We are approaching the end of the spring semester in what has been an extraordinary year at George Mason University and throughout the world. In other years, this would be a happy time, when longer days and warmer weather bring new life to our campus. We all look forward to returning to that time soon. In the meanwhile, I’m grateful to our community and the way it has rallied to support one another. That is what makes us Mason Nation, and I’ve never been as proud to be part of this university.
The global pandemic has affected our community in so many different ways. We are all dealing with challenges, stress and uncertainty. I know that many of you have questions. The one I’ve heard the most is, what happens this fall?
First: Let me say that we never closed the university. Our faculty and staff rallied to deliver classes online and keep our students on track academically. In this time of uncertainty, we believe our greatest contribution is to continue our mission of providing Access to Excellence, and because of the impressive work of our faculty, staff and students, more than 9,700 students will earn degrees this month, and thousands more will be one step closer to completing their degrees.
Second: Our intention is to bring students back to campus and resume face-to-face instruction in the fall, with appropriate guidance of public health officials and with modifications as needed to ensure the safety of our entire community. To find the best solutions for how to navigate the challenges of safely moving back to a more normal learning environment, we have put together a committee of individuals from throughout the university—the provost’s office, faculty, university life, human resources, finance, facilities, emergency, health and safety and more. This group is called the Tiger Team, in a nod to NASA’s Tiger Team that figured out the solution that allowed the astronauts on Apollo 13 to safely return to Earth after their module malfunctioned.
This team is charged with exploring options for how we can best open our campus safely. That includes evaluating options for lower density classes to allow for appropriate physical distancing, continued use of distance learning, appropriate hygiene and cleaning protocols, reduced occupancy in residence halls, and more. We are blessed to have Vice President for Academic Innovation and New Ventures Michelle Marks leading this effort before she becomes Chancellor at the University of Colorado, Denver in July. Once the Tiger Team delivers its report to the University administration, we will be better positioned to make decisions for a successful fall 2020.
After questions about whether we will be open in the fall, the second most asked question is, what will tuition be? The Board of Visitors will adopt a budget at its meeting now scheduled for May 20, and that budget will include tuition rates for the next academic year. This will require the Board to navigate a difficult balancing act, weighing the impact on students at this difficult time along with the need for critical investments in faculty and staff to enhance student outcomes. My administration and the Board of Visitors have been seeking feedback all spring to guide us on this difficult task.
The Board held a session for public comment on April 2, and today we had an additional productive listening session with Rector Tom Davis and Visitor Simmi Bhuller, receiving feedback from more than 160 students and other community members, including dozens who spoke publicly. You can see an archived version of the town hall broadcast here. We also have received input from student surveys, along with guidance from state budget leaders. If you would like to give feedback on the upcoming year’s budget, please share your comments here.
Registration for the fall is open, and I urge you to start planning for the coming academic year. We know there are still many uncertainties, but one thing that is certain is our commitment to our goal of educating students, keeping them on track to graduate, and ensuring the fullest possible learning experiences in the current environment. Student registrations will help the faculty and administration plan courses effectively for the fall. As you consider your plans, please reach out to your advisers and to other faculty members in your department – they are eager to help keep you on track and answer your questions.
We know many students face real and sustained financial impact because of the coronavirus. I encourage you to apply for financial assistance through the Student Emergency Assistance Fund or the Stay Mason fund.
As the semester comes to a close, I hope you’ll take a moment to recognize and appreciate all that we have accomplished as a university in the face of these unprecedented challenges. Our students, faculty and staff have exceeded expectations for success during this time. That entrepreneurial spirit is what makes Mason such a strong community and a great university.
I look forward to sharing more details about fall with you soon. Stay safe and be well.