Dear UVM family,
I write with another update during this unprecedented time. The fast-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to uncertainty and anxiety for all of us. As a coworker, community member, and parent, I know there are many aspects to this situation—practical and emotional—and few simple solutions.
While we make necessary, but difficult decisions, I promise to weigh carefully feedback from our community alongside the information we are receiving from government agencies, elected officials, and higher education colleagues.
I am also drawing on the expertise of our UVM researchers and faculty, who are national leaders in the areas of public health and infectious diseases. Dr. Jan Carney, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Public Health and Health Policy at UVM’s Larner College of Medicine, offers important information about ways to keep ourselves and our communities safe in this brief video message (go.uvm.edu/covid19drcarney). And Dr. Lewis First, Professor and Chair of Larner’s Department of Pediatrics, and Chief of Pediatrics at UVM’s Children’s Hospital, has wonderful advice (go.uvm.edu/covid19drfirst) on how families can help children learn and thrive during this time. I am thankful for their informative and pragmatic approach, as well as their uniquely Vermont warmth and human touch.
With this in mind, I have the following updates:
1. Remote instruction will continue for the remainder of the Spring semester. We are closely monitoring the rollout of this approach, providing support for faculty and students, and making adjustments to ensure a meaningful learning experience for our students. I greatly appreciate the Herculean efforts of our faculty, information technology experts, and other staff in creating new opportunities for learning. And I applaud and thank our students for adapting so quickly and courageously.
2. Undergraduate students who currently reside on campus in the residence halls, as well as non-local students who live off-campus, should return to their homes. It has become clear that the responsible course of action in light of the global public health challenge confronting us is to have our students leave campus. I wish there were other options, but my first priority is student safety and the safety of our communities. We understand that some students may not have viable alternatives; we will work with those who have challenging circumstances to provide emergency options for housing. On-campus residents will receive additional information from the Office of Residential Life within 24 hours.
We also strongly encourage undergraduate students who live off campus to return home as soon as possible. Many of you share close spaces in a way that presents risks to you and to your roommates. What will you do if one of you becomes ill or needs to self-quarantine? Most of you will be better off back home with your family.
Please take a moment to watch this two-minute video (http://go.uvm.edu/covid19drlahey) featuring UVM faculty member Dr. Tim Lahey, who is an infectious disease expert at the UVM Medical Center, as he offers useful information about the critical importance of young adults staying home to help fight the spread of COVID-19.
3. The University will be issuing a credit related to meals and housing. Credit for meal plans will be based on the type of plan and usage to date. A housing credit of $1,000 will be issued to students who leave their residence halls by March 30, even if their belongings remain on campus. Financial aid awards will not be impacted as a result of this housing or meal plan credit. Residential Life will be in contact with further information.
After March 30, no students, other than those approved for emergency housing, will be able to access rooms, their possessions, and associated facilities until further notice. Residential Life will provide additional instructions for when, and how, you will be able to return to collect your belongings. Information also is available via the COVID-19 call center at 802-656-HELP.
Students approved to live in the emergency housing options, and who opt to do so after March 30, will not be eligible for the housing or meals credits outlined above.
4. Commencement is unlikely to proceed as planned. We will make a final decision by the end of March, but the social-distancing measures advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are unlikely to change in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, many of the celebratory aspects associated with our Commencement do not align with social-distancing principles.
I feel your profound disappointment. I recognize in a personal way the importance of honoring your achievements and marking this pivotal moment in each of your lives—a moment you want to share with family and with the friends you made during your journey here. As we plan for the possibility that Commencement will not proceed in its usual way in May, we want to hear from you. Upcoming graduates should watch for a survey in the coming days that seeks your thoughts on how we might best celebrate your accomplishments and provide you with a chance to reconnect in a more personal way with your classmates and faculty.
5. Summer online courses are available! I also want to emphasize that we have a robust suite of summer online courses (uvm.edu/summer). We may all be finding our “new normal,” but we can’t imagine a normal that doesn’t include the academic and professional development of our students.
Finally, I want to reiterate the need for empathy and understanding. We have an amazing community that exemplifies the very things needed for us to overcome this challenge in a way that not only preserves our values, but also strengthens them.
Please continue to keep that in mind as we press on. These are strange and unsettling times but, together, I know we’ll emerge stronger and better than ever.
Suresh V. Garimella, President