I want to thank everyone who participated in our first-ever virtual town hall. I am inspired by the level of engagement in our community. We had more than 2,100 viewers from all over the world, including Australia, Congo, Mauritania, Nicaragua, Netherlands, Niger, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States. We received more than 375 questions from students, faculty, staff, family members, alumni and community members, and we continue to receive more. Our goal was to answer the most pressing questions. If you missed the town hall or would like to see it again, it is available here: https://vimeo.com/gmutv/masontownhall.
We plan to read all of your questions and find ways to respond, either through our frequently asked questions or in future communications. Please continue to check Mason’s Coronavirus web page for new information. Our two most important goals are to keep our campus community safe and educate students, and all our decisions are made with those objectives in mind. Here are a few key points I shared during the town hall.
We are looking ahead at the calendar and making adjustments that allow us to continue with our mission and core goals. With a heavy heart, we have postponed commencement indefinitely. At the town hall, we announced that we will hold a celebration for the Class of 2020 online on May 22 and will share more details about that soon. We know this doesn’t replace commencement, but we also want to recognize our graduating students’ hard work and accomplishments. If you are earning your degree this spring we hope you will participate in this event. Once we have responses to a pending student survey, and once we know how we can safely proceed, we will share our plan for a formal recognition for the Class of 2020 at a later date.
As you know, the university made the decision to hold summer sessions in the virtual format. After consulting with public health officials and recognizing the need to plan for summer schedules, we feel it’s in the best interest of our community to extend our cancellation of other events as well through Aug. 8. We are creating an exceptions committee that can make decisions for events closer to the start of the semester with the most relevant information at that time. For parents, we encourage you to consider the camps that the university is offering this summer online.
Many people have asked how long we will continue to require employees to telework. We are following the recommendation of public health officials, as well as the guidelines from the state. We will continue to monitor both, adjust the telework policies as needed and provide more guidance and tools for employees and supervisors in the coming weeks.
Fall 2020 Opening
We know that many people have questions about the fall semester. We are doing our best to plan and are hopeful that we will be able to reopen the campus this fall, though it may not look like a typical fall semester. We are depending on the guidance of public health experts to inform our decision making and we hope to share more details on this evolving situation soon. Our goal is to have more clarity by early June.
Budget and Tuition 2020-2021
Finally, we know many students are concerned about their finances in general and tuition costs for next year specifically. We are concerned too. The University is facing unprecedented financial challenges as a result of this crisis, as are our students, families and state government. The university expects to get more guidance on state funding when the General Assembly re-convenes next week; after that date we will adjust our projected budget scenarios based on the latest economic and public health data available. Our Board of Visitors received input from students and others at a public meeting on April 2 on this topic.
Rector Tom Davis will be holding an additional public forum at 10 a.m. on May 6, where students can ask questions and share further comments and concerns about tuition and fees. We will send details about how to join the forum to students through their Mason Live email as well as through university communication and social media channels. The Board of Visitors will consider all this input as well as the latest and best advice we can garner when it meets to make decisions about the budget and tuition at its next meeting, now scheduled for May 20. I know the uncertainty is as frustrating for you as it is for us.
How to Help
You may have seen that Gov. Northam has issued a call for volunteers to join the Virginia Department of Health’s Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). Nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing students have been particularly encouraged to apply, but other volunteers are needed to fill roles in logistics, communication, coordination, technology and other support areas. I strongly encourage you to visit vamrc.org to learn more.
I also want to thank everyone who has contributed to the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. More than half of our faculty and staff have donated to the fund, providing help for our students with paying rent and utilities, or with technology assistance needed to continue their coursework. More than 1,600 applications have been received with requests totaling more than $3 million, and more than $1.1 million in funds have already been dispersed. Please consider making a donation to help our students.
We all want better clarity for the future but the safety of our university community and our students’ education are our two driving forces as we navigate this new reality. Thank you for your adaptability and resilience.