MTSU Response to Coronavirus Disease 2019 Archive
FRIDAY (3/13): News and Updates from President McPhee
To the University community,
As of today, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 on campus. However, there have been several decisions made today as MTSU responds to the rapidly evolving novel coronavirus situation (COVID-19):
ON-CAMPUS FUNCTIONS AND ACTIVITIES
On-campus educational functions proposed after Monday, March 23, that I deem essential to the goals and objectives of the University – and meet social-distancing guidelines that will be forthcoming – may be permitted.
As you know we have canceled all on-campus events through Sunday, March 29. Beginning Monday, March 30, I will review requests for limited, non-educational gatherings on campus, subject to the same social-distancing guidelines, and may approve on a case-by-case basis.
STUDENTS EMPLOYED BY MTSU
Many of our students depend on their on-campus jobs to support themselves financially. With that in mind, during this period, we will take action to protect student employees from losing their anticipated wages from student worker MTSU on-campus jobs (this does not apply to jobs on campus where the student is being paid by agencies other than MTSU, such as food services). More details will be forthcoming on this.
CLASSIFIED AND ADMINISTRATIVE EMPLOYEES
It is vitally important that we do not introduce this virus into our workplace. Therefore, employees who are feeling ill should not come to work. I am directing supervisors to be flexible and open to requests from staff members with concerns about their health and wish to seek alternate work arrangements, such as working from home. Also, if an employee is feeling sick, or is concerned about their safety, supervisors are authorized to allow them to use earned sick leave, then annual leave. If a staff member has exhausted both sick and annual leave, our Human Resources Services will be issuing guidance on how that employee might be accommodated.
SPRING BREAK EXTENSION
Next week’s extension of Spring Break is to be treated just as the regular Spring Break when it comes to academic work — no assignments, no quizzes, no student participation expected, and so on. This applies to all courses, including those already online.
FURTHER GUIDANCE ON TRAVEL
The Division of Business and Finance will issue guidance shortly on matters related to expenses and reimbursement regarding cancelled travel or conferences.
We are sharing these updates with you to provide assurance that our university is working hard to make our campus safe and protect our community. We are in an unusual and unprecedented situation and I appreciate your understanding and patience as we work through these difficult times. We also remind all to check our website, www.mtsu.edu/coronavirus, for updates and resources.
Sidney A. McPhee
FRIDAY (3/13): Note to Parents and Families from VP Sells
(This note by Dr. Debra Sells originally appeared on our Facebook page for the MTSU Parent and Family Association on Friday, March 13)
I’m reading dozens of questions and comments about financial matters, so I want to try to share our thinking with you. I apologize in advance for the length of this message, but I want to be thorough and help you see the bigger picture behind your questions.
It’s important to understand what our primary goals are at MTSU and, for that, you’ll need a little bit of context. Our chief concern is always the health and safety of our students and the MTSU community. There is general agreement between the medical voices who are leading the country’s fight against COVID-19 that instituting practices of social distancing is a very important part of getting a handle on the spread of the disease. So moving students out of face-to-face classrooms and other large group settings give them the best protection, and helps protect the whole community against the potential for infection coming to campus and growing out of control.
So we have two options to accomplish that: We can cancel the semester or we can shift to remote delivery of classes. The majority of our students receive federal and state financial aid and those funds have already been paid to their accounts. If we were to cancel the semester and not complete the classes in which they are enrolled, under federal regulations on financial aid we would be required to return to the government some portion of the financial aid they had been awarded—and the students would have to pay that money back. Additionally, if classes were cancelled, students could lose future eligibility for financial aid. That is simply too great a hardship for us to consider.
So the alternative is to go to remote instructional delivery. That allows students to maintain the number of credits they are enrolled in; allows them to stay on track for progression and graduation; and prevents us having to bill students due to a return of some portion of their financial aid. There will be some costs to the university to make that conversion, in terms of adding a variety of technologies to make it all possible. But we are committed to making that happen—in fact, that’s a no-brainer for us. It protects the students and their education, so it’s an easy, though expensive, choice. We will also continue to operate all of our services for students. We will cancel all large-scale events, which will also create some budget challenges for us, since some of those help produce revenue for the university. But it’s what we need to do to keep everyone safe.
All of that said, there will be no increase or decrease in tuition and fees for classes. Students have already been billed, and we are committed to making sure that they are able to successfully finish the term and receive the credits they earn.
We also know that not all of our students are able to or want to leave the campus. Therefore, we will also continue to operate the residence halls, and we will continue to provide food service for those students living on campus. If MTSU has the ability to resume face-to-face classes on our campus, we expect that most students who have temporarily gone home will return to campus. We also expect that most students who temporarily go home will be leaving their belongings in their room here on campus.
Those families that feel safer by bringing their student home have the flexibility to do so, since students can work on course work online. But those students who don’t have access to the necessary computer at home, or don’t have somewhere else to go, can and should plan to continue to be here with us. That choice is completely up to each student and their family.
Just like with the question of tuition, however, there is no savings to MTSU in these housing circumstances. We will continue to be staffed and operating in all residence halls and on-campus apartments. Therefore, we are not planning to make any refunds on housing fees. I suspect that will also be the position of all off-campus apartments that are housing our students: If your student leaves their off-campus apartment for a few weeks, they are also not likely to be offering any sort of credit.
Finally, we come to the issue of meal plans. Our campus food service provider is Aramark, and they are really, really terrific partners with MTSU in meeting the needs of your students. They have been particularly hard hit, as the tornado in Nashville severely damaged their supply distribution center. Still, Aramark will continue to offer meal support for students, although we are adjusting how students are fed to try to comply with the plans for social distancing. At this time, it’s not a best practice for students to congregate in large groups to eat and socialize. So while we are in our remote instructional mode, meals will be served at McCallie and we will encourage students to “grab-and-go,” taking their meals back to their rooms with them. The POD at the Student Union will also be open for students to use.
Again, we don’t anticipate any refunds on meal plans. Like the University, Aramark is going to be dealing with a significant loss of revenue related to the cancellation of special catered events and the required closure of their retail venues on campus. While they are great partners, and take great care of our students, we can’t dictate their corporate policy, and we understand their need to make prudent financial decisions.
Finally, we know that many of our students depend on their on-campus jobs to support themselves financially. With that in mind, President McPhee, in consultation with his executive staff, has made the decision that MTSU will take action to protect student employees from losing their anticipated wages from student worker MTSU on-campus jobs (this does not apply to jobs on campus where the student is being paid by agencies other than MTSU, such as food services).
You’ll hear more information about MTSU student employees in the coming days. Again, this is going to create some budget squeezes for MTSU, but we are determined to protect our student in every way possible. We are also currently in conversation with our federal financial aid representatives to see if the federal government will allow us to make similar provisions for students receiving Federal College Work Study wages.
We are living in an unanticipated, and frankly, unprecedented circumstance. None of this is ideal for anyone, and we are all going to be sharing the burden of the impact of COVID-19 both here at MTSU, and as it begins to change the way we go to worship, enjoy athletics, and, potentially, send our younger children to school. I continue to be amazed by the kindness of our students and parents as they reach out to support one another. I appreciate your patience and understanding.
Debra Sells, Ed.D.
Vice President for Student Affairs and
Vice Provost for Enrollment Services
Middle Tennessee State University