The College of William and Mary implemented emergency interim procedures Wednesday, March 11, designed to protect campus from dangers associated with COVID-19 and the novel virus’s ongoing spread throughout Virginia. The College’s announcement followed similar shifts made by other Virginia institutions like the University of Virginia and James Madison University, which also announced transitions to online learning.
Two days after the College notified students, faculty and staff about temporary changes to campus life, Emergency Management Chair Sam Jones ‘75 M.B.A. ‘80 issued a follow up email Friday, March 13, describing these procedures’ operational details.
Amid COVID-19’s spread throughout Virginia, the College sent out a report March 12 that a staff member in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business had experienced possible exposure to COVID-19. The College emphasized that there was no threat to the campus community and that the individual had self-quarantined during this time. Additionally, all faculty in the building were sent home until Monday, March 16 and a full cleaning of the building was conducted.
“We are in direct contact with the Virginia Department of Health and are following all of their guidelines in accordance with university policy,” Jones said in the email. “The CDC and VDH do not recommend testing in individuals not showing symptoms.”
Moving forward, students at the College will resume current coursework through online teaching starting Monday, March 23, through Friday, April 3. The College has also released guidelines regarding access to campus and regulations for faculty during this period. By April 1, the College will re-evaluate the threat of COVID-19 in both Virginia and the United States to determine if students will return to campus after April 3, or if online learning will continue for the remainder of the semester.
Transition to Online Coursework
Professors and administrative officials are working to move course content online using several pedagogical teaching tools. Studio for Teaching and Learning Innovation Director Mark Hofer aided the College’s efforts to publicize resources for faculty about the transition to online classes during the COVID-19 outbreak, and among the first steps his team took was the creation of the “W&M Instructional Resilience” webpage. The site provides strategies and advice for professors, who face the daunting task of moving courses online in a matter of days. In addition to accessing the site, the College intends to host online seminars and drop-in sessions for professors starting March 16.
“We have designed an Instructional Resilience web site to provide support for instructors to shift their modality to a remote teaching approach,” Hofer said in an email. “The site provides a wide range of text and video resources, teaching tips, and points of contact. In addition, we will host live webinars and drop-in sessions beginning on Monday.”
Once they begin March 23, online classes will take several different forms. Some classes will use Zoom, a videoconferencing software that allows multiple parties to watch and participate in discussion. Other classes will adopt more formalized structures, relying predominantly on recorded presentations, readings and online assignments. The College is also in the exploratory phases of determining online classroom experiences for students in academic disciplines less conducive to virtual learning, including dance, theater and the liberal arts. In these fields, professor-led lectures are less common and active student participation is more important, which Hofer noted could make their transition process more difficult.
College Provost Peggy Agouris referenced the importance of collaborating with other Virginia universities in creating adequate online alternatives for these students.
“We are at work developing creative alternatives,” Agouris said in an email. “We are sharing information and ideas with our peer institutions and are amassing many very compelling examples to inform our work at the same time that other universities are being inspired by us.”
Regarding other important components of undergraduate instruction, like office hours and grading policies, Agouris stressed that students and faculty will have to exercise flexibility as they acclimate to this new educational environment. She said that the College’s specialists are working to incorporate mechanisms for tracking student participation and attendance since both are core aspects of many course syllabi.
April 1, the College will inform students of plans to return to campus or to continue online learning. In the original update to the website released March 11, the College had announced an April 15 expected return to campus, leaving some students confused by College President Katherine Rowe’s subsequent announcement of an April 3 return. Senior Associate Vice President for Communications and Chief Communications Officer Brian Whitson explained that the original post of April 15 was a mistake made by him and his team when creating the website and that students should go by the April 3 date.
Ramifications for On-Campus Residents
Rowe’s March 11 email did not outline any restrictions preventing students from remaining in campus dorms. The email emphasized that able students should treat any return to campus as a ‘grab and go’ opportunity to retrieve any essential left behind items.
However, in a March 12 follow up email from Residence Life, Associate Vice President for Student Affairs Maggie Evans said that all students wishing to remain on campus until the potential reopening date of April 3 must fill out a request to live in their dorm.
Evans outlined the situations that would qualify a student to live on campus during this time, including scenarios applicable to international students, students with unsafe travel situations, students with unsafe family situations and students working and relying on essential income in Williamsburg. Individuals possessing these or other unique situations were encouraged to solicit Residence Life’s approval for continued on campus residence.
“While we understand the temptation to head back to campus and be with classmates, in the strongest of terms we urge you to comply with our guidance that you remain at home or away from campus until early April,” Evans said in an email. “The CDC has suggested that college students remain in their permanent residence as the safest option to avoid the spread of the virus and we are committed to following this direction.”
The form to remain on campus is due Sunday, March 15, and at 9 p.m. the same day, all Tribe Card swipe access to dorms will be restricted to only those students who requested permanent residence until April 3.
Evans added that the College asks all students who will not remain on campus to retrieve necessary items by March 15. For those who must retrieve items after March 15, students will have swipe access between 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday until the potential return to campus on April 3.
Additionally, the Commons dining hall will remain open but will only provide take out services and hours will be limited from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Other food services, like Dominos, Chick-fil-a and Tribe Market, will have limited hours.
“Your safety and well-being is our top priority. We appreciate your cooperation and patience as we work to reduce the density of the population on campus and take steps needed to address the spread of the virus,” Evans said.
Impacts on Study Abroad
While many College students studying abroad for the spring semester have been recalled to the United States, the Reves Center for International Studies has not yet cancelled all university-sponsored summer programs. However, in response to President Donald Trump’s executive proclamation earlier this week that restricted travel between the U.S. and the European Union’s Schengen Area, multiple countries in Europe have been added to the Reves Center’s Restricted Destinations List. Countries on the Restricted Destinations List may not receive university-sponsored undergraduate student trips at this time.
Next Steps for Faculty and Staff
Employees of the College may also take actions to work remotely. In Jones’s March 13 email, he outlined the College’s plans to prevent the spread of COVID-19 for faculty members and emphasized that the College will continue its normal administrative capacity, but will emphasize the use of telework to all appropriate faculty. Jones urged all employees to speak with their supervisors if they do not currently have an outlined procedure for telework, and said that training for supervisors will take place March 16 and 19 to provide them with the necessary resources to properly conduct and assist their employees through remote means.
“The health and safety of our employees is a priority and following CDC guidelines for social distancing and hygiene are the first and best courses for action,” Jones said in an email. “If an employee does not already have a current telework agreement, they should start the approval process by speaking with his/her supervisor. Supervisors will be flexible in allowing employees who have appropriate work and are able to work remotely to do so. Ultimately, approval by the unit vice president, vice provost, dean or their designee(s) is required to telework during the COVID-19 emergency. That approval will be obtained by the supervisor. Not all requests to telework can be approved due to the nature of the job.”
For those who cannot work remotely during this time, Jones also said that faculty will practice social distancing in workplaces and that the College will be working with any faculty who may need flexible hours during this time.
For any faculty who becomes ill with COVID-19 or whose immediate family member becomes ill, they may access Emergency Health Leave due to Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s declaration of a state of emergency. Both salaried and hourly employees may access this leave.
Additionally, faculty will have until Sunday, March 29, to enter midterm grades for undergraduate students, which is a week later than originally scheduled. Students also have until Monday, March 30, to withdraw from their spring semester classes.
This is an evolving story and may be updated. This article was last updated Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m.
Editor’s Note: Data Editor Leslie Davis ’21 and News Editor Charles Coleman ’22 contributed reporting for this article.