Fiscal and Operational Guidelines

George Mason University Colleagues,

These are challenging and unprecedented times.  While the COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we live, work and play, I have been heartened by the resolve, innovation and commitment I have seen across the university.  This memo provides a framework for colleges/schools and administrative units to navigate financial and operational challenges through the end of FY2020 and help prepare us for the uncertainties of FY2021.

The guidelines below are essential to maintain our workforce and operations, continue support for our academic and research programs to promote the learning and development of our students, and provide other critical support for our university.  These efforts will allow Mason to operate more efficiently in this environment, while also positioning us to recover from the Coronavirus crisis as quickly as possible.

Commitment to Our Workforce

Mason is committed to its employees.  Our goal is to keep as many of the members of our Mason community working as best as we can during this challenging time.  There are no plans for across-the-board budget cuts or a complete hiring freeze at this time.  To accomplish this, we must ensure that we are productive and flexible, and that resources are used as efficiently as possible, including redeployment as required.

Telework Workforce Management

We have evolved from a campus-based workforce to a telework one in a few short weeks.  I wish to commend all of you for your adaptability and flexibility.  However, telework comes with its challenges, both with respect to our routine work and dealing with the complexities of managing that work from a distance with our colleagues.
  • Resource Redeployment. While the majority of our employees are able to migrate to a remote work environment smoothly, there are a significant number of people who may not be able to make this transition due to the nature of their work. In these cases, leadership and managers are working diligently to reassign work or assign professional development activities for these individuals. Managers should consult Human Resources as needed for guidance.
  • Productivity Measures and Communication. The mechanisms to maintain workforce productivity in an on-line/telework environment are different than working in a naturally social environment like a campus with a lot of interpersonal engagement and human contact.

Supervisors should be cognizant of the challenges that employees have working in isolation, especially in these trying times, and employees should be sensitive to the needs of management to remotely monitor and manage work.  Therefore, it is very important for teams to become comfortable with regular contact and communication with each other via technology, leveraging productivity tools like Webex, Microsoft Teams, conference calls and email. There is a lot of information available to facilitate the transition to telework.  For best practices and assistance with deploying or leveraging these tools, please contact ITS.

  • Risk Mitigation. The fluid nature of our current situation requires a close monitoring of key risks and challenges facing Mason.  As we change our work styles (and perhaps roles), everyone must remain cognizant of the underlying policies and processes that underpin our work.  These policies and processes protect the interests of our stakeholders and the integrity and reputation of the University.  It’s important that any concerns about how our change to this new work style potentially impacts our obligations to our stakeholders be elevated.

Since we also are more dependent upon technology to perform our work, we also need to be aware of how that dependency could create new risks, such as working from home computers, using Virtual Private Networks (VPN) and Remote Desktop.  Please follow the guidance that is provided in the ITS tutorials and only use Remote Desktop and VPN on an as-needed basis, which minimizes the opportunity that “bad actors” have to disrupt our productivity.  ITS is also developing alternative solutions, such as virtual desktops (VDI), to obviate some of these risks.  Some of these alternative solutions are already available. Please contact ITS with questions or inquiries about solutions to problems that you may be having in your areas of responsibility.

  • Process Changes (i.e.: Manual Process to Automation). Over the next several months, many workflows may change, either as a result of the COVID-19 disruption or from intentional improvement efforts.  We are confident that we all will adapt, either to a new version of our roles and associated responsibilities or to new roles enabled by automation.  Leadership is committed to assisting us all with adjusting to these improvements.

Hiring and Compensation Actions

We received important guidance last week in a memorandum from Governor Northam’s Chief of Staff, which answered some questions and raised others.  A hiring freeze took effect on April 2 for all State-funded classified and wage positions other than those listed in § 4-7.01(e) (public safety and public health).

Under extraordinary circumstances, an agency head, including Mason’s President, may request to recruit and fill a position that is absolutely essential to the function and mission of our university that would otherwise be barred by the hiring freeze.

In addition, the memorandum directed state agencies, including Mason, to take steps immediately to reduce discretionary spending and to prepare for potential budget cuts in upcoming fiscal years.  While the hiring freeze does not apply directly to faculty hiring, the general guidance has implications for all our spending decisions.  Accordingly, all employment actions that result in increased personnel costs (to include promotions, in-band adjustments, voluntary transfers, and other pay actions) will also undergo further review. Additional guidance:

  • If offers were already extended, then can they move forward? All offers made on or before April 2 are to be honored.  For offers extended after April 2, the Office of the Provost will review and reaffirm approval of instructional, administrative and research faculty positions. Similarly, the Office of the Senior Vice President will do the same for all non-academic and administrative positions, including professional faculty positions.
  • Does the freeze apply to all positions? The hiring freeze applies only to state-funded wage and classified employees at this time. Faculty hires are not included. However, we should recognize the high likelihood of budget reductions in FY2021, which will place added financial pressure on the university, so we must use extreme caution in hiring all positions.
  • For faculty who usually get an automatic raise if they get a promotion (i.e. from assistant professor to full professor) can they still get the increase? The hiring freeze would not preclude a faculty member from getting such a promotion or related pay increase.
  • How will we manage the consideration of exceptions to these hiring restrictions? We anticipate that Virginia higher education institutions will need to seek exceptions for desired wage/classified hires from the Secretary of Education.  We are implementing a Critical Vacancy Review Committee that will develop a process for evaluating exceptional and essential classified/wage staff hires. A justification memo must be submitted to this committee for any critical classified/wage staff hire requests.  We will provide additional guidance on this matter.

Direct and Discretionary Expenditures

Now more than ever, we must be vigilant stewards of university resources, as cost management is everyone’s responsibility.  We will be incurring substantial fiscal losses and the timeline for recovery is unknown.  We must slow direct expenditure spending, defer costs, and eliminate, reduce and/or delay non-critical expenses for the remainder of FY2020 and into FY2021.  We will provide additional guidance on this matter.

Strategic Investments

Despite our challenges, we still must strategically invest in our university and seek initiatives that will generate strong returns.  Such efforts could help offset losses, provide new revenue opportunities and drive strategic goals.  We will be providing guidance on how units can propose such critically important strategic investments.

Short-term Investments to Improve Efficiency

We also recognize that our new working arrangements are exacerbating some underlying technology challenges in our enterprise and we may need to accelerate certain investments to improve overall efficiency, possibly at the expense of incremental investments in other areas of the university.  A University-wide assessment of current technology investments is currently being made in order to better prioritize our expenditures in these challenging times.  These efforts will be communicated in the near future.

FY2021 Budget Revisions, Reductions and Requests

We are currently awaiting further financial guidance from the State.  We anticipate considerable financial constraints, both from anticipated funding reductions as well as costs related to COVID-19, which will create significant pressures for fiscal conservatism.  The Office of Strategic Budget and Planning will be sending a FY2021 Budget Reduction template to units soon.  We will ask that colleges/schools and administrative units utilize this template to revise their FY2021 budgets, reduce costs and outline requested strategic investments appropriately.

Maintenance and Repair Acceleration

This time also presents an opportunity to achieve cost savings or efficiencies while the campus remains mostly empty.  Facilities, Business Services, and other units will be looking to accelerate planned initiatives, maintenance, and/or repair efforts, and will work with employees and contractors to ensure all necessary safety protocols are in place.  Doing so at this time can both minimize operational disruptions and potentially achieve savings via uninterrupted project work.

At a time like this, we must maintain both the short and long view, as the institutions who make key strategic decisions now are the ones who will be best positioned later.  This framework will help us enable greater efficiency in and cost-effectiveness of our current operations, while laying the groundwork for the fastest and most robust recovery.  We will continue to provide more information as it becomes available and as new choices must be made.

Carol Dillon Kissal
Senior Vice President, Administration and Finance
George Mason University

Housing Move-Out Update

Dear Mason Residents and Families,

I hope you are all staying safe and doing well during these unprecedented times. Your health and well-being continue to be our number one concern. With that in mind, and in consultation with public health officials, we have made the difficult decision to suspend all Move Out activities until further notice. You will receive more specific information shortly in a communication from Chris Holland, our Chief Housing Officer. Please know that we understand this may present challenges, and we will bring you back to campus as soon as it is safe to do so. While this news may feel disheartening to some, I feel strongly that the safety risks are too great at this point. I hope you will take a moment to receive these messages of hope from myself, and Mason’s amazing staff, to remind you that we stand with you and we are here for you.

It is important that we find ways to stay connected to each other while we shelter in place and practice social distancing. We want you to know we are here and working hard to make sure you have every means available to communicate and engage with your fellow Patriots, Mason families, faculty and staff. Please remember to bookmark our University Life Covid-19 Student Success website, which serves as a central hub for all the resources and messages students will need to make the fast-paced transitions this unpredictable time requires.

These are precarious times, but we have come together in solidarity and strength. The Mason community will support you as you continue to reach your goals.

Honestly, we can’t wait to see you again. Hang in there, and please, above all, stay safe.

Rose Pascarell
Vice President for University Life

Mason Resident,

We recognize the Covid-19 pandemic brings new challenges weekly. Due to this fluidity, along with public health advice, all residential students will not be able to move-out before June 10th. We understand it is difficult to not have access to your belongings for such a long time, however your health and safety are paramount.

Beginning June 10th, each student will be given an assigned time to Move Out. During this time frame, a limited number of students will be allowed on each floor with access to the halls so that we are able to practice appropriate social distancing and to sanitize between appointments. Additionally, we will make sure that there are ample appointments available to accommodate various schedules, while still staying safe.

We will send Move Out sign-ups in late April, assuming that there is no need to delay to a later date, in which case we will update the check-out times appropriately and communicate with you directly. Until then, if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us at housing@gmu.edu.

Thank you for your patience and understanding during this time.

Sincerely,

Chris Holland
Chief Housing Officer
George Mason University

Spring 2020 Withdrawal Option and Alternative Grading Updates for Graduate Courses

Dear Graduate Students:

In partnership with academic units, the Office of the University Registrar, Office of Graduate Life, Faculty Senate and GAPSA representatives, the Graduate Council has approved the following changes for graduate students for this spring 2020 semester:

  • Students may withdraw from any graduate courses in which they are enrolled in Spring 2020 by the specific deadlines found here. These withdrawals will appear with the notation “XW” on their official transcript.
  • Students enrolled in graduate courses will be permitted to change to an alternative grading option until the end of term, May 20, 2020*.

*The end of term deadline may vary based on the degree program.

To ensure graduate students make the best selection for themselves and maximize their potential for long-term academic and professional success, it is critical that:

  • Graduate students seek advising and guidance from their advisor, mentor and/or coordinator prior to making any decision about making any of these changes.
  • Graduate students determine the impact electing an alternative grading option may have on financial aid, licensure, admission to professional programs, scholarships, fellowships, among others.

For more important and related information, visit the Graduate Education – Spring 2020 Alternative Grading Options for graduate students and the Office of the University Registrar – Spring 2020 Grading Options webpages.

We thank all of you for your patience and efforts with adapting to the ongoing changes.

Sincerely,

Laurence Bray
Associate Provost for Graduate Education

A message from Mason’s Title IX Office

Dear Patriots:

Now that classes and other academic programs are being conducted online, George Mason University’s Title IX Office reminds members of our community that maintaining an academic program free from sex/gender discrimination remains a high priority for the university. Faculty, staff, and students should be aware of the following important points:

  • The Title IX Office remains open and is functioning remotely at this time. Anyone impacted by sex/gender discrimination and harassment is encouraged to make a report to the Title IX Coordinator at https://diversity.gmu.edu/titleix-webform. Investigations and all other services will be conducted virtually to assure that any sexual harassment, sexual violence, intimate partner violence, stalking, retaliation, or other sexually discriminatory behaviors are addressed promptly.
  • University policies on sexual harassment and misconduct apply to behaviors that occur in any context, including in person, as well as in online environments and through virtual communications. Any behavior that is prohibited by policy continues to be prohibited in cyberspace, including cyber-harassment, sex-based cyber-bullying, and cyber-stalking.
  • Mason’s sexual and interpersonal misconduct policy applies to students who are registered or enrolled for credit or noncredit-bearing coursework, all university employees, and third parties. This policy pertains to acts of prohibited conduct committed by or against students, employees, and third parties when:
    1. The conduct occurs on campus or other property owned or controlled by the university;
    2. The conduct occurs in the context of a university employment or education program or activity, including, but not limited to, university-sponsored study abroad, research, online, or internship programs; or
    3. The conduct occurs off campus or outside the context of a university employment or education program or activity, and has continuing adverse effects on or creates a hostile environment for students, employees, or third parties while on a university campus or other property owned or controlled by the university or in any university employment or education program or activity.
  • Faculty and staff members are reminded that reporting alleged sexual harassment and misconduct is required when they become aware of current or past incidents or allegations involving members of the campus community, regardless of how they learn of the potential misconduct, whether in person, in writing, or online.

The full text of the university’s Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Other Forms of Interpersonal Misconduct Policy, as well as community resources, can be found online, and our online reporting form can be accessed here.

Sincerely,

Angela Nastase, JD
Title IX Coordinator

Julian Williams, JD
Vice President for Compliance, Diversity, and Ethics

Reporting Coronavirus Test Results and Suspected Illness

Mason Patriots,

Due to the high number of suspected and confirmed coronavirus cases in our region, the university is taking a proactive approach to slowing transmission in our community. Public agencies in Virginia are advised by the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Human Resource Management to document positive or suspected cases, and inform those students, faculty, or staff who may have had contact with the individual to take further precautions.

In order for this protective measure to work, we need your help. First and foremost, if you don’t feel well and have symptoms consistent with COVID-19, please contact your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider should report any suspected or confirmed COVID-19 illness to your local health department.

Additionally, it is critical that the university be aware of who is at risk in our community. Therefore, if you test positive for COVID-19, have two or more symptoms consistent with COVID-19, or have been instructed by medical professionals to self-isolate, the university is asking you to report as follows:

When notified, Human Resources and Payroll, Student Health Services, or EHS will request information about where you were on campus and with whom you may have come into contact. An assessment will be conducted to identify other members of the Mason community who are at risk of exposure and cleaning of university spaces will occur as necessary. Students, faculty, and staff will be notified if quarantine is recommended based on the information gathered.  Please refer to the university’s guidance on who to notify if you are ill with COVID-19 symptoms and always consult with your primary care provider for medical questions.

The university is committed to protecting your confidentiality. At no time will names, positions, or department information be shared with the university community. Only those who are determined to be at risk of exposure will be contacted. Supervisors and employees must not conduct any independent notifications to their employees or colleagues to prevent confusion and breaches of confidentiality. Supervisors should consult the university’s guidelines on when employees or students may return to work or campus, and consult with the appropriate office before advising employees or students on precautions.

If you would like to take a voluntary risk assessment to better educate yourself about COVID-19 and minimize risk to our community, please read more from Provost Wu and the Dean of the College of Health and Human Services. The risk assessment tool is located on the university’s Blackboard homepage. If you have questions about the tool please contact covid19@gmu.edu.

All members of the community should avoid stigmatizing those who are affected by this disease. Instead, please focus on how we can help those in need and protect others from becoming ill.  Thank you for helping us reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community. If you have any questions about this process, contact safety@gmu.edu.

Respectfully,

Lisa Park, MD, MPH
Executive Director, Student Health Services

Lester L. Arnold, Sr.
CHRO | Vice President for Human Resources and Payroll

 

Spring 2020 Grading Options; Summer Term Information

Dear Patriot,

In response to the extraordinary circumstances caused by the novel coronavirus, Covid-19, the Faculty Senate and Graduate Council have approved an emergency grading accommodation policy for Spring 2020 classes. You will have the option to either receive a regular grade for each class, or select the alternative grading mode (credit only option) for each of your classes. To select the alternative grading mode, you must OPT IN by following the instructions below.

Each student’s situation is unique, and you should carefully consider your options before selecting the alternative grading mode. Students in special programs like INTO Mason may have different requirements. We encourage you to reach out to your academic advisor if you have any questions and to review the information found on the Spring 2020 Grading Options page:

registrar.gmu.edu/students/registration/spring-2020-grading-options

The grades that will appear on the student’s transcript if the student selects the alternative grading mode for Spring 2020 classes are:

XS (Extraordinary Circumstances – Satisfactory): The student earns credit in the course by meeting a minimum grade threshold; at the undergraduate level that would be a C or higher, at the graduate level it would be a B- or higher.

XP (Extraordinary Circumstances – Pass): The student earns credit in the course but has not met a minimum grade threshold to apply the course to requirements with a minimum grade requirement; at the undergraduate level this would be a C- or D, at the graduate level it would be a C.

XN (Extraordinary Circumstances – No Credit): The student does not earn credit in the course.

The alternative grading mode carries no quality points, therefore your GPA will not be affected.

Instructions for Changing Grade Mode:

  • To view the web tutorial, click here: registrar.gmu.edu/interactive-demo-change-grade-mode
  • Log into Patriot Web (patriotweb.gmu.edu)
  • Click on the Student Services tab
  • Click on the Registration link
  • Click on the Registration & Planning link
  • Click on the Register for Classes link
  • Select Spring 2020 as the Term
  • Click on the Schedule and Options tab
  • In the list of sections, click in the Grade Mode column and select “Credit/Non-Credit (COVID19)”
  • Scroll to the bottom and click Submit
The option you choose for your final grade will not be made known to your faculty member, unless you choose to do so. Should you opt in for the credit-only mode, your grade will be translated accordingly after the faculty member has entered the grade you earned in the class; your final transcript will reflect the notation you have chosen.

All Summer Courses to be Held in Online Format

For summer 2020, all classes will move to online delivery, shifting from the alternative virtual learning model to a more robust, intentional online experience. Registration for Summer Term will now open on Wednesday, April 15, 2020, to allow for flexibility. Before June 30, all in-person summer programming—such as conferences and camps—will either be offered in an online, virtual environment, or canceled. Further decisions will be made by May 31 about summer programming that could be offered in person after July 1. For additional information, click here:mymasonportal.gmu.edu/bbcswebdav/xid-178791527_1

Selective Withdrawal Extended
The selective withdrawal period has been extended to the last day of classes, May 11, 2020. Undergraduate students may withdraw from any classes in which they are enrolled in Spring 2020 semester. These withdrawals will not count toward the maximum of 3 courses during their undergraduate career. The notation “XW” will appear on their official transcript. Students should consult their academic advisor or a financial aid counselor with any questions about how a selective withdrawal may affect them.

We continue to support you in this challenging time.

Sincerely,

Doug McKenna
University Registrar
George Mason University
registrar.gmu.edu

Mason announces refunds on housing, dining and parking

Dear Patriots,

This is an unprecedented time for all of us. Every day, we face new realities created by the coronavirus outbreak. This event has created a tremendous amount of stress and uncertainty, and I am particularly concerned for our students and their well-being.

I want all of our students to know that George Mason University is here to support you. I know that many of you are worried about your financial stability at this moment. One way that we can help is by providing refunds for housing, dining and parking, which is what I have directed the university to do.

Students will begin to receive their refunds in the coming weeks, with all refunds expected to be processed by the end of the semester. Students who have an Independence plan may receive up to $2,000 from their combined housing and dining refunds, although each refund will vary and be based on specific housing and dining plans. Please refer to these charts to understand what you can expect for your specific refund. Additional information is available in our Student Accounts FAQs.

Credits will be applied automatically to outstanding balances on student accounts, with the remainder refunded by Direct Deposit or check. Students, please check to make sure your mailing address is current in PatriotWeb or enroll in Direct Deposit to assist us in processing these funds. You do not need to take any other action to request a refund. We know you have been significantly impacted by the current crisis and are committed to processing refunds as quickly as possible.

In total, the university will refund $7.1 million in housing fees, $4.3 million in dining fees, and $1.77 million in parking fees. This represents roughly 5,500 on-campus housing refunds, 15,000 parking passes and 4,300 meal plans.

We are also very concerned about our faculty and staff during this time and are taking steps to help ease the financial strain this situation may be causing. Additional information will be forthcoming regarding faculty and staff parking and dining accounts.

Students should be aware that the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (“CARES”) Act has a number of provisions that may help address students’ current financial needs.  For information on Economic Impact Payments, please consult https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/economic-impact-payments-what-you-need-to-know. Information on expanded eligibility for unemployment benefits and online applications are available from the Virginia Employment Commission athttp://www.vec.virginia.gov/covid19. For those with questions about student loans, the Department of Education reported Tuesday that it has set student loan interest rates to 0%, suspended student loan payments, and stopped wage garnishments. Additional guidance is available here: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus under the “Additional Resources for Higher Education Institutions” heading.

We also know that many students need more help and that every dollar counts. In recognition of the unprecedented need and hardship many of our students are facing, the university has changed the focus of its annual Giving Day initiative to Patriots Helping Patriots, with an emphasis on the University Life Student Emergency Fund. The need is great as many of our students work part- or full-time and many have lost their source of income as a result of these unprecedented circumstances.

Many of the requests are directly related to technology so that students can continue learning in our alternative online environment. More than 800 students have submitted applications to the fund, with an average request of $1,900. As of last Friday, $435,508 has been distributed to students in need, out of a request pool of nearly $1.6 million, according to our partners in Advancement.

Our faculty and staff have made tremendous efforts to ensure we can continue our mission of access to excellence. I’m now asking those of you who have the ability to help others, to please consider making a gift to the student assistance fund to help our students succeed and thrive during these uncertain times.  We are all in this together, so let’s come together to support those who need our help the most.

Thank you.

Anne Holton
Interim President

A message from the Mason Korea Campus Dean

Dear Mason Korea Community,

I write to let you know that we have decided to continue teaching online until the end of the semester rather than to resume face-to-face classes on April 6.

This decision was not made lightly. It was based on the Korean Ministry of Education’s new recommendations for K-12 schools and what has clearly become the continuing need to socially distance in order to protect our communities. As always, the health and safety of those communities, on campus and off, are of primary importance to us.

Students who are living on campus and wish to remain on campus may do so. Students who wish to check out of on-campus housing can contact IGC housing directly, and notify their RA.  We urge everyone to continue to practice social distancing and effective disease transmission control by washing their hands frequently and for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, always coughing or sneezing into the elbow, considering wearing a face mask, and getting plenty of rest. If you have any flu-like symptoms, please self-isolate and follow these instructions.  If you are a student living on campus and have these symptoms, please also notify Student Affairs at mksa@gmu.edu.

I am gratified by the extent to which students and faculty alike have adjusted to learning online.  And I am impressed by the hard work students and faculty alike have put into making this adjustment. We continue to ask students who run into obstacles with online courses to discuss them with their instructors. They may also contact Academic Affairs at mkaa@gmu.edu. If the problem is technical, students can get support from Mason’s ITS Support via email or live chat. For additional help, Prof. Kent Zimmerman (dzimmer2@gmu.edu) has agreed to assist with especially difficult problems.

I also want to thank Students Affairs for organizing a set of “socially distanced” events for us to enjoy, and to recognize all the students, faculty and staff who have participated in them.  If you have not yet done so, please check out our events calendar.  If you have an idea for such an event, let the Office of Student Affairs know at mksa@gmu.edu.

I know that our current situation can be stressful.  Students who wish to can, as always, reach out to staff in the Office of Student Affairs or to Mason Korea’s wellness counselor.

Addressing the covid-19 situation has required from all of us patience, flexibility, hard work, and the ability to handle uncertainty. I have appreciated the way members of our community have demonstrated those virtues and supported one another during this time.  I look forward to the day when we can begin to interact regularly in the physical as well as in virtual world­—and that day will come! In the meantime, though, we can take pleasure in what we have achieved as a community during this challenging time.

Yours in Patriot Pride,

Robert Matz
Campus Dean
Mason Korea

Office of Executive Administration
George Mason University Korea
Phone: +82-32-626-5001
Email: gmukorea@gmu.edu