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These are featured stories of how the Upper Delta and Mid-South is combating the Coronavirus as well as resources to help those impacted by the pandemic.

A-State May Classes, Summer 1 Classes to go Online; Summer II and Fall Class Decisions Coming

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Arkansas State University

This is part of an email sent to the A-State Community from Chancellor Dr. Kelly Damphousse.

I grew up on the edge of a large lake that was home to Sir Winston Churchill Provincial Park. As a young boy, I became enamored with Winston Churchill, and over the years, I have collected many of his biographies and original works. One of my favorite Churchill stories happened in November 1942, when after a long series of military defeats, British forces experienced their first large-scale victory in what is now known as the Battles of El Alamein. When Churchill addressed the House of Commons after the victory, he said, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” Click the link to hear a recording of that part of his speech.

I have been thinking about Churchill’s witty balance of optimism and reality check the past couple of weeks. He was saying, essentially, that we should not celebrate the ultimate victory too soon, but we should also have some hope about the future outcome. That is how I am feeling about where we are with COVID-19. A scant 41 days ago, Arkansas Governor Hutchinson declared a Public Health State of Emergency. That week, we committed to teaching all Spring 2020 courses online through the end of the semester, as we supported the Governor’s mandate to maximize physical distancing efforts. By March 17, we began encouraging faculty and staff members to work from home and by March 27, we were encouraging most students living in our residence halls to leave campus by April 3. 

A lot has happened over these past six weeks, and I know that many of us are strained by our experiences, but the good news is that our physical distancing efforts in the state appear to have worked to “flatten the curve.” As a result, the Governor has announced May 4 as his target date for entering Phase One of opening back up the state. That could involve the re-opening of gymnasiums (including the Red W.O.L.F. Center), opening some non-essential businesses and large venue events, and the possible return to work for some of our employees (although teleworking for most will continue).

This is a promising sign, but the Phase One date depends on us continuing as much as possible to engage in good hygiene practices, to wear masks in public when physical distancing would be difficult, and to keep all social gatherings small and spread out. After the very difficult experience of isolation and physical distancing, we may be tempted to think of this time as the beginning of the end. But, it is more likely the end of the beginning. We have a long way to go. If we disregard the limitations and the guidelines that the governor has put in place, we may not be able to enter Phase One. If we don’t follow his Phase One recommendation, we risk experiencing significant community spread again, and having to regress to our current status. Our goal is to progress toward Phase Two, where schools are allowed to open up. So, A-State will proceed cautiously, following directives from the Governor, his Economic Recovery Task Force, (which includes ASU System President Chuck Welch), and local health care advisors. We all have to continue physical distancing as much as possible. Now is not the time to give up!

That said, here is a guideline of what the short-term future holds for A-State.

Course Delivery

A-State’s Maymester, Summer I, and full Summer Semester courses will be delivered online. Classes that were scheduled to be taught face-to-face have either been cancelled or are being transitioned to online delivery. The good news here is that we will not be rushed into the transition this time, so I expect a much improved online experience for our students and instructors during the summer. We will announce a decision about Summer II course delivery around May 15 and about the Fall 2020 Semester sometime in late May or early June. I wish I could be more specific, but there are a lot of variables to consider, not least of which is the extent to which Phase One and Phase Two are working. Our academic leadership is considering a number of models that we could adopt for Fall 2020, and we will choose one that we believe has the most positive impact on our faculty/staff and students. The safety of our students and employees is my highest priority, but that is followed closely by my passion to get us back to as close to normal as possible as quickly as practical.

Refunds for Housing

We are working on calculating refunds for housing, meal plans, and Flex plans. Our goal is to issue those refunds as soon as possible, but we continue to calculate each student’s situation on a case-by-case basis. We are way ahead of schedule here, so we are manually entering the credits to each student’s account this week. Students should see that amount posted in their account by April 29, and then the finance team will begin running the refund transactions. Those transactions will initiate direct deposits, check printing, and credits to credit cards (depending on how students paid their bill). Eligible students will have their refunds processed by the regular end of the 2020 Spring Semester on May 5th. 

CART for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding

Last week I appointed campus leaders to the CARES Act Response Team (CART). Their charge is to recommend how the $4.6M in CARES Act student aid is distributed. The members of the CART are Len Frey, COO and Executive Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration; Alan Utter, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Bryan Terry, Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management; Martha Spack, Dean of Students; Brad Phelps, ASU General Counsel; Terry Finney, Director of Financial Aid; and Russ Hannah, Senior Associate Vice Chancellor for Finance. We have already applied for the money and should receive the funding soon. We are still awaiting guidance on all the possible ways that we can use the money to maximize the benefit for our students. I hope to have our CARES Act plan settled by the first part of May. The CART is relying on this guidance from Secretary DeVoss on how to distribute the funds:

The CARES Act provides institutions with significant discretion on how to award this emergency assistance to students. This means that each institution may develop its own system and process for determining how to allocate these funds, which may include distributing the funds to all students or only to students who demonstrate significant need. The only statutory requirement is that the funds be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, and child care).

Campus Virtual Events

Finally, while we remain unable to gather together on campus, much activity still continues virtually. This past weekend, for example, our Esports team hosted its inaugural conference with speakers from across the country participating. Our Esports team also defeated the NYIT team in two out of three events that afternoon. You can watch the conference and competition on our team’s Twitch or YouTube channels. This week, Create@State is streaming student research presentations on its new YouTube page, and broadcasting over local ASU-TV channels on area cable systems (channel 18 in Jonesboro, for example). Our music faculty members are also holding Facebook Live and YouTube recitals. New student orientation is happening virtually for the first time ever starting next month. Who knows, this might be the way we always do NSO in the future! We even launched a new campus virtual tour program, with virtual reality sections, new guided video commentary from student leaders, and the chance to look inside buildings with 360 views. We will be adding to the virtual tour over time, as well, so that users can also hear from faculty, staff, and alumni. Given that formal on-campus tours are not possible this spring and summer, the virtual tour gives high school recruits the chance to check out some of our facilities from the comfort of their own home, where they can also request more information from our Admissions Office right in the tour. So, life goes on and I am grateful for everyone who continues to make the best lemonade out of the lemons we have been handed.