Updated: SVSU moves online for the rest of the semester

Vanguard readers sent us questions after SVSU decided to move online-only for the rest of the semester. We met with J.J. Boehm, the interim executive director of University Communications, to answer reader questions.

Late March 18, SVSU sent out an email saying that students will be given pro-rated refunds for housing and dining.

While this was a major question Vanguard readers had, many questions have not be answered yet. One question was why SVSU decided to go online-only for the rest of the semester.

Boehm said SVSU made the decision because of the CDC’s new guidelines on limiting personal contact.

“Now the recommendation is to have gatherings of no more than 10 people,” he said. “We thought it was best not to wait and instead let our entire community campus know that we will be continuing in this remote and online environment for the rest of the semester so that everyone can start to plan accordingly.”

Because of the guideline changes, many SVSU administrators began working from home this week. Boehm said individual offices can decide how best to handle student workers.

“Each unit is trying to work through staffing issues, including student employment, to the best of their ability,” he said. “The guidance we receive changes at least daily and sometimes more frequently than daily. As one example, the governor’s executive order that involves the shutting down of libraries, that caused a lot of disruption for us. That was a central piece of our continuity planning. We are trying to do our best every day to work through all of those staffing issues, including those regarding student employment.”

Boehm stressed that, while SVSU will offer pro-rated refunds for students who decide to leave campus, residential housing will remain open for the remainder of the semester – May 1. He said SVSU does not know what would need to change amid the coronavirus outbreak for SVSU to force students to leave their dorms.

“If there is one lesson that has been reinforced for me in recent days, it is, ‘Don’t waste time speculating,’” he said. “So, I don’t have a good answer. We want to continue to provide all services that we can to the best of our ability for the students who need those service. Beyond that, it is difficult to say what it would take (to close down housing).”

As of now, Boehm said SVSU will still offer spring/summer housing and classes. He said it is possible that classes may move online, but a decision has not been made yet.

“A high percentage of our spring and summer courses were already slated to be online,” he said, “and we already have some time to think on that and plan for that. I suspect more spring and summer sources will be moving online if they have not already.”

For the rest of the winter semester, SVSU will pilot a software called Respondus, which will work with Canvas to provide online testing.

“We are working with faculty and with IT to implement that,” he said. “Essentially, the purpose of that product is to help with academic integrity. We have worked it out with the company to allow us to use that software. Now, we’re working to get that up and running.”

Boehm said he is not sure of Respondus will have built-in features to help students who need test accommodation.  He said the Accessibility Resources and Accommodations Center will remain open for students who need assistance.

 “Our accommodations center remains open,” he said. “We will continue to provide students those services, but we are not sure if the new online system has built-in accommodations.”

Boehm said SVSU is still in the process of deciding whether to allow students to opt into going pass/fail for their winter courses. He said SVSU is aware that many students support the decision but that many factors need to be considered before a final decision is made.

“We understand where students are coming from,” he said. “We hear you. Like many students, we are working to develop solutions and strategies that are in the best interest of students and their educational outcomes. We don’t have a complete determination yet. We need to be mindful circumstances that might affect students, for instance, past graduation.”

Some questions SVSU is considering involve whether medical schools and other graduate programs accept “pass” letter grades and if pass/fail would affect SVSU’s programmatic accreditations.

“We don’t have any answers on that as of now,” Boehm said, “but we’re working quickly to try to work through that. We’re certainly aware of student concerns. These are being expressed at other universities as well.”

Boehm said SVSU will keep international students updated on any coronavirus news that affects them.

“International students are an important part of our SVSU community,” he said. “We want to support them in the best manner possible. Our planning includes the fact that we know many of them are not in a position to return home. Our international programs and operations remain available to those students. For our international students, we completely understand the circumstances facing you, and we are doing our best to support you to the best of our abilities.”

For students who have left campus, rented textbooks can be shipped backed to the Barnes and Nobles on campus through a free shipping label. The label can be found through an email sent to SVSU students. How students can return library books if they left campus already will be determined later.

Boehm said SVSU is also still working out how fieldwork and labs will work for students.

“We’re very mindful of that (concern),” he said. “I did not get an update on that (March 18). We completely understand students’ legitimate concerns in those areas, and we’re doing our best to work through them.”

Many students also expressed concerns over how health and safeties will be handled for March. Residential students received an email stating that health and safeties will take place sometime during a week-long period, and they will not receive advanced notice of when a residential director and/or residential assistant will come in to check their dorm. Students were concerned about this, as they are normally given a particular date and time for health and safeties.

Boehm said he was not involved in this decision, but he would inquire with Residential Life about this concern and how April health and safeties will be handled.

The Vanguard will continue to post updates related to coronavirus as more information is made available.

Kaitlyn Farley

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