‘Not a party’: University System of Maryland schools move to distance learning, cancel commencements

Schools in the University System of Maryland will shift to remote instruction for undergraduate classes for the rest of the spring semester in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

In a letter Thursday, Chancellor Jay A. Perman also addressed several other issues, which included questions about commencement and refunds.

Perman said the decision to move to online instruction has been in the works for weeks, even before Gov. Larry Hogan urged the universities Thursday to deliver distance learning.

“That’s the same decision this Board was moving toward. It’s certainly a decision that’s uniformly supported by the USM presidents. They’ve been planning for long-term remote instruction for weeks now, knowing that this was a possibility,” Perman said.

He said that each university’s leaders will determine how the rest of the semester will flow in terms of remote instruction and assessment.

They will organize plans that let students complete their work and fulfill all of their requirements.

However, Perman cautioned students that while they are not physically in school, it is not a break.

“It’s not a respite from the semester. It’s not a party. I urge students staying in their family homes or in off-campus housing to follow the state and federal guidelines on gatherings,” Perman said, referencing media coverage of students celebrating spring break in Florida.

Plans are also in the works for students to get their belongings from dorms to mitigate “pinch points” or small spaces where people could gather, such as elevators and doorways.

As for graduation, Perman said that it comes as “no surprise that USM universities will not be holding traditional, in-person commencement ceremonies,” given state and federal bans on gatherings of more than 10 people.

He is encouraging universities to be creative in celebrating graduation, including doing it in a virtual environment.

University of Maryland President Wallace Loh urged students to “share with me your thoughts on alternative and innovative ways to recognize this occasion, vibrantly and safely” in an email to the campus community.

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Perman said the universities support refunding room and board on a prorated basis, and they also recommend prorated refunds on various university fees.

“In the short term, we think students and families should be able to know how much money is coming back to them through these refunds, and our campuses are working on how we might do that,” Perman said.

Another thing the universities are working on, according Perman, is pushing back tuition and housing deposit deadlines for the fall semester.

Perman also addressed graduate students and research work, saying officials are looking at guidance from accrediting bodies and boards that provide certification.

In addition, he asked that laboratories ramp down their research and continue only with those in a critical phase.

University System of Maryland schools are not the only universities finishing the rest of the semester online. Johns Hopkins University announced Wednesday that it is switching to remote instruction and holding graduation virtually.

The University of Virginia made the decision Tuesday not to hold classes on campus and cancel commencement.

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