Virtual Commencement, virtual instruction and a new normal

Friday, March 20, 2020

First, my sincere thanks to each of you who has stepped up these past few weeks as we adjust to rapidly developing, unprecedented challenges. Faculty and staff are working long hours to transition to alternative course delivery for our students. We are keenly focused always on the health and safety of our campus community and the fulfillment of our academic mission.

For many of us, the “Appalachian Experience” is firmly grounded in a sense of place. We are all saddened by our empty classrooms and sunny days with no hammocks and slacklines, and while we are fortunate to have technology to keep us connected, Zoom meetings and Panopto just aren’t the same.

Typically at this time of year, we are well into planning May Commencement ceremonies. President Roper announced at today’s Board of Governors meeting that Spring graduation ceremonies will be disrupted, and campuses can make independent decisions about how to move forward with Commencement ceremonies. For Appalachian, this will mean a virtual Commencement in May. May graduates will have the option to participate in December 2020 Commencement.

There are many details to work out, but please know my leadership team and I are committed to preserving, to the greatest extent possible, the essence of the celebrations and milestones of the final weeks of the Spring semester, including Commencement. We don’t know exactly what that will look like, but we are working hard on virtual solutions.

On Monday, Appalachian will begin a new normal. What does “the university remains open” look like for us as we face increased prevalence of the coronavirus and the uncertainties that come with it?

Here’s what it will look like on Monday: 

  • 160 students who met the criteria to stay on campus will remain in their residence halls. Many others picked up essentials - or more - this week and returned to their homes. The residence halls have been thoroughly cleaned, and only residents are allowed in the buildings.

  • Reduced staffing for facilities means we are all operating under limited capacities. Our academic classroom and office buildings, Student Union, and University Libraries are keeping their core services available, but some buildings will be key- or card-access only.

  • Dining facilities are on a reduced schedule, and takeout only.

  • Faculty and students, who are accustomed to face-to-face interaction, will be teaching and learning online. It has taken tremendous effort on the part of our faculty to make this move and they have proven yet again to be selfless and adaptive professionals. It will not be a seamless transition, and as we work out the kinks together, it will be important to be patient and recognize we are all working alongside one another to provide the best possible academic experience for our students.

Many of us have loved ones who are attending other UNC System institutions. We find ourselves comparing methods and messages. Your university administrators are in regular contact with their counterparts across the system and in the System Office. We are following System guidance together and applying it to our campuses in the ways that make the most sense for each of our situations.

We will continue to send you emails with key updates and changes. These will also be posted to the university’s dedicated coronavirus website, which also links to information from key areas across campus that are making operational adjustments.

Our Mountaineer resiliency is being tested. We will continue to rise to these challenges. Your resourcefulness, ingenuity and hope bolster the entire Appalachian Community as we find our way,  and I am encouraged by your determination and creativity.

Thank you.

/s/ Sheri Everts

Sheri Everts, Chancellor