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Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)

April 2020 Messages

Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,

As we all continue to adjust to the new normal of online teaching, learning and working, we offer some suggestions on how to safely collaborate online. I asked the Division of IT to provide guidance on several video communication platforms available to students, faculty and staff. Here are a few examples supported by the university.

  • Blackboard Collaborate Ultra is a web-conferencing tool that allows instructors to create/record lecture presentations that feature your PowerPoint slides. It is in the Tools section of Blackboard.
  • Cloud-based collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams and Office365, can be used to work with other individuals in a secure manner.
  • Microsoft Teams can be used to communicate, host web-based meetings and share files between groups of authorized individuals.
  • Office365, when accessed directly through the internet or a web browser, can be used to work on documents that are saved to your Microsoft OneDrive and SharePoint. Remember to not save confidential university data to personally owned devices. These cloud-based solutions, unlike personally owned devices are protected with additional security controls and legal agreements.
  • Zoom is the cloud-based video communication platform used by some instructors and students for video and audio conferencing, collaboration and chats. As has been reported nationally and locally, there have been several instances in which unauthorized individuals have successfully hacked into Zoom video conferences. While the university suggests the use of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra or Microsoft Teams for online meetings, we understand that you may be invited to use Zoom in some cases. If you use this platform, the following security guidelines should always be followed:
    • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
    • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted, publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
    • Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.” If screensharing is needed by another individual (ex. Presentations), only provide that permission to the individual for that specific time period.
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. A recent update to the Zoom software, for example, both removed vulnerabilities in the application and enhanced the software with additional security features.

The Division of Information Technology offers several other IT security tips for remote environments. If you need assistance with anything mentioned above, feel free to reach out to them by calling the Service Desk at 803-777-1800 or sc.edu/ithelp.

Sincerely,

Bob Caslen

The fourth principle guiding our response to COVID-19 is to ensure the integrity and sustainability of the University. While we do not yet know the full financial impact of COVID-19 on our normal operations, one thing is certain: normal will look different in the future. We must be ready for any financial reality, including the cost of providing a safe campus experience for students, faculty and staff this fall if and when we are back on campus together. This will require focused, deliberate efforts and critical resources to mitigate risk. For these reasons, effective Monday, April 27, I will implement the following measures until further notice.

  • All employee hiring will cease, with the exception of mission critical faculty, instructors, and staff; health professionals; and team members needed to mitigate the effects of Coronavirus. Exceptions will be determined by the president and the provost. This directive is not intended to counter my April 7 memo calling for a hiring slow-down; rather, it is intended to clarify what we need to do at this time.
  • No pay increases will be authorized other than those to satisfy faculty merit/retention, compression and promotion.
  • No travel is authorized for university-related purposes by any employees. Faculty may be authorized for essential, research-focused travel.

Savings accrued from these small efforts will enhance the capacities of the functional units to absorb new costs of mitigation or lost revenue resulting from the effects of COVID-19 on UofSC operations. Our response to this crisis will define us and must serve as a solid foundation for our future. I remain confident that we will continue to navigate the financial and other challenges caused by COVID-19 and will get through this safely and soundly.

I urge us not to switch into survival mode. Instead, we must identify flexible, innovative and carefully discerned efficiencies and cost-savings that will enable us to emerge from this crisis resolute in our focus on becoming the preeminent flagship university in the United States.

Thank you for your cooperation and continued support.

Sincerely,

Robert L. Caslen, Jr.

Dear Faculty and Staff,

As this most challenging semester draws to a close, I hope all of you are staying healthy and doing well. Thank you for all you have done over the last many weeks to adapt to teaching online, working from home and dealing with the new normal brought to us by COVID-19. Thanks, also, for your continued feedback and questions about the university’s way forward. Your input is essential to our planning process.

Please plan to join members of the senior administration and me for our second faculty and staff town hall next Tuesday, April 28 at 6:00 p.m. We will share an update on the critical work of the Future Planning Group (FPG) and answer as many of your questions as possible about the weeks and months ahead. We will provide instructions for joining the town hall on our COVID-19 webpage on Sunday.

Our questions are numerous and span all areas of the university, but they all hinge on one essential unknown: when will it be safe for our students, faculty and staff to return to campus? Implicit in this question are countless concerns, from public health considerations to course schedules to budget and financial implications.

I realize there is no shortage of distressing articles in higher education and national media that can induce tremendous anxiety and spur speculation about local decisions. Let me say clearly that no decision about the fall 2020 semester at the University of South Carolina has been made as of this writing. The FPG is moving this week from a period of information gathering to a period in which we begin to plan concretely around best, most likely, and worst case scenarios. We will continue to consider every plausible scenario, foreclosing none. To be ready for fall, we know we need to make a series of key decisions between May 15 and June 15.

As we have done since this crisis began, we will continue to be guided by four principles, the first of which is the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff. Second is our institutional responsibility to mitigate the spread of the virus throughout the campus, and also throughout the Columbia community. I am in regular communication with local and state leaders; their decisions will affect ours, and I expect that our planning will inform theirs.

I want you to know that nothing will make me happier than having our students, faculty and staff back on campus as soon as possible. You are the soul of this university, and we miss you terribly. Between now and then, please continue to share your feedback and join the town hall discussion next Tuesday. Not only do we want to answer as many of your questions as possible; I also want to thank you in (virtual) person for your inspiring work and unwavering commitment to this university.

Thank you,

Bob Caslen

Dear Gamecock Parents and Families,

Many of you have reached out to us through the feedback form on our COVID-19 webpage to voice your thoughts, questions and concerns as we continue to navigate this crisis and look ahead to next steps. Thank you for communicating with us and letting us know what’s on your minds. We read every one of your comments and do our best to respond, either directly or through regular updates on the website.

I’m pleased to let you know that we will have another opportunity for you to share feedback with us next week. On Monday, April 27 at 6:00 p.m., I will host a virtual parent and family town hall event. We had a good turnout for the first town hall earlier this month and want to continue the conversation and answer some of your most recent questions. Instructions for joining the town hall will be posted on the COVID-19 webpage on Sunday.

Several questions from parents and families continue to be submitted, including:

  • What is the status of funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act for students in need? 
  • How and when will that funding be distributed?
  • When will we be allowed to return to campus to retrieve belongings from the residence halls?
  • Please explain the pack and store, and pack and ship options for students who have belongings in residence halls.
  • When will we know if students can return to campus in August for the fall semester?
  • If classes remain online for the fall semester, will you lower the cost of tuition?

We will be glad to address each of these and others in detail. But for now, I can tell you that we are working with the U.S. Department of Education to implement their guidance and direction in the distribution of CARES Act funds. We received updated information again yesterday, and as soon as we are sure we have the final guidance, we will distribute immediately thereafter. The Act says we have up to a year to distribute these funds, but we feel it is best to do so as soon as possible.

And we’ll allow students to come back to collect their belongings from residence halls with a phased retrieval plan as soon as the Governor’s executive order is lifted. Instructions are being prepared, and we’ll get detailed information out to you as soon as the order is lifted.

We should have more clarity on both of these and other issues between now and Monday, and we’ll share the latest information at the Monday town hall.

Earlier this month, we established a Future Planning Group (FPG) to answer these and many other questions about how the university will move forward over the next many weeks and months. The FPG consists of seven Planning Committees (listed in alphabetical order), each led by a senior university administrator:

  • Academics and Research
  • Admissions and Enrollment
  • Communications
  • Finance
  • Gamecock Athletics
  • Public Health
  • Public Safety

The FPG is moving this week from a period of information gathering to a period in which we begin to plan concretely around best, most likely, and worst case scenarios. We will continue to consider every plausible scenario, foreclosing none. To be ready for fall, we know we need to make a series of key decisions between May 15 and June 15.

As we have done since this crisis began, we will continue to be guided by four principles, the first of which is the health, safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty and staff. Second is our institutional responsibility to mitigate the spread of the virus throughout the campus, and also throughout the Columbia community. Our third principle is to execute our mission, and that is to deliver education to standard and with integrity. And our fourth is to ensure the integrity and sustainability of the University. In working through our decisions, I am in regular communication with local and state leaders; their decisions will affect ours, and I expect that our planning will inform theirs.

I want you to know that nothing will make me happier than having our students back on campus. We miss them terribly and can’t wait to have them back. Their health and wellbeing will always be our first priority, and all decisions about the fall semester will be driven by our essential concern for their safety and for the wellbeing of the university and Columbia communities.

Please plan to attend the town hall next Monday, and we will do our best to answer your important questions. Between now and then, continue to share your feedback with us and know how much we appreciate your continued patience and support.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen

Dear Faculty and Staff,

In an effort to keep you as informed as possible, I write to share a few updates about our plans for continuing to serve our students, employees and you as we navigate these uncertain times.

I know you have many questions, including how long campus will remain closed; what changes we can anticipate as a result of potential revenue losses; and what will the upcoming fall semester look like? The truth is that we don’t yet have definitive answers to those and other important questions, and much depends on how the global pandemic plays out over the weeks and months ahead.

Even though we are unfortunately on the virus’ timeline instead of our own, we’re taking a proactive approach to mapping out the university’s future during ever-changing conditions. Senior leadership from all areas of the university are actively engaged on a daily basis in decision making and planning that will prepare us for any eventuality.

Despite significant changes in recent weeks, the university’s financial outlook through the end of the fiscal year remains strong. We estimate that the cost of the coronavirus to the institution through summer session, net of cost savings, will be between $20-$40 million. Through prudent budgeting and temporary delays of capital projects, we can for now absorb these costs without resorting to hiring freezes or a reduction in force for full-time employees. That said, we recognize that the environment could change quickly and further constrain our flexibility. We have asked all campus HR and business managers, as well as deans and other hiring authorities to consider only hiring critical personnel between now and June 15. All of us must be mindful of expenditures and focus on the most critical aspects of maintaining our current operations.

I urge you to visit the university’s coronavirus website for the latest policy updates that affect employees, including annual and sick leave, teaching and research support, and health tips.

Many more critical decisions are on the horizon, and even though we can’t predict what the future may hold, we are unwavering in our commitment to four guiding principles:

  • protecting the health, safety and welfare of our employees and students;
  • limiting and mitigating the spread of the virus in our community;
  • maintaining academic and research excellence;
  • and sustaining core university functions.

Earlier this week, I charged a new committee — aptly named the Future Planning Group (FPG) — with examining how we can best prepare for and adapt to the impact of the coronavirus past our summer session. This group includes representatives from all facets of university operations and will receive continual guidance from public health experts. Central questions the group will address include:

  • What does the coronavirus modeling look like, and what does that mean for campus/community safety;
  • When will acceptable risk occur to bring students back on campus;
  • What potential changes will we need to make for the fall semester;
  • What impact do decisions have on future university operations (academics and research, budgeting and staffing, student support, athletics, and enrollment management).

Importantly, key findings and recommendations of the group will be made available to you, and a website is being developed to keep you informed of its work. You also will be able to provide input and suggestions for consideration on the site. Initial recommendations about the fall semester are expected by late May.

We anticipate that the work of the FPG in coming weeks will have impact on the annual budgetary process for academic and administrative units. As more information about this process is available, it will be posted on the FPG website.

We also have a committee that is developing a cost cutting strategy in the event that a worst-case scenario occurs that would result in significant costs to this institution that the “prudent budgeting and temporary delays of capital projects” mentioned earlier would be unable to cover. These strategies include hiring freezes (including temps), furloughs (if authorized), consulting cancellations, no overtime, and in worse case – potential pay cuts. None of us wants any of these consequences to occur, which is why we are watching this carefully. But we must plan for not only the most likely courses of actions, but also for a worst-case scenario in the event that occurs. Again, we on the virus’ timeline, not our own.

The other point I want to make is that with prudent risk, we have to quickly prepare ourselves to launch out of COVID-19 as soon as possible and feasible. Reducing all of our resources to survive COVID-19 may take many months to recover once we’re back in a normal environment, and we cannot afford to do that. I would like to do much better than merely survive this crisis. We must recognize opportunities and where we need to go, and move in that direction as quickly as possible. For example, if “cuts” become necessary, I would want them to be minimal, so that it does not take us months to recover. Our planning must not only look at getting us through this crisis, but it must also look out towards the strategic horizon post COVID-19.

We encourage our faculty, graduate and undergraduate students, staff and others to continue pursuing emerging research opportunities to combat this COVID-19 pandemic. We will likely be dealing with the effects of this virus for many months to come. The UofSC community can and should be an essential contributor in developing the next generation of infection prevention strategies, testing solutions, therapeutic modalities, and other approaches to address COVID-19. Such local research efforts have already begun in earnest, and university leadership will continue to prioritize and foster these efforts as we move forward.

Finally, I want to thank all the members of our Gamecock community for your continued patience and exemplary work ethic amid this unprecedented health crisis. Whether you are teaching remotely, continuing important research or providing crucial services for students and families, each of you is doing your part to ensure our future success.

Our community is stronger than ever, and I am confident we will persevere as long as we remain united by our central mission of service to our students and the state.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen, President

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

This week has presented us with many important decisions and developments in our ongoing response to COVID-19, and I write today to thank you for your continued support as we adapt to our ever-changing environment. Every single one of you – students, faculty and staff – strengthens our Gamecock team with your unwavering commitment and your genuine concern for others.

As a review, here is a summary of this week’s activity:

  • We began the week with two virtual town hall events. Many thanks to our communications and IT teams for their hard work on these events and to all of you who watched and participated. We will hold these town halls regularly; please stay tuned for more information on the next event.
  • Under guidance issued by the SC Commission on Higher Education (CHE), we announced on Wednesday that the university would begin issuing prorated refunds to students for meal plans, parking permits and on-campus residential housing.
  • Also on Wednesday, the Faculty Senate voted to expand a pass/fail option for undergraduate students and make it applicable to Spring 2020 classes.
  • On Thursday, we announced that the university would continue remote instruction through the end of summer sessions (August 1). Summer camps and other summer activities that bring populations of people to our campus are also canceled through August 1.   
  • Please visit the COVID-19 webpage on sc.edu for full statements on all of these announcements, as well as the recordings of both town hall events.
  • We continue to connect with students, faculty and staff who have tested positive for COVID-19 and stay updated on their progress and recovery.

I trust that the news of student refunds and the expanded pass/fail option was received with some relief, and that the announcement of summer online instruction was disappointing, albeit necessary. Please know that I share your sentiments and that I remain committed to your health and safety and to decisions that are fair and appropriate. We are so looking forward to your return to campus, but only when conditions are safe to do so.

During such a busy week, I am inspired by the many “normal” activities that took place through virtual means. Yesterday I hosted a previously scheduled student lunch and enjoyed hearing about how the semester is going and how more than 800 students attended the virtual “Hip Hop Wednesday.” I’m also thrilled about several remarkable accomplishments that deserve our attention and for which we lit the top of Capstone in celebration:

  • The National Fellowships and Scholar Programs announced the 28th consecutive year in which South Carolina students have been awarded the Barry M. Goldwater Scholarship. Congratulations to Ian Bain and Zoe Screwvala for being named 2020 Goldwater Scholars and bringing the university’s total to 58 scholars since the creation of the award in 1989.
  • Coach Dawn Staley became the first person in women’s or men’s basketball to receive the Naismith Award as both as player and a coach. Way to go, Coach!
  • Women’s basketball forward Aliyah Boston was named 2020 NCAA Division I Freshman of the year by the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA). Senior point guard Tyasha Harris was named to the 2020 WBCA NCAA Division I All-America team, and Aliyah received honorable mention status. Congratulations, Aliyah and Tyasha!
  • The December 2019 cohort of Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) students achieved a 100% first-time pass rate on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). This is the fourth consecutive cohort from our College of Nursing to achieve this impressive accomplishment.

There’s no doubt that the Gamecock community is working hard and having victories every day. Students, faculty and staff – all of you are rising to this occasion with grace and tenacity. Please continue to live out the Carolinian Creed, no matter where you are. This week I spoke with Interim Chief Diversity Officer, Dr. Tracey Weldon, who shared with me a statement on diversity and inclusion that addresses perceived bigotry to our students, friends and colleagues of Asian descent as a result of this virus. Any such bigotry is unacceptable and contrary to who we are as Gamecocks and what our Carolinian Creed is all about. I am appreciative of Dr. Weldon and the university’s Diversity Advisory Committee for their thoughtful work on this statement that speaks to our ongoing commitment to diversity and inclusion. I encourage you to read it.

Many of you continue to ask how you can help those in our community who are most in need. If you are in a position to make a financial contribution, please consider a donation to the UofSC COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who have contributed to this fund that assists students in need. As of yesterday, 165 students have applied for financial assistance, and we have raised just over $32,000. Please continue to give as you are able. Next week we will also let you know about a similar fund for employees and how you can contribute.

The bold headline on the sc.edu homepage says I am made of boundless resilience. I believe that describes every one of us as we face each new day with confidence in ourselves and concern for others. We are in this together, Gamecocks, and I am proud to stand with you every step of the way.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen, President

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

In an effort to keep you informed of important decisions related to COVID-19, I write today to announce that the University of South Carolina will extend remote learning through the end of the Summer II Session (August 1). This decision was made in consultation with the senior administration and with guidance from local and national public health experts. Our top priority remains your health, safety and wellbeing.

After consulting with experts at the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC), our Student Health Center and the Arnold School of Public Health, it was clear that allowing students, faculty, staff and visitors to return to campus this summer could be dangerous. The modeling currently demonstrates that cases of coronavirus are predicted to peak in late April or early May, just before the first of our summer sessions begins, and the virus will continue to pose a threat even after the peak. We feel the risk of communal infection to the campus and the surrounding community in this closed-campus environment is still unacceptable.

I’m sure you share both my disappointment in this unavoidable decision and my confidence that it is necessary. Even as we know we’re doing what’s right to keep ourselves and others healthy and safe, the thought of continuing online instruction through the summer is difficult. And yet, when I consider your determined attitude, uncompromised work ethic and continued commitment to academic excellence, I know that our summer sessions will adhere to the standards you expect and our accreditors demand.

With some exceptions, we anticipate that all courses typically offered during the summer will be available through a remote learning option. In addition, we will offer many new online classes that have not previously been available. These new offerings, coupled with the experience we’re gaining right now in online instruction, will help us provide an exceptional educational experience for our students during the summer months.

Please note the following related updates for summer:

  • No in-person, experiential learning on campus or in-person labs will occur through the summer 2020 months. When possible, faculty and experiential learning supervisors should continue to provide remote learning opportunities for students.
  • When it is determined by state health officials that it is safe to do so, University Housing will release a schedule for students with belongings in residence halls to retrieve them.
  • We are also exploring options for those students who are unable to travel back to Columbia (when it is safe) to retrieve their belongings.
  • Commencement plans for the class of 2020 are still tentative for August 7 and 8 in Columbia.
  • Faculty and staff should continue to follow our current policies regarding working remotely and abide by all state and local stay at home ordinances. We will update you as more information becomes available.
  • Please continue to visit the university’s coronavirus website for updates.

Thank you, students, faculty and staff for your patience, support and determination as we face each new challenge that comes our way during this unprecedented time. We’re in this together, and I continue to be inspired by your resilient spirit.

Forever to Thee,

Bob Caslen, President

 

As we continue to move the university forward during this semester with online classes and remote instruction, I want to again acknowledge all of the efforts of our faculty and staff to navigate this process and support the instructional needs of our students. To our students, we are listening to your feedback and we understand that the transition to online has been difficult for some of you.

Today, the university’s Faculty Senate voted to expand the pass/fail scale for undergraduate students and make it applicable to Spring 2020 classes. Spring 2020 classes that were completed prior to Spring break are not eligible for this option. Classes from previous semesters are not eligible.

Graduate and professional students will hear from the Dean of the Graduate School and Deans of the professional schools and programs about grading accommodations directly. Undergraduate students taking graduate or professional classes will follow the decisions of the dean of the particular graduate program.

The following is what the Faculty Senate has approved for undergraduate students.

  • All courses will be graded as originally planned according to grading criteria established by the instructor.
  • After grades are submitted at the end of the semester, undergraduates can choose, on a course-by-course basis, to request a pass/fail grade for the Spring 2020 semester.
    • The following pass/fail scale will be used: Earned grades of A, B+, B, C+, and C will be replaced with S+, earned grades of D+ and D will be replaced with S, and an earned grade of F or FN will be replaced with U.
  • If you select the S+/S/U grading scale for a course, points will not be factored into the GPA. Courses with S+ and S will count towards earned semester hours.
  • Courses graded with the S+/S/U scale will count as appropriate towards applicable curricular, major, continuation, and graduation requirements. For example, if a course requires a C or better in a prerequisite, students selecting this alternative grading scale would need an S+ in the prerequisite course.
  • The deadline to decide to replace a course letter grade with the S+/S/U is July 1, 2020.
    • This process will occur through the Registrar’s Office. A form will be available on the Registrar’s website for you to request that a letter grade be replaced with the S+/S/U scale.
  • You also have the option to retake undergraduate courses in which you have earned an S+, S, or U during Spring 2020. Any undergraduate courses retaken under this provision will not count towards the number of courses currently allowed by the current grade forgiveness policy [pdf]. In addition, students who were retaking a class for grade forgiveness in Spring 2020 can retake the class another semester, without penalty.

If you are considering taking advantage of the pass/fail scale for your Spring 2020 classes, I strongly encourage you to contact your academic and financial aid advisor prior to making a final decision as there are many factors to consider including financial aid, scholarships, athletic eligibility and progression toward a degree implications for changing a course grade.

In the coming weeks, my office will provide additional information about the grading accommodations and the grade forgiveness policy on the Provost’s Office website.

I wish to extend my deep gratitude to the UofSC Faculty Senate for their marvelous and diligent work on this policy.

Be well and continue to be safe,

Tayloe Harding

Executive Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Provost, Interim


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