University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella has asked students who remain on campus or live off campus to return home amid the growing coronavirus pandemic.
The university will continue online learning through the rest of semester, and will grant students a $1,000 housing credit and pro-rated credit for meal plans. It is also unlikely that commencement will be held as scheduled on May 17, the university announced.
In a statement released to the campus community Monday, Garimella said that students would be safer at home with their families than in on-campus housing or living with other college students off-campus.
“It has become clear that the responsible course of action in light of the global public health challenge confronting us is to have our students leave campus,” Garimella said. “I wish there were other options, but my first priority is student safety and the safety of our communities.”
The university will work with students who cannot leave campus to provide emergency housing. Students will receive additional information from the university’s Office of Residential Life in the next 24 hours.
Garimella also announced that remote learning will continue for the rest of the semester. The university and other colleges and universities in the region went online-only earlier this month to slow the spread of the virus.
Garimella said the university was closely monitoring the rollout of the approach, and providing support for faculty and students to ease the transition.
“I greatly appreciate the Herculean efforts of our faculty, information technology experts, and other staff in creating new opportunities for learning,” he said. “And I applaud and thank our students for adapting so quickly and courageously.”
The university will offer a $1,000 housing credit for students who leave campus by March 30, and issue a pro-rated meals credit. Students who are approved to stay in the emergency housing are not eligible for the housing or meals credits.
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After March 30, no students will be able to access their rooms, possessions and facilities until further notice, the university announced.
The announcement of housing and meals credits follows a student petition requesting the university partially reimburse students for their housing and tuition fees for the semester. That petition has received more than 7,000 signatures.
But some students are not satisfied with the university’s plan to offer credit as a reimbursement.
Finlay Buchanan-Jacobs, a UVM sophomore who launched the petition, said the university’s response was inadequate as most of this year’s sophomores who live on campus this year will be moving off campus next year, Buchanan-Jacobs said.
“Since half of the students who live on campus are sophomores and won’t be living on campus next year, I’m not sure about the applicability of the housing credit,” he said.
Plus, at only $1,000 in housing credit, Buchanan-Jacobs said the price tag did not line up with what a true reimbursement would be as the average student living on campus pays $6,677 a semester for rooms and meals, according to the university.
Students only spent about half of this semester on campus, and Buchanan-Jacobs said students should be reimbursed more, and in cash, not credits.
“I don’t think $1,000, especially in the terms of a housing credit, is really going to settle people down or provide that much of a benefit,” he said.
UVM Spokesman Enrique Corredera said the $1,000 housing credit was “based generally” on the cost of a traditional double room, which is $8,502 per year, and the time between the move-out-date of March 30 and normal move-out time in May.
Garimella also wrote that it was unlikely that commencement would be held as scheduled on May 17. The university will make a final decision by the end of the month, but Garimella cautioned that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on social distancing were unlikely to change.
“Unfortunately, many of the celebratory aspects associated with our commencement do not align with social-distancing principles,” Garimella said.
The university will be sending a survey to upcoming graduates to determine how to best celebrate the graduates without a May 17 ceremony.
“I feel your profound disappointment,” Garimella said. “I recognize in a personal way the importance of honoring your achievements and marking this pivotal moment in each of your lives — a moment you want to share with family and with the friends you made during your journey here.”
Also related to campus issues, nurses at the UVM Medical Center asked Garimella late last week to open up university parking lots for them during the pandemic.
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Deb Snell, the president of the Vermont Federation of Nurses, said Friday that nurses are currently being shuttle-bused to work due to the lack of available hospital parking. Nurses are concerned about social distancing on these shuttle buses, and the possibility the virus could spread among them on the buses.
“Honestly, there are a lot of members concerned about that,” Snell said. “If it’s one stress reliever for someone, it’s worth it.”
The hospital adjusted its parking plan Monday to offer parking at the DoubleTree by Hilton on Williston Road, which is within walking distance of the hospital. Overflow parking is being offered at hospital lots closer to the facility — Jeffords East and Beaumont.
Corredera said the university has an agreement with the hospital allowing the hospital to use 255 parking spots in university lots.
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