Statement by University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman on Governor Hogan’s Executive Order, USM’s Community Crisis Response, and Emergency Relief for Students

Baltimore, Md. (March 30, 2020)

Before I get into the substance of my update to the Board, I want to mention the Governor’s press conference earlier today. Gov. Hogan’s stay-at-home order affects two categories of people within the University System: essential employees still reporting to work on campus; and students who are now moving their things out of the dorm rooms they vacated before spring break.

On essential employees, the guidance I’m giving to university presidents is that they should have letters prepared for all essential employees indicating their status and, consequently, their permission to be on the road when traveling to and from work. 

On student move-outs, the guidance I’m giving presidents is to suspend all move-outs before 8 p.m. tonight, so that we can ensure we’re in strict compliance with the Governor’s order. I’ll share more information about move-outs when we arrive at that item in today’s agenda.

I’d like to begin my update by acknowledging plainly that these are challenging times, that our “new normal” has required us to adapt—on a dime—to methods of teaching, learning, and working that, in fact, aren’t “normal” for most of us. This transition could’ve been met with fear and resistance. Instead, it’s been met with a grace and goodwill that’s to be greatly admired.

I can’t adequately express how grateful I am for the ingenuity, resilience, and generosity I see every day in the way the System’s universities are working to serve their students and families, to serve their academic mission, and to serve one another. It’s humbling to lead a System whose people prioritize compassion above all else, and model such eager and unselfish collaboration.

A motto of sorts has emerged from this pandemic: We’re all in this together. If you’ll indulge me a few minutes, I’d like to tell you what that motto means at the University System.

It means our universities have been digging into their reserves of personal protective equipment and collecting gear from partners—N95 masks, surgical masks, gloves, goggles, aprons—and donating these life-saving items to medical facilities on the front lines of this pandemic. Our universities will soon produce 3D-printed reusable masks for providers at the University of Maryland Medical Center. Our labs are making hand sanitizer for first responders.

Faculty are conducting geospatial modeling of COVID-19 spread so that we can respond to concentrated threats now, and better prepare for them in the future. We’re innovating simple ventilators to ramp up supplies quickly. We’re deploying software to help jurisdictions develop emergency medical clinics that can better withstand the pressures of a large-scale crisis like this one. We’re helping the state work through difficult legal questions in its emergency response. We’re providing life-saving counseling and services to Marylanders who face devastating emotional and financial strain.

We are serving. We are innovating. We are leading.  

I’ve said throughout this crisis that the University System is a public good. And that means doing more than most others are capable of. It means deploying the full power of our research and scholarship to fight this pandemic and secure the health and safety of our people.

I’ve asked the USM presidents to summarize for me the R&D projects their institutions are pioneering to do exactly that. And I look forward to working with them to leverage our expertise and resources Systemwide to scale up some of our most promising and most innovative strategies in mitigation and treatment.

We’re all in this together means something else to us as well. It means we understand the significant stress our students are under. And for many students, it’s not only the stress of meeting degree requirements in a new and unfamiliar environment. It’s not only the stress of being isolated from classmates and professors. It’s the stress of not knowing how they’ll find money for food, and bills, and basic essentials.

Campus food pantries have long been our first line for students experiencing food insecurity. Those pantries are now expanding their hours, soliciting donations, and working hard to keep shelves stocked through this spike in demand. University foundations are prioritizing these pantries for funding and upping their financial commitment to them. Some pantries are relocating to areas better situated for social distancing, given the escalating need among students.

Most USM universities have an existing pool of money they draw from to help students in need. They go by different names: crisis fund, emergency fund, hardship fund. As you can imagine, these reserves are being painfully stretched right now. So our universities are looking at all of their discretionary dollars to see which might be directed to these crisis funds. Mindful of gift requirements, they’re looking at private contributions and endowed accounts.

The universities’ foundations are setting up matching challenges to encourage alumni donations. And those challenges are working. Every advancement office is pushing out pleas for student assistance. They’re creating web sites and social media campaigns. The University System and the USM Foundation are gathering these giving links and will post them prominently on our own websites. We’ll also push them out on social platforms.

We’re collecting policies and procedures—webinars and articles—to help universities without a crisis fund set one up. And we’re sharing examples of the university appeals going out now to accelerate the speed with which institutions still developing their fundraising strategies can get the money they need.

Finally, I’m thrilled to announce that the USM Foundation will make a $150,000 contribution toward emergency aid funds for all USM universities and regional centers. That means every institution will receive $10,000. I thank the USM Foundation for this generous support.

Apart from the USM’s own efforts, there is, of course, federal money coming to struggling students. The stimulus bill that Congress passed last week earmarks $14 billion for higher education, most of it going directly to institutions. Half of those institutional funds must be purposed for students. Still, we know this isn’t enough. We know that students will continue to face enormous hardship.

And so on Friday, we announced a measure intended to alleviate some of that hardship. We announced that every USM university would refund, on a prorated basis, fees associated with room, board, parking, and athletics. Universities have discretion over other assessed fees, but these are the ones constituting our baseline. These are the ones where we had ready consensus on reimbursement.

Providing this refund was a high priority among the university presidents, who feel deeply their responsibility to students and families whose physical health and financial health are now in jeopardy.

Immediately after Friday’s Systemwide announcement, many universities sent letters to their students, specifying which fees are being refunded, the basis for proration, and a broad timeline by which students could expect to see their accounts credited, or deposits made, or checks cut.

I won’t pretend that the refund cost to our universities isn’t significant. It is. The USM is now considering ways to manage the financial impact on the individual universities and on the System.

Still, I thank our university presidents and their leadership teams who embraced this refund decision knowing the enormous financial implications. It was the right decision, but it was also a courageous one.

I began on a hopeful note. I’ll end these initial remarks on one as well. Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen the System’s students embody the best of the human condition. I’ve seen them serve the public good. I’ve seen them embrace their social and civic responsibility in a way that shows, unequivocally, what this education we’re providing really means—for them and for us.

There is great humanity in our students. My email is filled with their stories. Students fabricating and donating emergency supplies. Students giving blood. Students advocating for vulnerable populations. Students creating art from chaos. Students reaching out to classmates struggling in isolation.

This past week alone, I’ve been contacted by several students asking how they can do more—how we can do more. If I’m getting these pleas, I know our university presidents are getting hundreds more.

And so I tell them, as I’m sharing with you, that we will rise to this challenge. We will lead in ways that matter. And we will get through this—together. Thank you.

As you know, most USM universities began remote instruction one week ago today, on March 23. A few institutions did pause the resumption of classes—up to one week—to allow faculty more time to prepare for the transition.

Without question, this is a new way of teaching for most faculty. Even those skilled in online and remote platforms typically combine distance formats with in-person instruction. I applaud our faculty for working incredibly hard to maintain continuity of learning for students, even as many have onerous family obligations at home that must be balanced with their workload. It’s a huge challenge, and I want them to know we recognize that.  

We were fortunate to have spring break intervene before classes resumed remotely. Our universities used that time to provide enhanced training to faculty in the various teaching, teleconferencing, and learning management platforms supported by their institution. While most faculty and students are already familiar with these platforms—already use these platforms—of course they’re now more reliant on them than ever before.

Webinars and virtual workshops continue to help faculty work through the challenges of online and distance learning, and how to optimally use the technologies that support them. We’re encouraging use of both synchronous and asynchronous platforms, so that students can interact with faculty and classmates in real-time, but can also download, for instance, pre-recorded lectures and activities, and upload their assignments, presentations, and performances—like music, dance, and theatre.

As remote learning continues, deans and department chairs have been hosting regular meetings with their faculty to ensure that issues can be addressed as they crop up. Some universities have paired faculty who are more experienced in distance learning with those newer to the format. Our institutions continue to develop and update websites that warehouse the best resources and strategies for remote teaching and learning.

And for all of this, I must offer some sincere thanks. I thank each institution’s learning center staff, their academic affairs and IT staff, who’ve been incredibly responsive—they’re on call 24/7 supporting faculty and students through this transition. I thank our Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation, which is helping faculty optimize distance learning strategies and tools. And, finally, I acknowledge that we’re enormously fortunate to have an indispensable resource in the University of Maryland Global Campus, the institution least disrupted by this transition. I thank UMGC for its generous leadership and support in helping its fellow universities adapt to what is—for them—a new environment.

Clinical rotations, field placements, and internships present further challenges for remote instruction. Most in-person experiential learning activities have been converted to virtual or distance activities: remote simulation, telemedicine, tele-counseling, case-based scenarios.

Some universities have made very limited exceptions where internship sites or lab sites remain open. Additionally, some universities are very rarely allowing activities that require a face-to-face format, including classroom simulations, but only if strict measures are taken to implement social distancing, and only if clear documentation is maintained.

Most universities’ program hours actually exceed what’s required for clinical licensure, which puts our students, especially those near graduation, in a good position. Many students requiring licensure are now remotely pursuing competency testing, and we expect on-time graduation for most.

Certainly, remote learning throws into stark relief the digital divide that still exists among students. Those without up-to-date technology—adequate computers, software, and internet connectivity—are greatly disadvantaged in this distance learning environment.

From the moment we announced remote instruction, our universities stepped into this breach. As with food insecurity, university foundations are prioritizing support to students in need of technology, and these funds now stand above $100,000 at several universities.

Universities are hosting laptop and wi-fi hotspot loaner programs. They’ve bought campuswide licenses for videoconferencing software (like Zoom) so that all students, faculty, and staff can participate equally. Some universities have bought security software to facilitate remote ID verification. Additionally, working with the state, the University System Office is offering help to any university having difficulty providing sufficient technology.

There is one more important aspect to mention in terms of remote learning. I’ve said from the beginning that distance education will be easier for some students than for others. It will be easier for some faculty than for others.

And I mean this beyond the narrow scope of technology access and comfort level. Some students will simply have more difficulty thriving in an isolated environment, away from their professors and classmates, away from the interactive atmosphere of the classroom or lab.
As much as our technology attempts to simulate in-person connection, it obviously has limitations that can’t be overcome. And some students will feel those limitations acutely.

So I was encouraged by the quick consensus our universities reached on expanding pass/fail grading options this semester. While there are differences among our institutions, every university has signed onto two broad actions: First, allowing students maximum flexibility to opt for a pass/fail/no credit designation in lieu of a letter grade. And second, allowing students to make this decision as late in the semester as possible. Many universities are actually giving students until the very last day of the semester to make this choice.

We do understand that a pass/fail option won’t be recommended for some students—for instance, students who need the credit or the GPA boost, or students whose desired graduate programs have the course as a credit prerequisite. So faculty are counseling students on the downstream implications of their choice and individually advising them on the best course of action. And, by the way, many of these student support services are online as well.

Certainly, pass/fail flexibility—which has been broadly adopted throughout higher education—has consequences beyond our own institutions. For instance, the USM is working with the state’s community colleges to ensure that implementation of a flexible pass/fail policy at the two-year college level doesn’t result in students underprepared to transition into the University System.

It’s important to start my update with a reminder that today Gov. Hogan issued a stay-at-home order, effective at 8 p.m. tonight. Again, to ensure strict compliance, I’m advising that presidents suspend campus move-outs.

Our universities are in different phases of their move-out schedules. Some haven’t yet started the process, and others are now in the middle of it. Of those universities that have started move-outs, in the aggregate, more than 60 percent of students have cleaned out their rooms. Universities have already begun communicating with their students and families about this suspension of activity.

It’s important to remember that we do still have students remaining in the residence halls—students who, for one reason or another, can’t move out: international students (whom I’ll talk about in greater detail momentarily); students whose circumstances don’t permit them to go home; and students who, in fact, have no home to return to. We currently have fewer than 1,000 of these students in our dorms Systemwide.

It’s unfortunate that we can’t expect much guidance as to when move-outs may resume, but that’s simply one more facet of the unpredictability of this crisis and our rolling response to it. However, I do believe there may be some exemptions issued for students who need to retrieve essential items.

Prior to spring break, we did instruct students to bring with them everything they would need for two weeks of remote instruction following their break—but we all recognize that two weeks and two months are very different things. I sympathize with students who want to retrieve items and haven’t yet been able to.

When we resume move-outs, we’ll take the same precautions we’ve been taking throughout this process to facilitate social distancing—for instance, ensuring that scheduled move-outs are diffused among campus housing facilities so that no dorm is overrun with students and families attempting to clean out rooms; that roommates or suitemates are not moving their things at the same time; and that pinch points, like elevators and doorways, are uncongested.

You’ll recall that ensuring the safety of international and study-abroad students was a paramount concern for us weeks ago, as international borders were being closed and global travel was severely curtailed.

The good news is that in the weeks since travel restrictions were first issued, we’ve been able to do two things: 1) Bring nearly all of our study-abroad students home; and 2) ensure that our international students are in stable environments.

With regard to international students, what I mean by “stable environments” is that these students are back in their home countries; or they’re residing off campus; or they’re living with U.S. families or with stateside relatives; or they remain on campus with critical support services available to them. Across the System, I believe we have fewer than 300 international students remaining in campus housing.

Each university’s international services staff continue to work with all of their international students on issues such as visa processing and renewals, international travel, and continuity of learning.
We do have a handful of students Systemwide who’ve elected to remain in their study-abroad placements, and we’ve required them to document that they understand the risks associated with staying overseas.

I do have a wonderful piece of news to share, in that the seven members of the Salisbury University rugby team—who were stranded in Peru after that country halted international flights—are now safely back in the United States. I thank the leadership and staff of Salisbury who worked, literally, around the clock to bring them home. We’re extremely grateful, as well, to Sen. Cardin and his office, for their intervention to get these students onto a U.S. military evacuation flight over the weekend. And, finally, sincere gratitude goes to our higher ed colleagues at UPC University in Lima, who helped secure hotel accommodations for the students as they waited to return home. We’re so glad to have them back.

When we announced a week-and-a-half ago that the University System would go to remote instruction for the remainder of the semester, one of the implications that most affected students—most disappointed them—was that in-person Commencement ceremonies would be canceled, postponed, or moved to a virtual environment.

I saw several university communications following that announcement, and I recognized in them how much care our presidents took to express deep regret to graduating seniors that we had to take this tough but necessary step; to reassure them that they would, in fact, be celebrated for their accomplishments; and to solicit their input and planning into postponed or alternative ceremonies that would fete them in a special way.

Most universities are still in this planning phase now, in consultation with their student government associations and other groups. The ideas being circulated include hosting graduation ceremonies this fall (circumstances permitting) or combining the spring celebration with their winter Commencement ceremony. Some universities are planning a virtual celebration this spring and devising creative ways to make it every bit as special as students deserve. And some universities are planning a combination of these two approaches—both a virtual celebration this spring and an in-person celebration this fall or winter.

Our presidents have been clear in their messages to students that a delay of ceremony in no way delays their diplomas—and most graduates should expect to receive their diplomas by late spring or early summer.

I want to assure the Board that the University System stands ready to assist the state in its COVID-19 emergency response. I’ve been in touch with Regent Neall, Maryland Secretary of Health, as have several university presidents, and we’ve assured him that our universities are available to meet state needs.

I know the University System has a number of in-demand resources—for instance, dorm rooms that can house medical personnel, emergency responders, even non-critical patients displaced by those admitted to hospitals with COVID-19. We have shuttle buses that can transport essential workers to and from health care facilities and triage sites. We have open space that could be used for staging areas, or to stand up emergency facilities.

Our universities are working through the considerations these potential requests demand, and we look forward being of help as Maryland’s need—and response—kick into even higher gear.

Additionally, the USM has been in contact with Regent Schulz, Maryland Secretary of Commerce, who’s advised us of a partnership among MEMA, the Department of General Services, and the Department of Commerce. The three agencies have begun matching existing companies with the critical needs list that’s regularly circulated by the state’s health care industry and emergency responders.

I thank Sec. Schulz for looping us into this network so that our universities—and our affiliated companies—can respond quickly to the needs expressed by those on the front lines of this pandemic. Vice Chancellor Tom Sadowski will be coordinating our engagement with this network at the System level, so that we can provide streamlined and non-duplicative assistance with emergency supplies, PPE, and innovative solutions to this public health threat.

The effort we’re already undertaking to catalogue our existing R&D activities with application to COVID-19 will prove essential to matching our technologies with the providers and responders who so desperately need them.

My last update in this category of emergency response concerns Gov. Hogan’s directive last week to the Maryland Department of Health, allowing medical, nursing, and EMT students to supplement the state’s COVID-19 efforts. You’ll recall that the Governor had already allowed providers with out-of-state and expired licenses to join this effort.

I began my remarks tonight by acknowledging the USM students who’ve been searching for—asking for—ways to join our mission to serve. I’m deeply grateful to them and to UMB, who’s taking a key role in determining how we might facilitate the participation of our health professions students in this Maryland Medical Reserve Corps.

Certainly, we need to be sure that our health sciences students volunteer in a safe and smart way, because their own health and well-being remain our top priorities. I’ve already updated you on the severe restrictions we’ve placed on clinical education Systemwide. I think we all agree that we cannot have any activities associated with student volunteerism compromise or undermine these rigid—and necessary—safety precautions.

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Contact: Mike Lurie
Phone: 301.445.2719