President Szymanski updates BOT on COVID-19 response

Emily Echevarria, Student Government Reporter

As the UNF Board of Trustees convened over Zoom on Tuesday, April 14, University President David Szymanski presented an update on how UNF is handling the pandemic through continuity of education and financial measures. 

“It’s been as seamless as it possibly can be. If it’s not seamless, eventually it filters up to me from students or somebody and I haven’t gotten any complaints from students,” Szymanski said about the transition to remote learning.

Szymanski told the board that UNF’s response has focused on 3 areas: continuity, safety, and anticipation. Earlier this month, UNF made the decision to shift all summer sessions online and provided students with an optional alternate grading system. According to the university, students opted into the alternate grading system for 10.9% of all eligible courses. 

“We’re hoping that helps students. The reason that you don’t go to all Pass/Fail is that a lot of graduate programs look for grades in certain courses. You can’t have a Pass/Fail in Organic Chemistry and expect to get admitted into med schools, so it’s an option as a choice for students,” Szymanski told the board. 

Szymanski also discussed the postponement of spring graduation.

“That’s a very painful decision for all of us. Graduation is a fun time. We celebrate, we get to make noise, we get our families together hootin’ and hollerin’, and cheering people on, and we’re not able to do it in terms of being in person this spring,” Szymanski said. 

“We’ll do something that’s sort of telefonic, or we’ll do something with electronic media, but we won’t be able to have something that’s in person right now. But what we do promise is that there will come a time when we will have graduation for the students who weren’t able to have the spring graduation, so we’ll figure out when that time is right,” he continued. 

UNF also cancelled all summer events through July 31, 2020, including summer youth camps for academics, sports, and recreation. Further, the UNF Arena will remain closed for all events. 

For athletics, Szymanski discussed that the NCAA has given seniors in spring sports a 5th year of eligibility to participate in the 2021 season.

Turning to finance, Szymanski told the board that the university has prorated housing and dining fees back to March 23 for students who have left campus. 

“The important part of this, in terms of continuity, is student finances, making sure that students can afford to go to school. It’s a tough time. People aren’t able to work jobs and that is a key component of it, but we want to make sure that we can do everything we can to make sure students can come, can stay, can graduate.”

UNF has done a sweep-up of funds from administrative accounts to contribute to a summer scholarship fund that totals $4.8 million. Further, the UNF Foundation has raised over $58.6 thousand for the Student Emergency Fund. 

“We’re also looking at student fees…  making sure that we can do as much as we can. Still, we have to maintain operations. There’s things that have to go on as an institution, but we’re seeing where we can reduce student fees to make it more affordable,” Szymanski said. 

For summer classes, there will be no lab fees, and both the Student Life Fee and Transportation Fee will be reduced by $2.50 each per credit hour. There will be no Distance Learning Fee for classes that were not previously slated to be online. Additionally, the university raised the limit on students’ holds for outstanding fees from $30 to $500, which allowed students to register for classes without first paying the rest of their fees. 

“It’s kind of unprecedented for institutions to do, but we’re taking a hard look at everything and seeing what we can do while still maintaining operations,” the president commented. 

As for safety, UNF is keeping tabs on its students. Currently, there are 11 UNF students abroad in Finland, New Zealand, France, and Spain who have chosen to not return to the US at this time. 

“Everybody’s safe. Everybody’s doing well,” Szymanski said of the students abroad. 

“A point of concern, everyday concern, is the number of students that we have in dormitories and on campus,” he continued. “The numbers have been going down, which is great.”

On campus, as of April 10, there were 310 students. The university anticipates this number to drastically decrease as housing contracts end. There are 107 students whose housing contracts end on May 1, and 161 students at the Flats whose contracts end on July 31. Further, there are 44 RA’s remaining on campus. 

“In a few weeks, they’ll have to be looking for alternative housing. We’ll be interacting with them, talking about issues, what can we do, what do you need to do, and assessing the situation,” Szymanski said.


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