to stay together.”