Message from Chancellor Koch: Weekly COVID-19 Update 5.8.20

May 8, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff –

Two months ago we began our shared experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, and on this last day of finals week I commend everyone – students, faculty and staff – who has worked so hard and so creatively to see our university through the Spring 2020 semester. Thank you, again, for your resilience, your persistence and your courage.

As we conclude the Spring semester, campus leaders and others are turning their attention to plans for the next stage of the COVID-19 university response. Among the first priorities is to outline how we can safely return as much of our workforce to campus as possible, following all necessary guidelines and safety measures. We are also actively planning for both the Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 semesters.

All decisions and action plans we make at UIS will adhere to State of Illinois and CDC guidance, which we expect to continue to evolve over the next several weeks. Our pandemic recovery planning infrastructure includes two teams, both of which will report regularly to the Chancellor’s Cabinet. The Academic Planning Team is being led by Provost Dennis Papini and will evaluate and determine the safest and best course of action for course delivery for the upcoming academic year, with a goal of announcing plans by mid-June. The Student Life and Community Engagement Team is being led by Vice Chancellor for Advancement Dr. Jeff Lorber and will guide the university’s approach to delivering critical Student Life services (including residence life) and community engagement activities during the next academic year.

All decisions will be guided by the following principles:

  • We will prioritize the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, visitors and community members.
  • We will preserve the mission and vision of the University and continue to pursue the overarching goal of the Strategic Compass – to provide a premier educational experience for all students.
  • We will implement best practices across all planning and decision-making.
  • We will utilize transparency and shared governance as much as possible to ensure the best possible decisions.

Given present uncertainties, it is impossible to predict exactly what the next academic year will look like, but we are planning for every possibility. What is evident is that, like every other university in the country, we have challenges ahead of us, including financial concerns due to state budget and enrollment uncertainties and significant costs related to the pandemic. However, I am confident we have the right people in place to help make and implement important decisions ahead of us. We also continue to benefit from access to the broad expertise and ongoing support from the U of I System. With the dedication and creativity we have seen demonstrated these past several weeks, I have no doubt we will get through this together.

CARES Emergency Relief Grants for Students

UIS has been allocated $865,000 in emergency grant funding for Spring 2020 students through the federal CARES Act: Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. CARES funds will be provided as direct grants to qualifying students, up to $1,000, for pandemic-related expenses associated with their educational experience, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care, transportation and child care. Full-time Spring 2020 undergraduate and graduate students who have completed the FAFSA and who were not enrolled in an online-only program as of March 13, 2020, received an email this week with a link to the grant application. Grants will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until all funds have been expended.

Commencement Celebrations

Today is Commencement Eve, and I know many of us are thinking about the more than 1,000 students who comprise the Class of 2020. Being unable to host in-person ceremonies is disappointing, but I am really looking forward to the video messages and other virtual surprises we will debut tomorrow to celebrate our 2020 graduates, including the official conferment of degrees. Don’t forget to tune in at noon to our social media channels or the #UIS20 Graduate Celebration website!

In addition to the university-wide #UIS20 virtual commencement celebration activities, several campus units held virtual celebrations of their own this week. The annual Black & Hispanic/Latinx Graduation Celebration took place virtually today to recognize the many accomplishments of our students of color. A special celebratory video was released on the Diversity Center’s YouTube channel as well as all DC social media channels. This video and celebration also honors the memory of Dr. Clarice Ford, whose motto of “Whatever It Takes” inspired many to achieve.

Additionally, our online students are being celebrated virtually in lieu of our traditional on-campus celebration.

Campus Housing Update

Move-out dates for students who remained on campus for Spring 2020 are noon May 9 for residence hall residents and noon May 10 for apartment/townhome residents. If a student needs to remain on campus beyond these dates, they should make a request for a Late Stay with their RD via email. Late Stays are allowed to stay up until May 15. If a student needs to remain on campus past May 15 or for the summer, they must complete a Summer Housing Application/Contract as soon as possible. Residence Life is allowing any residents with Spring 2020 exceptions to remain on-campus to automatically have a Summer 2020 exception.

Leadership lived

  • Several UIS faculty members have agreed to provide subject matter expertise to the Illinois Department of Public Health to help with efforts to control and better understand the spread of COVID-19. These experts will provide consultation and technical assistance as requested related to public health, epidemiological, infectious disease and emergency preparedness in response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
  • When she couldn’t meet students face-to-face, UIS Assistant Director of Student Life Marie Watson stepped out of her comfort zone and into the social media spotlight. Throughout the last half of the spring semester, Watson was a regular face on weekly Student Life Instagram Live chats, as well as weekly trivia nights on Zoom. Each week, Student Life Instagram Live chats featured a guest from the UIS campus. Watson said the engagement and energy with students was high. “As soon as we went to remote learning we had to think creatively,” she said. “Student life is so tied into student success. It impacts how they live and what they experience.”

This Spring 2020 semester is ending so much differently than it started. I am sure we each are breathing a sigh of relief and feeling a sense of pride for completing the semester under such challenging circumstances. My thanks to all for getting us across the finish line!

With the Spring semester now behind us, these COVID-19 email updates will transition to a biweekly publication schedule. Of course, if anything occurs that warrants a timelier communication, that news will be shared as soon as possible.

As I mentioned a week ago, I hope we can all be grateful for how we’ve persevered together through a truly memorable semester.

Be well,

Chancellor Koch