Celebration of the Class of 2020 on May 22

Dear Mason Class of 2020:

I hope this email finds you well and that your classes are going smoothly as we move into the last few weeks of the spring semester. I know this is not the ending to your studies that you had envisioned. Despite this, I want you to know that I couldn’t be prouder of your resilience and your adaptability. You’re not only completing your coursework but many of you are taking time to help others through this difficult crisis.

As I mentioned last week in our virtual town hall and follow-up message, because of the public health risks and the governor’s orders, and not surprisingly, we are unable to hold a traditional Spring Commencement ceremony this May. And yet many of you responded to our survey about a future commemorative event and your message was overwhelmingly clear: You want to walk across the stage at EagleBank Arena in front of friends and family, and we want to celebrate with you. You will all be invited to participate in an in-person ceremony at a future date when it is safe to do so.

In the meanwhile, we want to celebrate your accomplishments this spring.  We have listened to your feedback on how best to do that, and I want to share with you the details about the Celebration of the Class of 2020.

We invite you to join us for a celebration of your efforts at 2 p.m. on Friday, May 22 on GMU-TV. This will include congratulatory messages from me and the deans, a short message from a member of the Class of 2020, a performance by the Green Machine, and special guests wishing you well. We hope you will take the time to celebrate your accomplishments and invite friends and family to do so as well.

In addition, each School and College will have its own dedicated graduation slide show with a message from your Dean and personalized slides for each graduate showing your name, degree, major and college. We invite you to share a photo along with an optional message for your personalized slide.

You will receive an email from gmuevent@gmu.edu with more information and additional specific details about what we can all look forward to during the celebration event.

We are all so proud of you and we can’t wait to honor you on May 22 and celebrate with you in person in the future.

Sincerely,

Anne Holton
Interim President

Patriots, how are you doing? Take the survey. Enter to win some Beats.

Dear Patriots,

I hope you are doing well.  I want to check in with you to learn about your Mason experience particularly since we made the decision to move to a distance learning format in response to the current pandemic.  Please fill out Mason Pulse Survey – it will take less than 5 minutes – so we can gauge your experience, continue to address areas that need improvement, provide you with any needed support, and plan for the future.

When you submit your completed survey, you will be entered into a random drawing. We will give away five pairs of Beats by Dr Dre Studio Noise Cancelling Headphones.  We will notify winners and mail Beats directly to you.

We really want to hear from you.  Knowing how you are doing is incredibly important to us, particularly at this moment in time.  Please complete by Wednesday, April 29.

Thanks,

Rose

​Rose B. Pascarell
Vice President for University Life

Updates to building access, procedures for reporting COVID-19 exposure, and events

Mason Patriots,

While campus is secured and virtual learning and telework are ongoing, we want to remind everyone of the steps we are taking to keep the Mason Nation safe. The university is developing plans to resume on-campus activities later this year. In order for us to understand when it is safe for us to return to campus, we need your help.

Report COVID Illnesses: If you have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have had close contact with someone who has, please notify Mason using the university’s confidential reporting procedures to ensure we are aiding students, faculty, and staff as needed and to track the status of our community.We can slow community transmission by notifying contacts to quarantine.

  • Faculty and staff must contact Human Resources and Payroll via this online reporting form if you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, have been instructed by a medical professional to self-isolate or self-quarantine due to risks associated with close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. With the employee’s permission, supervisors are able to report this information on behalf of the employee.
  • Students who are diagnosed with COVID-19 or are issued self-isolation or quarantine instructions must contact Student Health Services. If you are a student living on campus or have had contact with a student living on campus, please call 703-993-2831. All other students please use the secure online portal at: https://gmu.medicatconnect.com
  • Contractors who test positive or are issued self-isolation or quarantine instructions should notify the Environmental Health and Safety Office, safety@gmu.edu, to determine appropriate protective measures. With the contracted employee’s permission, supervisors or Mason contract administrators can report this information on behalf of the contractor.

The reporting forms ask for information about locations visited on campus and others with whom contact was made so that those individuals can be notified if quarantine is recommended. An outline of the university’s process for notification, investigation, and recommended precautions is available online here. Supervisors should consult the university’s guidelines on when employees or students may return to work or campus.

Building Access:  We understand that some faculty and staff may need to return to campus to conduct critical research, work, or instruction. Because all university buildings have been secured, you must make arrangements ahead of time with the appropriate contact on this list if you do not currently have and need access to your workspace. Mason Police are getting numerous requests to provide on-demand building access, which takes them away from their primary responsibilities. Repeated on-demand requests may result in a charge to your department for emergency access.

  • Electronic Access: Card swipe access can be requested  online at https://masonid.gmu.edu/access/ or through the Card Access Security Office at 703-993-3127, CASO@gmu.edu.
  • Key Access: Key Control is available at keys@gmu.edu or 703-993-2823 to process requests for hard keys.

As part of securing the campus, spaces have been decontaminated by Facilities Management. This process leaves behind a non-toxic film or residue that will be removed during subsequent cleanings and before operations on campus resume. The film can be removed with a damp cloth or wipe. If you have additional concerns please contact Facilities Management at 703-993-2525 to arrange for additional cleaning.

University Events: As President Holton announced at last week’s town hall, that all university events will be cancelled or postponed until Aug. 8. If you have an event or activity that cannot be held virtually and you’d like to request an exception to this policy, please contact risk@gmu.edu. The Events Exception committee will conduct risk assessments on a case-by-case basis as requested to ensure consideration of specific event details are evaluated.

Thank you for all you are doing to keep our community safe.

Respectfully,

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

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

David Farris, PhD
Executive Director, Safety & Emergency Management

President Holton shares town hall video and outlook for next few months

Dear Patriots,

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.

Commencement

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.

Summer 2020

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.

Sincerely,

Anne Holton
Interim President

President Holton to host virtual town hall

Dear Patriots,

It is an understatement to say that these are unprecedented times for everyone. Here at George Mason University, we are all adjusting to a new normal and for many of us, it may feel like continuous change.  We are proud of the way our community has responded to the coronavirus outbreak, but we also know that many of you may have questions about our new policies, university operations and the path forward.

In response, the university will hold a virtual town hall on Friday, April 17 from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Interim President Anne Holton will provide an update on the university’s response, and then she and her leadership team will be available to take questions from students and their families, faculty, staff, alumni and friends.

You can submit your questions in advance here or during the event and view the town hall on GMU TV. We encourage everyone to participate and look forward to gathering with you virtually on Friday.

Stay healthy and safe.

Sincerely,

Michael Sandler
Interim Vice President, Communications and Marketing

Spring 2020 – Alterations to Graduate Policies

Dear Graduate Students:

In our continued efforts to adapt to the ongoing changes and best support our graduate students, the Graduate Council has approved the following alterations to graduate policies for this spring 2020 semester:

1) For the Spring 2020 semester, the academic termination policy has been altered for all graduate students. All letter grades “C” or the equivalent alternative grades “XP” received in graduate courses will not count towards the number of unsatisfactory grades stated under AP.6.6.2 Academic Termination. Graduate students, who may receive letter grades “F” or the equivalent alternative grades “XN”, should consider the available withdrawal option as the effect of these non-passing grades on AP.6.6.2 Academic Termination will remain unaltered.

2) The GA hiring procedures have been altered for all graduate students who may be offered a graduate assistantship for Fall 2020. Students must be in good academic standing, maintain a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA, and not have any unsatisfactory grades at the end of Fall 2019 or any letter grades “F” or the equivalent alternative grades “XN” at the end of Spring 2020. No unsatisfactory grades earned during Spring 2020 should be considered for GA hiring decisions.

3) For the Spring 2020 semester, the coursework requirements policy for accelerated master’s students has been altered. Letter grades “A-C” or the equivalent alternative grades “XS” and “XP” received in graduate courses will count towards the number of credits that can be applied to the undergraduate degree and provide the student advanced standing in the related Mason master’s program. Letter grades “F” or the equivalent alternative grades “XN” will not count.

4)  For the Spring 2020 semester, the change from nondegree status policy has been altered. Letter grades “A-C” or the equivalent alternative grades “XS” and “XP” received in graduate courses will count towards the number of credits that can transferred to the degree program. Letter grades “F” or the equivalent alternative grades “XN” will not count.

For more important and related information, visit the Graduate Education – Spring 2020 COVID-19 Updates and the Office of the University Registrar – Spring 2020 Grading Options webpages.

Reminder: Coffee time with APGE tomorrow (Friday) at 10am. All information can be found on your Blackboard under the Graduate Education Resources organization.

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

Sincerely,

Dr. Bray.

Laurence Bray, PhD
Associate Provost for Graduate Education
George Mason University
703-993-2218

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