COVID-19 update from Appalachian State University — week of April 13–17

Friday, April 17, 2020

Our fourth week of online instruction is now complete, and many of us in the Appalachian Community are finding new routines that help sustain us in this prolonged and unprecedented situation. We are simultaneously managing a global crisis, establishing our path to recovery and working to restore normal operations as much as possible — it is a tremendous amount of work and, campuswide, we continue rising to the challenge.

On Saturday, we shared information about federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, also known as the CARES Act, which will provide grant assistance directly to students as well as to the university. Appalachian’s allocation is $15,927,932, with 50% of that amount being provided in the form of direct aid to students. The U.S. Department of Education is preparing now to release the funding that will go directly to students, and the UNC System is working to determine the allocation formula. The legislation specifies these funds must be used to cover expenses related to the disruption of campus operations due to the coronavirus (including eligible expenses under a student’s cost of attendance, such as food, housing, course materials, technology, health care and child care). These funds must be paid directly to students and cannot be used to refund the cost of reimbursements already paid to students by the university.

We welcome and appreciate this much-needed financial relief for students and for the university. Even with this funding, however, we expect a significant budget shortfall, given our incurred costs and lost revenue to date, and our estimated costs and lost revenue through the end of this fiscal year. Interim Provost Norris, Vice Chancellor Forte and I have been meeting regularly with the Faculty Senate Budget Committee. My leadership team and I will continue providing regular updates to campus about our budget situation. A university-level budget update is planned to take place soon, so please look for follow-up communications about this.

We are all looking ahead to the fall semester. Along with other UNC System Chancellors, I have been engaged in many discussions with System leadership about the delivery method for fall 2020 classes. There are numerous considerations involved, and it seems we uncover more each day.

Planning for hypotheticals and contingencies isn’t easy, and I appreciate the work our faculty and staff are doing to try to plan for so many scenarios. Likewise, our students and their families are facing deadlines for signing leases and planning as best as possible for the fall 2020 semester.

While there are still so many uncertainties, one sure certainty is that, to a person, everyone at App State is reviewing every option with the best interest of our students top of mind.

As soon as we have further information from the UNC System, we will communicate it to the campus community. Thank you for your patience. Your workday and study schedules are already packed, yet you continue to help ensure we are proactive and thoughtful as we struggle with the ambiguities of the coming weeks and months.

Day after day, Appalachian’s faculty members demonstrate an immense capacity to care for their students and colleagues. A special group has been at the forefront of our transition to online instruction — Appalachian’s faculty champions. These approximately 50 faculty members, selected by the leaders in the Center for Academic Excellence, have been providing technical and instructional support to faculty members since our initial switch and they are still working steadily to ensure everyone has what they need to be successful. Along with these faculty there are so many others, who offer advice and assistance without being asked by anyone. Our faculty care about our students, about one another and about our staff. We are incredibly appreciative of their time and efforts.

Appalachian’s staff members also continue to serve the university and greater communities. I attended Staff Senate’s monthly meeting this week and was again struck by the selflessness and “can-do” spirit of Appalachian’s staff. University Recreation is offering live classes via Zoom and Instagram; the University Writing Center is available to students through its online platform; and the Office of Sustainability has organized virtual programming for Earth Month, including the 50th anniversary of Earth Day next week. Notably, many in our community are struggling with food insecurity in the midst of this pandemic. Even with our reduced campus population, the Office of Sustainability’s Food Resource Hub has distributed food bags to more than 50 people in the last month. Appalachian’s Academy at Middle Fork has also been active, distributing school supplies to 45 families and serving 566 meals, at last count.

Our students are also making the most of this situation, even as circumstances disappoint. Students filmed a video of themselves singing “The Song of Purple Summer” — a song from their production of “Spring Awakening” originally scheduled for this semester — and garnered coverage in Broadway World. This is but one example of the resilience of the Appalachian Spirit, which remains strong.

Though the enormity of this pandemic’s impact is staggering, each day brings new stories of Mountaineers rallying behind one another. These snapshots of hope and points of light sustain us.

/s/ Sheri Everts

Sheri Everts, Chancellor