Campus administrators met Friday, March 20 to provide updates for several topics of increasing concern in the wake of the university’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz confirmed Friday afternoon that commencement ceremonies have been postponed until August 27, 28 and 29, which was reaffirmed by Senior Associate Provost Michelle Piskulich.
“We are living in unprecedented times right now, and because of the times that we’re living in, we’re going to have to make some very difficult decisions,” Pescovitz said. “I recognize that this is disappointing, and I just want to tell you that I’m disappointed for you, too.”
The graduation ceremonies for Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine (OUWB) students are scheduled for June 11-13, though Piskulich noted those dates were subject to change based on further developments. She further explained that OUWB commencements would still occur earlier to accommodate those students’ residency trainings.
Earlier this week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer dismissed rumors that her office was preparing a shelter-in-place order, which would instruct residents to stay in their homes and limit their travel to essential trips. The rumors caused panic across the state, with several on-campus residents expressing fear that they would be forced to move out.
University Housing Director Jim Zentmeyer confirmed, while he does not foresee any situation in which that would happen, there are plans in place should such circumstances arise.
“We just want to make sure all those bases are covered,” he said. “We already know that, in such a situation, we would come across students who would have no home to go to, have no country to go to, go into a situation that would be significantly distressful, to say the least … and we have, in our contingencies, an opportunity for a request with regard to extenuating circumstances. We would review those on a case-by-case basis, and keep, as being the priority, the safety of the individual and the safety of the campus community.”
As of Friday, Zentmeyer estimated that between 1,100 and 1,200 students had made the choice to move home, a number that had nearly doubled since two days before, when it was reported that between 600 and 700 students had moved out. Consequently, some students employed by Housing have been affected — for example, nightwatch shifts have been altered and now only extend to 1 a.m., whereas they previously extended to 5 a.m.
Students who would like to leave campus have the option of signing a contract release form online at any time. After that, Housing would determine the number of days the student was in possession of the key to their dorm room or apartment and pro-rate those charges back to the student as long as they don’t currently owe a balance with Student Financial Services.
Zentmeyer reminded students not to believe unsubstantiated rumors, noting that they create unnecessary anxiety and are seldom based in fact.
He also confirmed, in spite of “bumpy stipulations coming out of Lansing,” meal plans are still intact and dining services will continue to run on campus. However, in alignment with executive orders issued by Gov. Whitmer’s office, no more than five people are permitted in a dining hall at any given time. Dining halls are also exclusively takeout going forward.
Class registration will still open Monday, March 23, as originally scheduled. According to Piskulich, advising staff is still available for students remotely.
“All of the advising offices have a presence in them, but they won’t do face-to-face advising because the offices are small and we can’t keep the social distance,” Piskulich said. “They want the students to be safe and they need to be safe.”
She further confirmed administration has a contingency plan for students who plan on taking summer classes, noting the demand for online courses is considerably higher during the summer.
“That decision is likely to be made very soon,” she said. “We’re already talking about it because … we would rather have more advance notice than less.”
Building closures and updates
Despite rumors of the Oakland Center or other buildings on campus closing, Dean of Students Michael Wadsworth confirmed there are no immediate plans to close the OC or other on-campus facilities that are currently open. However, students should be aware that many of these buildings will operate under modified hours for the rest of the semester.
“Every office has to have contingency plans depending on what could happen in the future,” he said, “but we’re open and running our offices and businesses the best we can.”
Wadsworth also confirmed that the Counseling Center has temporarily moved to the Human Health Building, while the Graham Health Center will continue to operate in the Graham Health Center building.
President Pescovitz indicated in her remarks on Friday that individuals employed by the university should work from home if possible.
“If you don’t need to be at work on our campus, I don’t want you to be at work on our campus,” she said.
Earlier this week, the university raised the maximum amount of hours that student employees can work from 25 to 40. However, the option to work remotely is not being offered to students unless previously approved by the vice president for student affairs, prompting concern from current student employees who fear they will lose income without that option.
Wadsworth said the option to work remotely would depend on the nature of each individual student’s position.
“If what I do in my student employment, I can’t do from home, then obviously it doesn’t make sense,” he said. “But I would say, just like some employees might be working from home, there are student employees that might be working remotely as well.”
Each office will handle this on a case-by-case basis. Some of these positions require a virtual private network (VPN) to access certain resources from off-campus, which has complicated the matter — according to Piskulich, the university has a limit on how many VPN licenses it can distribute to employees.
Students who have additional concerns about student employment are encouraged to contact the Dean of Students office.
Piskulich confirmed any remaining students who were studying abroad have reserved flights home.
She also said all campus events have been canceled through Tuesday, May 26. Previously, cancellations were only expected to last through Saturday, April 25.
“There is a lot of information that is going up about all of this, but mostly, we want students to know that we are planning to continue to plan for future semesters, just like we always do, and we will keep them updated if things change,” she said. “But we’re going to be open … it feels different right now because nobody’s on campus.”
For more information on efforts being made to combat the spread of COVID-19, visit oakland.edu/coronavirus or email [email protected]