JMU News

Update on university response to COVID-19


To the JMU Community,

Since you heard from me a week ago, there have been a number of developments in the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that I would like to share with you. First though, I just want to restate my gratitude and admiration for our faculty and students as they continue to adapt to teaching and learning online, for the employees tirelessly supporting university operations, and for our JMU families as they continue to be a constant wellspring of support for students. For our alumni that continue to fight this pandemic on the frontlines in health care settings and the essential workers keeping our nation going, thank you for all that you do. For those whose health, or the health of a loved one, has been impacted by this disease, I wish you strength and healing.

Throughout this crisis, we have paid special attention to our graduating class. The necessary postponement of commencement ceremonies disappointed many of them deeply, as it did me. That is why I was so pleased to be able to announce earlier this week that if it is safe to do so, commencement ceremonies will happen on campus August 7 – 8. While we know there is still much uncertainty about the months ahead, we needed to share our current thinking so that students and families can plan accordingly. These commencement ceremonies will be one of many events slated to celebrate graduates, including a virtual celebration on May 8 (when students officially become graduates of JMU), in-person events in the days leading up to commencement on-campus and downtown, and special activities planned this fall. Details on these events are forthcoming.

And while we feel hopeful that we can gather in early August, current public health guidance has forced us to look carefully at events planned for early summer. Yesterday, we shared our decision to move our Summer Springboard Orientation program, which ordinarily happens on campus in June, fully online. We will offer virtual programming throughout the summer that will ensure our newest Dukes have everything they need to be successful at JMU, and are able to connect with their peers as well as academic and campus resources. At this point, we are expecting to open as scheduled for in-person classes for the Fall 2020 semester, and I look forward to meeting our incoming class in-person this August.

Another area that we continue to analyze carefully is the university’s financial situation. Uncertainty with regard to the state budget is exacerbated by many other variables that will have an impact on the university’s budget for this coming year, including 2020-21 enrollment, federal relief (CARES Act) money and fundraising uncertainties. With this in mind, the university is carefully reviewing spending related to hiring, travel, purchasing and special events, as well as deferral of significant capital projects. In past times of difficulty, we have been able to protect our core educational mission and our people, and will do everything possible in pursuit of those guiding principles. Amidst this uncertainty, the Board of Visitors (our institution’s governing body) will convene on May 15 to consider tuition, fees, and the budget for 2020-21.

Despite massive disruption, Dukes have done what they always do—rise up to meet the challenge with grit, humility and selflessness. Here are a few recent examples: 

Clinical staff from the University Health Center have joined the Virginia Medical Reserve Corps, a group of medical and non-medical volunteers helping in the fight against COVID-19.

JMU’s Chemistry Department is producing hand sanitizer with chemicals on hand, graduates are leaning on alumni networks to source and distribute PPE, and JMU faculty and staff partnered with a local group of makers to 3D-print and distribute 1,200 face shields to local health care providers.

Classes are shifting focus with amazing speed: JMU’s X-Labs helped transition the Harrisonburg Farmers Market online and JMU’s School of Nursing is offering virtual clinics in lieu of hands-on learning.

JMU strengthened its position as a civic engagement leader with this piece about educating and engaging the approximately 19 million students across the nation about why the census matters and how students should be counted.

More than 400 Dukes have given financially to support JMU students’ emergency needs caused by the pandemic.

Students and faculty have racked up more than half a million assignments submitted, quizzes taken, and other actions in Canvas since transitioning online. A special thanks to those students struggling with access to technology. Please let your professor know what’s happening, and remember that the JMU Libraries are here to support you as much as possible. See their resources especially for you and ask for advice via chat.

Four student-athletes earned All-America honors in the last two weeks: Molly Dougherty and Rachel Matey in lacrosse as well as Bonnie Zhang and Julianna Jones in swimming and diving, the first All-Americans in program history for swimming and diving.

The JMU Counseling Center expanded its telehealth offerings and is now accepting new student clients in an effort to support students’ health and wellness remotely.

Dukes all over the world elevated their video chats with custom JMU Zoom backgrounds.

I know this is not how any of us imagined the spring to look, yet like buds emerging after winter’s cold, examples of persistence, beauty and strength have sprung up all around us. It’s important that we celebrate the ethos and people that make our community special. Many of us have clung lately to Alpha Spitzer’s (‘37) timeless adage thatJMU is not just an institution of higher learning, it is a spirit ... it is a way of life." And while we can’t experience that way of life together on campus right now, know that I am thinking of you, and I’m proud of you for exemplifying the JMU spirit, wherever you happen to be.

With warm regards,

Jonathan Alger

President, James Madison University

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Published: Friday, April 17, 2020

Last Updated: Monday, May 11, 2020

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