This has been an extraordinary time for all of us, and I remain so proud of George Mason University community’s response.
I hope you were able to attend Wednesday’s town hall meeting. I’m pleased to say that more than 3,000 people tuned in to watch, and we received more than 500 questions for the event. More than 50 percent of those were from students and about 30 percent were from faculty and staff. The leadership team answered many of your questions, and we plan to address those we didn’t through upcoming communication with you and on the Safe Return to Campus website. If you missed the meeting or would like to see it again, you can see the video recording here.
We miss you. Mason isn’t the same place without our students, faculty, staff and researchers. The good news is that we continue to plan to start the fall semester on time on Aug. 24 with a hybrid of in person and online classes. That successful start depends on our region’s continued success in fighting the virus, and we are working closely with public health officials to monitor conditions and help ensure we do our part to support their work. It also depends on us committing as a community to four key things. We must wear our masks; I wear a mask to care for you, and you wear a mask care for me. We have to stay six feet apart from each other. We have to wash our hands, and we have to stay home if we are sick. If we can put protocols in place that support those key pieces, we are convinced that we can significantly reduce the risk and rejoin our campus community together. It will be different but also rewarding. Together, we can make this work.
A few updates that are worth noting:
Class schedule anticipated to be available by July 17
As Provost Mark Ginsberg said Wednesday, class scheduling is complex jigsaw puzzle. By July 17, we hope to have the class schedule available so that students know the time and format of their classes for the fall semester. We plan to offer many classes in both face-to-face and online formats, with preference for in-person instruction given to labs, hands-on classes and experiential learning. This has required tremendous cooperation and hard work by the provost’s office, the deans, the Faculty, and facilities management among others, and I know you appreciate their work as much as I do. Some students may receive specific information from their individual school or college prior to July 17, but that’s our goal to complete the puzzle.
We had a lot of questions about housing at the town hall. We are keeping our on-campus student occupancy rate around 75 percent, intentionally keeping about 1,500 beds empty to facilitate physical distancing and in case we need space for students to quarantine. Most of the occupancy is single rooms along with some doubles but with no more than two people in a room.
Any new students or first-year students who met the June 1 priority registration deadline are guaranteed a housing assignment. All returning students who selected an on-campus housing assignment in March are also guaranteed an assignment. We do have an established waitlist and any student on the waitlist as of June 20 is receiving an assignment. We will continue to work with all others as spaces become available. In order to comply with social distancing guidelines, move-in will look different this fall, starting on Aug. 15 and occurring over a week-long period instead of the more typical two days.
Financial aid for students
Some parts of the country are reopening and the economy is rebounding but in other places this is a longer and more drawn out process. We know the economic crisis affects a great number of our students and their families. Mason is distributing over $10 millionin federal CARES act relief funds to students, with about half already out the door and the rest being issued this summer and early fall. We also continue to accept applications for the Student Emergency Assistance Fund. This is particularly important to our undocumented students who do not currently qualify for CARES Act relief. Our Foundation and Advancement teams have been instrumental in working to help this important part of our student population.
Our student-athletes are eager to return to practice, and I know I speak for many fans when I say I’m looking forward to seeing them return as well. Selected sports will be able to begin voluntary workouts on July 13, with numerous health and safety protocols. This includes a 14-day self-quarantine period before returning to campus, appropriate testing, daily health assessments, COVID 19 training, and other factors to ensure health and safety of students, trainers and coaches. Stay tuned for more information from our athletics department in early July.
This came up at the town hall and I know it’s an important question for many. The university’s virtual recognition ceremony was well-received, but we know it’s not a substitute for an in-person event. We will celebrate the Class of 2020, but at this time we can’t provide a specific date. We are committed to bringing you together to celebrate when it is safe to do so. As vaccines and treatments are developed, as contact tracing increases, we will be able to get a better idea. I promise I will be there to applaud your efforts when we can gather safely to celebrate.
As a follow up to previous messages, we are announcing that Mason has suspended all international travel through the end of the fall semester, with the exception of travel to South Korea. Exceptions will be considered on a case-by-case by the University Travel Advisory Committee (firstname.lastname@example.org).
More about Phase 3
Gov. Northam has announced that Virginia will move into Phase 3 on Wednesday, July 1. Most employees will not be returning to campus in July and many employees will continue to telework through the summer and possibly through the fall semester. Please reach out to your manager or supervisor to talk about your work situation. Our Human Resources and Employee Relations teams are available to help you work through individual specific situations. We know many of our employees have children in the K-12 schools and those schedules and decisions will affect their work schedules, and we encourage everyone to remain flexible as we move into fall.
A word of gratitude
As I return to the faculty and begin preparing for my fall teaching, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for your many kindnesses and help during my tenure as Interim President, and for honoring our Mason value “we thrive together” in this moment. The tough situations we are now facing can indeed make us stronger, if we can stay flexible, be patient and open with each other, and stay focused on meeting the needs of all. I want to thank especially my leadership team for their incredible work and friendship, and President-Designee Washington for his invaluable engagement over the last few months. I have total confidence that you will extend him your full support as he begins his tenure July 1, and that together you and he will lead this university forward to its next great chapter.
Remember to hold each other in the light.
Anne Holton, Interim President