To follow the unfolding impact of COVID-19 on the UAFS campus, students, faculty, and staff needed to look no further than their inboxes.
“Dear Lions,” wrote Chancellor Terisa Riley on March 10. “As your chancellor, your health and safety are my top priorities.” She assured the university family that senior leadership was carefully monitoring the reports about coronavirus spreading across the country.
“Dear Lions,” she wrote on March 19. “In these unprecedented times and uncertain times, it is more important than ever to communicate with you frequently.”
From that day, she was as good as her word, keeping the university community informed with updates – both written and video messages – so that everyone knew what was happening. No one was left to wonder why a specific decision was made, and no one could claim to have exclusive inside information. Everyone had the inside information.
From the decision to extend spring break by a week “out of an abundance of caution” announced March 13, to the move to remote learning announced March 26, to conversations about ways to “hold students harmless” announced on March 27, to the current smorgasbord of courses taught online, in person, and in a variety of hybrid forms, Riley has brought the campus community along with her step-by-step and at a carefully considered pace.
When the scope of COVID-19’s spread across the country became clear, much of Arkansas, including its schools, shut down abruptly. But with an extra week of spring break to prepare, faculty rallied to see students through the semester. At the end of exams, students were able to choose to accept the letter grade assigned to them, or have that letter changed to a “pass,” or withdraw from the course.
In the meantime, the university began to plan for a summer with online-only classes and the eventual return of staff to campus. A four-stage plan brought people back in a staggered schedule so numbers grew gradually as the university stocked up on sanitizing stations and personal protective equipment.
After the University of Arkansas System Board of Trustees to ask universities to plan for in-person classes in the fall, the virus took a hard-right turn. New cases in Arkansas began to rise, and not everyone in the UAFS community was comfortable with on-campus learning.
So UAFS offered a variety of class types. Students can opt to take in-person classes, fully online classes, synchronous online classes (students log in at a required time and join lectures and discussions), hybrid classes that are mostly online but meet in person sometimes, and alternating hybrid (a different group of students meets on campus one time per week while the others log in via computer).
With that abundance of caution Riley mentioned earlier, UAFS will switch to remote learning for everyone after Thanksgiving weekend. Concerned that students, faculty, and staff are likely to travel over the holiday, just as the flu season takes off, university leadership decided the last week of classes and all exams will be delivered online.
Sadly, fall commencement will be virtual as well, but happily, there will be an opportunity to honor spring graduates whose ceremonies were postponed.
As for spring 2021, plans are being made, but the single, best thing anyone knows about COVID-19 is that it is unpredictable. The single, best thing anyone knows about UAFS is that it will rise to the challenge.
“Happy Friday, Lions,” Riley wrote on Aug. 21. “It is hard to believe that the first week of our semester has come to a conclusion.” Nobody on campus ever doubted it.
CARES Act Student Emergency Funds
UAFS received a little more than $5.5 million from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act; half of that money was designated for students, half for the university. On May 6, Chancellor Terisa Riley announced that she would designate not 50 percent, but 75 percent, nearly $3.9 million to eligible students.
Students were eligible if they had a FAFSA on file; were not enrolled exclusively online before March 13; were not high schools student in concurrent programs; and were not transient students, 60+ waiver recipients, and not international or non-citizen students.
A formula determined how much students received. Students who lived on campus on March 13 received $1,000; students who had Pell Grants in the spring semester received $500; students who were eligible for CARES funds received $400; graduating seniors received $100. Students could receive money for multiple designations. Thus a student who was eligible for the grant, lived on campus, had a Pell Grant, and was a graduating senior would receive $2,000.
Because not all students were eligible, some had acute needs before the CARES money was available, and some had needs not met by the CARES Act money, the Student Emergency Fund, administered by the UAFS Foundation, granted $26,500 in awards from March through August.