May Commencement, Move Out Procedure and Scaling Back: Katsouleas holds second virtual coronavirus town hall

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In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, President Thomas C. Katsouleas held office hours at the Benton where students could come speak to him. The President held a second virtual town hall to talk about guidelines and developments the university had in place and also addressed the Class of 2020 directly.  Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

In this photo taken on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, President Thomas C. Katsouleas held office hours at the Benton where students could come speak to him. The President held a second virtual town hall to talk about guidelines and developments the university had in place and also addressed the Class of 2020 directly. Photo by Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus

University of Connecticut President Thomas Katsouleas held the second virtual town hall in the last week to address questions from the community about COVID-19 and the university’s response to the pandemic.

On Tuesday, Katsouleas sent an email to the university announcing that classes will be shifting online for the rest of the semester and May commencement exercises are canceled per CDC recommendations.

“To the class of 2020- I know this is not the way you expected your senior year to end and I am truly sorry that I will not be able to share the stage with you and celebrate your final year and my first graduation ceremony at UConn,” Katsouleas said at the beginning of the town hall. “But we are committed to bring you back at a safe and appropriate time to celebrate you in the way you deserve.”

Katsouleas said UConn Health recently created a hotline to address medical questions from the community about the COVID-19 crisis. The call center can be reached at 860-679-3199.

Katsouleas affirmed there will be some sort of refund, whether partial or total, for fees for students, but those numbers are not yet concrete. A Change.org petition started by student Victoria Aviani demanding partial reimbursement for the spring 2020 semester has garnered over 6,000 signatures since its creation.

“I expect to have more information on that [refund policy] when the Board of Trustees has its next meeting on March 25,” Katsouleas said. “The philosophy is- to the extent possible- we would like to refund as much as we can of what has been paid.”

Dean of Students Eleanor Daugherty said students will receive a string of emails in the coming days from Residential Life on the Storrs and Stamford campuses outlining when they will be able to come back to campus and retrieve their belongings and turn in their keys. Students currently living on campus for spring break can move out as soon as possible through Tuesday.

“We will be creating a protracted move out period, but because we need to follow the governor’s guidance on how many people can be in a setting, what was a two day move-in will now be a two week move-out between the end of March and beginning of April,” Daugherty said.

Daugherty also addressed questions about the continuity of mental health and wellness services, which are set to continue remotely through the end of the semester.

“For both medical and mental health services, we are going to start changing how we offer the care but the care will remain the same,” Daugherty said. “We will be creating telemedicine means to interact with you and certainly our counseling providers will offer that to students who need our care.”

University officials said the visitor’s center is also setting up virtual tours which will be available online to prospective students in the next week, but said it is too early to consider pushing back the May 1 commitment deadline. Admitted Students Day will also be pushed online until further notice and orientation leaders are preparing to deliver orientation proceedings virtually.

Pending Department of Public Health approval, Dr. Kevin Dieckhaus said UConn Health expects to set up a drive-up testing facility at its Farmington campus as early as Friday.

“We are actively working on emergency preparation plans and identifying specific locations for patient care as well as freeing up nonessential services,” Dr. Dieckhaus said.

Katsouleas encouraged students to direct questions related to internships/clinical placements, course offering times and on-campus job continuity to their specific instructor, dean or supervisor for more precise information.

Scott Jordan, executive vice president for administration and chief financial officer, said bus services will continue on the Storrs campus on a regular weekend schedule with Weekend 1 and Weekend 2 busses running normally.

Michelle Williams, the associate vice president for research, encouraged faculty to look at their research from a basic framework and compare it to CDC guidelines to determine whether or not their research work is considered essential for the coming weeks.

“Those research projects that require human interaction- only in those cases where there is direct therapeutic value- those research projects will continue,” Williams said. “The expectation should be that those activities will take place with minimal staff and that the work must be completed safely and competently and if that cannot be done, then those research projects should be paused or halted.”

Katsouleas said he believes the university will be able to overcome challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak and will continue to be transparent in the university’s response to the pandemic.

“I am really proud of the university and the way it has responded to this unprecedented challenge,” Katsouleas said. “It has been flexible, resilient, and remarkably mutually supportive.”


Taylor Harton is the associate news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at taylor.harton@uconn.edu.

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