JMU News

Cautious Optimism


Dear JMU Family,

Welcome to another year at James Madison University, one that obviously has started unlike any other in the 112-year history of the institution. In years past, when I have extended this greeting, I have reveled in the spirit of possibility and all that we can accomplish together when we are united. While each of us continues to make sacrifices during this pandemic, my determination to kindle this same spirit is still strong. The entire JMU faculty and staff will remain steadfast in working to uphold continued academic progress for JMU students—however the situation calls for it.

Here at JMU, we are motivated by the start of a new academic year and the inherent promise and hopefulness in committing ourselves to learning, teaching and working—despite the inevitable uncertainty. The work of our students, faculty and staff to get the semester started on time with in-person, hybrid and online classes has required great flexibility, commitment and resilience. This past Wednesday, which was the first day of classes, dozens of volunteers from every division at the university stood at building doorways across campus wearing “Stop the Spread” T-shirts and handing out masks in case a student didn’t have one. We didn’t need to hand out a single mask, because every student was already wearing one. It was an uplifting display of care for the common good and love for JMU.

Despite these unified efforts, our tireless medical staff at the University Health Center continue to see a rise in positive cases among the student body. We are closely monitoring the spread of the virus and are prepared to take action if necessary. We continue to hear questions from all constituencies asking for reassurance. It is, of course, completely justifiable to be concerned especially when—as we all deal, together, with something none of us has ever experienced—interpreting epidemiologic data is so nuanced and dynamic. The university’s leadership is in constant contact with medical experts, and together we are looking at many different factors each day. Thus in any given day, the number of new positive cases is not a singularly determinant factor in our decision making, even though that is often the focus in media and social media reports. So that we all have a common understanding of how to interpret these data points, please visit the Virginia Department of Health’s website on this topic.

In the midst of this challenging time, we extend a warm welcome to members of the Class of 2024 as they begin their Madison Experience. This new class of first-year students is 4,634 strong from 1,111 high schools across the Commonwealth of Virginia, 41 states and 11 countries. They, too, have experienced many sacrifices, many uncertainties and ongoing upheaval in their lives, but they are here, on our campus and ready to make their mark on Madison. While move-in was successful and many staff and volunteers participated in the welcoming, because of the need to physically distance, our new Dukes and their families could not witness the exuberant JMU spirit typically on full display during move-in with swarms of smiling student volunteers helping to lug their belongings into the residence halls.

We are also so thankful for our returning students, many of whom had to take on additional responsibilities when they moved back to their homes to finish out the Spring 2020 semester. Many of those students, in true JMU fashion, assisted their communities in a time of great need while continuing to finish their coursework in a whole new way.

Throughout the past several months, our nation and the world have also been grappling with issues related to race relations and systemic racism that have had an especially difficult impact on individuals within our Black community. We know that this has been painful for you, and that there is much work to be done. We are in conversation with Black leaders among our student body and Black faculty and staff members about the issues of systemic racism and inequity. To that end, the work of our new Task Force on Racial Equity has already begun, and more details can be found here. The four co-chairs will be meeting weekly and have already met twice. We are still populating the working groups and hope that you will consider nominating students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who can contribute to this important work. Nominations are open until Sept. 14, and the nomination form can be found here. Self-nominations are welcome.

Moving forward, our “now normal” means adhering to the new protocols in order to have a safe and successful 2020-21 academic year. It will require more flexibility, commitment and resilience, characteristics the entire JMU family has already displayed.

The university is committed to keeping all JMU constituents updated, to the best of our ability, on the number of COVID-19 cases among faculty, staff and students. To that end, we have created a new dashboard with the pertinent information and statistics. The dashboard is updated Monday through Friday by 10 a.m. EST each day based on data from the prior day.

Now that you’re back on campus, please always remember to wear a mask and ask that your peers do so as well. As the University Health Center proclaimed in an email to students yesterday, “Just Mask Up!” Doing so will help to “Stop the Spread” and show that Dukes help Dukes, and that we can all make a difference.

With warm regards,

Jonathan R. Alger
President, James Madison University

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Published: Friday, August 28, 2020

Last Updated: Friday, August 28, 2020

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