Holton answers questions surrounding the university’s coronavirus response
BY LAURA SCUDDER, NEWS EDITOR
Interim President Anne Holton held a livestreamed town hall event on Friday, April 17, explaining that Mason’s future decisions surrounding the coronavirus will be based on public health recommendations.
For the university, early June is the target for making and sharing decisions about the fall 2020 semester, according to Holton. She explained that planning around the fall has already begun.
“It is absolutely our goal to open in a more normal fashion if public health circumstances will allow,” Holton said. “That’s got to be our fundamental guide. We’ve got to work very closely with our public health folks in our community and at the statewide level because, you know, we need to ensure the safety first of our students, faculty and staff.”
Michelle Marks, vice president for academic innovation and new ventures, read questions to Holton during the event. Different members of the administration stepped in to also answer questions throughout the town hall.
The questions were asked by members of the Mason community as well as prospective students and their families. According to an email sent by the Office of the President on Friday, the university received more than 375 questions.
Holton began the town hall with an opening statement, which included that summer courses will be conducted completely online, and all university events are effectively canceled until Aug. 8.
While an in-person commencement is postponed indefinitely, there will be a virtual one held May 22.
Holton talked about resources for students who are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic, and Vice President for University Life Rose Pascarell cited University Life’s student emergency assistance fund.
“We have given out over $1 million in the last month for students’ emergency needs,” Pascarell said. “That includes things like students who are unable to pay bills, who don’t have access to computer technology or students who can’t make their requisite payments.”
Carol Kissal, senior vice president for administration and finance, addressed refunds — and why tuition and fees will not be part of those refunds. Students will receive refunds of varying amounts for housing, dining and parking.
“Although online education is quite frankly a very different format than many of our students are used to, it still allows for the same level of learning and excellence,” Kissal said.
Refunds are expected to start going out on April 20, according to Kissal.
Mark Ginsberg addressed students who are considering withdrawing from a class. Ginsberg was named the interim provost on March 25, as David Wu will be assuming the role of president of Baruch College for the City University of New York.
“My recommendation is not to make the decision prematurely. We have also afforded students flexibility,” he said. “Undergraduate students, we have offered an option to have a credit-no credit option so if your course performance isn’t what you expect it to be, we want you to continue the rich learning experiences that are possible.”
Ginsberg continued, “You have until the very last day of finals, May 20, to make that decision. You can do it on Patriot Web and make that decision later in the semester so you don’t have to declare too early and [can] continue to learn, continue to grow and continue to develop.”
Holton stated that Mason’s next president, Gregory Washington, will still assume his role on July 1. Though his transition will be a virtual one, according to Holton, Washington is still in communication with the university.
“Those plans have been derailed in terms of being here in person, but I can tell everybody that he is extremely involved remotely meeting behind the scenes with deans, administrators, others,” Holton said.
Holton ended her town hall with a call for optimism.
“There are certainly reasons to be pessimistic,” she said. “There are certainly challenges we are all facing. But I will tell you that working at Mason, as I have had the privilege to do over several years now and this year as interim president, there are so many reasons for optimism.”