From the President: A Message to Faculty and Staff

March 13, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

We are about to embark on a new way of life for our university, at least in the short term.

Next week, the majority of our employees will begin to work from home as telecommuters. A week later, following Spring Break, students will begin online learning, taught off campus by our faculty. Some employees will continue to work on campus to maintain essential operations, on a scaled-down or rotating basis wherever possible.

This scenario will continue through at least April 5, 2020. We will continue to pay all full-time and hourly employees during this time. And, our IT department is working diligently to ensure that all technology needs for telecommuting are met.

Telecommuting for an extended period will be a new experience for the great majority of us, and it will present its own set of challenges. It’s important to try to make this experience as familiar as possible.

So do your best to keep your workday structured as you normally would.  Please be available during normal work hours, respond to phone calls and emails as quickly as you can, and interact virtually with your team members as much as possible.  We don’t want anyone to feel isolated or unconnected during this time.  Instructions will be forthcoming on how office phones may be used remotely.  And IT has provided helpful information on resources to support telecommuting.

Here are links to two articles that provide practical advice on how to manage and work in an online environment: One for supervisors and one for staff.

When students or members of the community ask you questions, do your very best to be “cool, calm and collected” in your response. Please be aware of how and what you post to students or colleagues on social media or elsewhere online – we don’t want to exacerbate anxiety. Rather, we want to do our best to build confidence in our community, by calmly moving forward together.

If you have questions about the university’s response to this issue, please continue to post them at:  Our website will be regularly updated with the latest information. This morning for example, we posted a series of FAQs for students and faculty. An update for staff will be posted shortly.

During Spring Break week we will continue to ramp up our online courses, and establish virtual counseling, academic support, advisement and student health services. We are providing housing and food for about 40 international students and others who need accommodation at this time.

We are resolving how to handle residential student housing and dining refunds. We are working on ways to provide on-campus technology access for students who don’t have it at home. And, we are finding ways to have some student employees continue to work remotely while those who are not will continue to receive compensation.  We want to ensure that all students are held harmless. We will deal with the financial implications at a later time. Our overarching goal is that students can complete their semester – and that those who are schedule to graduate will receive their degrees.

Buley Library has e-books, e-Journals, millions of articles in full text online, streaming video, image collections, and more in Library Databases. And IT’s Online Help Desk will continue to provide virtual assistance.

We are making arrangements for faculty and students who need to engage in lab work on campus. If there are staff whose job function requires them to return to their offices on a limited, rotational basis, we will make that happen – please make the request through your supervisor and contact campus police when you arrive on campus. If there are staff members whose current jobs don’t translate to a work-from-home environment, they may be reassigned to another role temporarily.

Versatility and nimble thinking are key as we navigate the ever-changing landscape presented by the spread of COVID-19. Please know that I and the members of my senior leadership team remain in close contact, as there are issues still to be addressed and curve balls that will undoubtedly come our way.

Finally, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of self-care. If you do feel ill and need to self-quarantine, please contact human resources. While we continue to establish “Virtual Southern,” we must also do our best: for ourselves, for our families and friends, for those we love.

I am extremely grateful for the support and cooperation I have received from all members of our community. The campus response has been nothing short of extraordinary – and it is the strength of our caring community that will carry us through this challenging time.

Thank you for your care, your concern, your support of each other, and your dedication to our students.


Joe Bertolino