The text below from the March 20, 2020, video town hall has been edited for length with updated information added March 25.
Video town hall for OWU students with President Rock Jones and VP of Student Engagement and Success Dwayne Todd
Q: Are you planning to bring TutorMe back? How are you replacing student study groups and peer tutoring?
Rock: Yes, we are partnering with TutorMe to give students access to tutors 24/7 for more than 300 subjects. This is being offered at no extra cost to OWU students. You can access TutorMe through Blackboard at this link: https://bb.owu.edu/ultra/tools.
We are also offering peer tutoring through the Sagan Academic Resource Center and in some cases through academic departments.
We also encourage students to continue study groups using Google Meet or another technology.
Q: In following other colleges and universities, will moving to Pass/Fail for the remainder of the semester be looked into?
Rock: Yes, this is an issue that the faculty considered seriously, and they have adopted a very student-friendly policy for this semester.
At OWU, we refer to Pass/Fail as “Credit/No Entry.” The faculty has made the decision to allow students to elect the Credit/No Entry option for any of their Spring 2020 Semester courses. Briefly, students can take their classes, collect grades, and then at the end of the semester decide if they want the course to be recorded as C/no E. In fact, we will allow students convert a course to C/no E any time after grades have been submitted through the fifth week of the fall semester. We highly encourage you to consult with your academic advisor before making a decision on Credit/No Entry. Also, we suggest that seniors notify us earlier if they want that notation on their transcript.
Q: Are you planning on having a refund of some type since we are home for the rest of the semester? If so, how much would be refunded?
Rock: The answer to the first question is definitely, and the answer to the second question is I don’t yet know. I can tell you that we are working on this, and we hope to have it resolved by no later than next week. There are some questions lingering with the Department of Education about the potential impact that this could have on federal financial aid. We’ll be sharing more with you very soon on this topic.
Q: How have you planned to ensure a fair balance in class difficulty?
Rock: That is a great question. The faculty are doing everything they can to make this a positive and meaningful experience for all of you, and as I’m sure you know, when we are on campus there are classes that probably are more rigorous than other classes – or rigorous in different ways – and students tend to be aware of that.
What I want you to know is that the faculty are committed to making this the best possible experience and to ensuring that all students are treated fairly as we move into a type of teaching and learning that is quite different from what we’ve known before.
Q: Will there be refunds for parking passes? Especially for people who bought one just for the spring semester. I mainly ask because I bought mine just 2 weeks before spring break and I know other people have been wondering about it.
Rock: We have been looking at parking and other fees as we have looked at credits or refunds for room and board. Our challenge with these fees is that they cover the materials, resources, and maintenance for facilities that students have used for half of the semester. So, while we will likely be issuing a credit/refund for housing and dining, we may not be able to for fees from parking, labs, or studios. That is in line with the approach we see other universities following.
Q: What are you doing to give seniors a positive experience their final weeks? Are dues being partially refunded?
Rock: The Senior Class Council will be making the decision about what to do with dues. I’ll have a conversation with Nevin next week, and then he will be consulting with the council.
We also want to engage the council in helping us plan the events that surround Commencement when we are able to announce a day for Commencement. We don’t yet know when that will be, and we probably won’t know for some time. We’ll announce the day at least a month in advance so families can plan for travel.
We want to make it a really great, festive experience for our seniors. We are thinking about the traditional activities: the Phi Beta Kappa Induction, the Baccalaureate, the Brunch on Saturday morning, and the Commencement itself. We are also thinking about a major social event Friday evening for seniors and their families. We want you to have time to reconnect with one another and to build special memories of Commencement.
We know that you had to leave campus so very quickly, and we know you’ve lost something that I think is very precious – the last weeks of college on campus with your friends, and we want to look for ways for you to connect when you are back for Commencement. We also want to encourage you to use social media to stay connected with one another, and that can happen through student organizations, through clubs, through SLUs, through fraternities and sororities. It can happen through athletic teams; it can happen through students who have the same major. So we hope that you’ll find ways and we’ll be helping support you in that effort.
Dwayne Todd: In Student Engagement and Success, we’re encouraging club officers to continue to hold club meetings, to conduct business the best they can, to just interact with each other, even at a distance, using technology like Google Meet, Zoom, even e-mail if that’s all people have. Continue the conversation about what is important to you as a club.
We’re also setting up a system where every student is going to be assigned to an Engagement Guide. These are staff from around campus who have volunteered to be your sort of checkpoint. They will be checking in with you once a week to see how things are going. The first meeting we are hoping is either a video chat or a phone call or something along those lines, and from there you all can decide whatever works for you. We don’t want to add to your burden of meetings, because we know your number one priority is to study and to learn to be a distance learner, but I want you to know that is in the works, so when you see some information about that I hope you engage with this person so the University knows if you need something that you are not getting. That Engagement Guide will turn that around and make sure the information gets to the right person.
Q: How do you encourage students without social media to remain part of the campus community that you are trying to foster?
Rock: As Dwayne says, if you are not on other social media, there is e-mail. Google Meet, Google Hangouts are available to all of us because we all have a G-mail address through Ohio Wesleyan, and those are ways to build stay connected.
Q: I know that there was a day planned for seniors to go in to make sure they can graduate on time. Are you still planning on doing that remotely?
Rock: Yes, there will be a remote Senior Check Out. We’ll make a note to ensure that we are communicating all the details about when that is happening and how you can go about doing that digitally.
Q: How are you making licensed software available to students remotely?
Rock: Information Systems is asking everyone to put in a “help ticket” if they need a particular software to complete a class. They’ve already filled those requests from some students. Go to the Information Services website, and you’ll find a link to fill out a form to let them know if you need something.
Q: Will dining expenses be included in the refund?
Rock: Yes, the refund will include room and board. The senior Class Council is considering the issue of Senior Class Dues. WCSA is considering issues of the student activities fee, and when we have those decisions and have the guidance about financial aid from the Department of Education, we’ll be able to move forward on the refunds.
Q: Some professors are telling students to just “read the book.” Who do we report this to?
Rock: Our faculty have worked incredibly hard over the past week to convert every class to a remote-learning format. They’re dedicated to providing you with good, rich learning experiences. If you have concerns about a particular class, please feel from to contact me directly, and I’ll notify Provost Chuck Stinemetz.
Dwayne Todd: I would also ask that students be patient. Faculty have been putting together their lesson plans for the rest of the semester, and the only advice they may have had as of three days ago was just keep reading the regularly assigned chapters while they were putting together a lesson plan. I would say give it until instruction launches and see how this course is going to go, and then let Rock or Provost Stinemetz know that there is a concern about instruction.
Q: Will the Summer Science Research Project run as usual this summer? We need to be notified soon since we need to plan for travel.
Rock: Unfortunately, this is one of those where we just don’t know yet. We don’t know how long we are going to be advised by the Centers for Disease Control or required by the State of Ohio to keep the campus largely empty. We very much want it to happen, but we just don’t know now when we are going to be able to have students or faculty back on campus. We hope to let everyone know soon.
Q: Do you plan on adding remote jobs for those with work study?
Rock: There are a handful of positions that can be done remotely, but most of the student work requires being on campus, and we are just at this point not able to do that fully. Some jobs, like peer tutoring, will continue.
Q: With hiring freezes and job offers being rescinded, as well as massive layoffs across the country, what are you doing to help bolster job/internship placement for the summer?
Rock: That is a great question. The Career Connection office distributed some materials in the last couple of days to students listing some of the ways in which they continue to be engaged. We’ll have more conversations internally about this issue. We certainly want to support you in finding internships and jobs.
I remember in the financial crisis of 2008-2009 the students who graduated in 2009 had difficulty finding jobs. The person who was our Commencement speaker that year gave the seniors this advice:
Pick five or six individuals or companies you admire and write them and tell them why you admire them, and ask if you can come and shadow them, and it might just lead to a job.
We don’t know what the job market is going to be like this summer, but we certainly in will be looking for ways to provide more support you through the Career Connection office.
Q: Has anything changed for the housing selection for next year?
Dwayne Todd: Nothing has changed. If you have not signed up for housing yet, I would email the ResLife office at Reslife@owu.edu and let them know that you still need housing or you want to change housing.
Q: Will OWU be having layoffs?
Rock: Certainly not at this time. We’re asking everyone to work from home who can work remotely, and we assured them flexibility in this difficult time. We certainly would hope not to have layoffs, although if this extends for a very long time, we may have to reconsider that. But at the present we are not anticipating any layoffs.
Q: What are you doing with labs? Are you refunding lab fees?
Rock: Lab instructors will be providing instructions in terms of how the process will work for labs. One of the scientists said to me, “You know, there are two parts of the laboratory work. One is the actual experiment itself, but another is the analysis of the data and the writing of the lab report.” That second aspect likely would be the focus of lab work in this time of remote learning.
Since lab resources have already been purchased and used – and since labs will take place and students will receive lab credit – we won’t be refunding lab fees.
Q: How is this affecting recruitment for the incoming class?
Rock: All we know is that it’s very different today than it was two weeks ago. We’ve canceled all our April admission events, and like most campuses, we are not able to welcome prospective students at a time when students most value being on a campus. They’re preparing to make their decision about where they’ll enroll in college, and so we’ve extended the deadline for students making their decision to June first.
We hope to be in a position to have summer orientation in June, but we don’t yet know if that will be possible. If we do, it would be more like Slice of College Life, so students can engage with the campus. We do have virtual tours, and we are providing several ways for prospective students to engage with faculty, current students, and admission staff. As of today, our deposits are running about 12 percent ahead of last year, but again, it’s a very unpredictable planet right now.
Q: Are we adding an additional week of classes? When are finals going to be? Can students who have prior engagements take finals early or later?
Rock: No, we will not be extending the semester and exams will be on schedule as originally planned. If you are going to be unable to take a final then, you need to work with your professor.
Q: Is Smith going to open in the fall?
Rock: It is on schedule. We are certainly hoping that Smith will open in the fall. The caveat, I would say, is if there is a work stoppage. For instance, if the governor would say that all construction work has to stop, that would put the project off schedule, and it would be difficult to be ready to open in August. But at present, we are on schedule.
Q: Will construction begin on the Senior Apartments?
Rock: The contract has been signed, and the release date for the contractor to go to work is a little less than a month away. Unless something dramatic changes between now and then, we anticipate that work will begin on schedule.
Q: Professors had all week to create their lesson plans! Offering a few lectures isn't unreasonable.
Rock: Each professor has his or her way to teach and to engage with students. I think you’ll see a variety of interactions when classes resume on Monday.
I was on a call with a group of faculty today, and one of them said that she has several lecturers to record over the weekend. Another was talking about a particular technology he was going to use. In the case of his class, he has students engage all at the same time.
As suggested earlier, I ask for your patience. We are all learning on this together. The faculty is learning, you are learning, and I hope we will be patient with one another as we go through this process.
Q: Are there any 0.25 course we can do remotely for second module?
Rock: Yes. For instance, the activity classes are all in place with two exceptions. The students who have enrolled in those courses have been notified and are welcome to register in another activity class. Obviously, there won’t be as much focus on physical activity, although there may be, for instance, a yoga class where students will be asked to utilize some form of technology at home. Other activity classes have been designed where students will watch videos that teach you about that activity. Perhaps students will write a brief reflection on those. Those courses are up and running, and you can still register for them if you haven’t done so.
Q: How can you justify the online learning environment being worth the same as an on-campus education, i.e. not offering tuition refunds?
Rock: That is a fair question. Our costs are the same as they always are. The faculty is working as hard as they always do. In fact, they are working even harder, because they are having to redesign lesson plans and redesign the way they give you the opportunity to learn. We don’t want to sacrifice that.
Certainly, remote learning is not what anybody selected when they chose to be at Ohio Wesleyan, whether as a student or a member of the faculty. Unfortunately, that’s the situation at colleges across the country, and while many colleges will be issuing refunds for room and board I am not aware of any that are offering refunds for tuition.
Q: Will there be any career support for seniors who will graduate who aren't able to get a job due to this pandemic soon after graduation?
Rock: That is a great question, and it follows up an earlier question. We are going to be doing these town halls fairly frequently, and I’m thinking we will ask someone from the Career Connection office to join us at one soon, because that is an issue that is very important for many of you.
Q: Is OWU hiring?
Rock: We are searching for a Provost and for a Vice President of Finance. Otherwise, we are not hiring at this point. We’ll see how things move going forward.
Q: Will you refund studio fees since people in studio art classes can no longer use the studios?
Rock: That is like the question about the lab fees. Because students have been using the studios and the materials purchased for those the studios for a little over half the semester, we won’t be able to refund those fees. Other colleges we’re talking with are following that same practice.
Q: Some estimates say the peak of the pandemic is going to be in six months. Do you have a plan in case we aren't able to come back to campus in the fall?
Rock: Well, not yet, but as I said earlier, we’ve been so focused on preparing for faculty to be ready to teach Monday and for staff to be ready to work remotely effective 5:00 today that we have not yet turned our attention to this sort of worst-case scenario that would require a significant change. We will be engaged in scenario planning in the upcoming weeks. We talked about this at our Senior Leadership Team meeting yesterday, and it’s very much on the agenda.
Q: Is Slocum getting redone yet?
Rock: At this point, we believe that the Slocum renovation will be postponed for a year. We want to focus on keeping the residence hall construction on schedule.
Q: Will we get some help to mitigate the cost of sending our books back?
Rock: Yes, we’re providing quite a bit of flexibility on that. For library books there will be no charge or late fees for bringing books back late. Just return library materials when we all come back to campus.
If you’re thinking about textbooks, the OWU Campus Store is currently closed to in-person business. You can still order online. Books that were rented were originally due back at the Campus Store by May 5, but that doesn’t work anymore. If you don’t need books anymore and you plan to come to a move-out weekend either April 18-19 or May 9-10, you can take your books to the Campus Store then. If you’re a graduating senior, you can return any rented books Commencement Weekend (which has not been scheduled yet). If you’re non-graduating student with a rented book, the Campus Store will contact you to determine what you need to ship, and they’ll send you a pre-paid shipping label by May 4, and you can use that to return your books at no charge. If you have questions about returning books, you should email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a voicemail at 740-368-3396.
Q: I was a little late, so you may have answered this. I know you don't have a number amount for how much is getting reimbursed, but when is the latest date we can expect to get an answer to that question? Myself, and many other families need to know so we can plan expenses during all of this.
Rock: Yes. We have talked about this. We hope to have a decision next week on crediting or refunding a portion of students’ room and board. We are waiting for some guidance from the Department of Education about how this might affect people’s financial aid, and we are also waiting for WCSA to make a decision about the student activity fee and for Senior Council to make a decision about the seniors' dues. We hope to do this fairly quickly, probably early April, but the guidance from the Department of Education is important. We don’t want to jeopardize students’ federal financial aid.
Q: How will room and board refunds be issued? Will it be by check or by credit to next semester's room and board?
Rock: Well, certainly for seniors it will be by check – or it will be used to offset any outstanding balance that the student might have. For returning students, our preference would be a credit for the next year, but we are still working through that, and, again, I don’t have a whole answer quite yet.
Q: What are you doing with the money you're raising from alumni?
Rock: As many of you know, our alumni are very generous. About 10 percent of the cost of your education at Ohio Wesleyan is funded by gifts that alumni make each year, and another significant portion of your education, including many of your scholarships, is funded through the endowment that is funded by alumni.
Our alumni, like all of your families, are feeling the financial pressure of this crisis. We are concerned about the level at which alumni will be able to give and whether we’ll see some changes in that. We’ll know more as time passes.
Q: My son lost his federal work-study. Are there plans to help him get money? There's no jobs in the area for him to work.
Rock: Most students have already received their full federally-funded work-study, but anyone who has not yet received the full amount of their federally-funded portion of work study will receive that. We are completing that analysis. We are also waiting for guidance from the Department of Education to ensure that we are consistent with the federal guidelines in releasing that aid.
Q: I mean he had a job at school. Can he work remotely or something?
Rock: In most cases we are not able to do that. We’re looking at any student positions that could be done remotely. In some cases, such as tutoring, that works. This might be an opportunity to have a private conversation with Financial Aid about your son’s particular circumstance.
Q: Do clubs still need to do things remotely to remain in good standing this semester?
Dwayne Todd: Yes, we need you to do 30 hours of community service. I’m kidding!
No, we want you engaging with your members, so find a way to do that. It is really important that those communities stay intact. You don’t want to start over next fall, recruiting a whole bunch of people. We want you to maintain your communities, even at a distance. Please do that. Get in touch with your members, and figure out a way that you all can stay connected together.
There won’t be any expectations of how this happens virtually in order to stay in good standing. You don’t need to worry about that.
Q: How should international students fill out their taxes since most of them aren’t in the country?
Rock: The Office of International and Off-Campus Programs will be communicating with all of our international students about their obligations, and we’re getting a sense of some flexibility from the federal government there as well.
Q: How is Dwayne Todd doing?
Dwayne Todd: (Smiles) You know, ask me hour by hour. It has been really something. Some of us around here have worked in this field for a long time, and it’s the first time we’ve ever had to deal with something like this.
We are doing our best, and thank you for asking. We are more concerned about how you are doing. Thank you for caring about us.
Rock: Yes, thank you.
Q: I am in California right now, was told to leave campus. When can I get my things from my dorm and was given three dates.
Rock: We will work with you on that. We’ve had to cancel one of those dates (April 4-5) because of the stay-at-home order from the Ohio governor. The other two move-out dates we have scheduled are April 18-19 and May 8-9. If we get to the point where the State of Ohio requires that we have no one on campus, we may have to change other dates, but our strong desire is to have the buildings completely vacated by the May 8-9 weekend, the weekend that was originally for Graduation.
We will keep following on that and we will let you know.
Q: Are you donating excessive food and cleaning supplies to the local community? Community service activities?
Rock: That is a good question. I think that AVI has stopped ordering food. We have fewer than 50 students, almost all international, who are on campus now.
Those of you who are not in Ohio may not know that when the Governor on Sunday a week ago ordered that all restaurants and bars be closed except for takeout, he included in that order dining facilities on college campuses, so the students who are on campus aren’t able to eat in a dining facility. They come to the Bishop Café and get takeout that they can take and eat somewhere else. That is consistent with the direction that has come from the state.
Dwayne Todd: In terms of food waste, I was really pleased to know that AVI was able to, as Rock mentioned, cancel a bunch of food orders. Anything that they had that they can’t use in the Bishop Café, they had been able to redirect to some of the other facilities, the other campus partners. So there has been almost no food waste.
Rock: Allie Hausfeld has reminded me that we donated our extra hand sanitizer to the Delaware Police just yesterday.
Q: For students leaving the campus next year due to transferring or other reasons, how are they supposed to obtain the required signatures if the departments are closing?
Rock: We’ve decided that we are not going to require signatures for withdrawals.
Rock: These are excellent questions you’ve asked, and it’s very helpful for us to know what’s on your mind. Clearly there are some things that we need to work on, and I’m grateful for your patience as we do that.
Thank you all very much. It is good to be in touch. I appreciate your patience with this process. We felt like using the chat function would be the best way to process questions, although it’s unfortunate to not be able to see your faces and hear your voices, because that’s what we miss on campus. We miss the energy, the excitement, the enthusiasm, and the warmth you bring, and we’ll miss you throughout the semester.
I’ll be thinking about all of you, and I know you’ll be thinking about the campus. We’ll be sending you images from time to time. We’ll be having these town halls every Friday at 3:00, and I think based on the conversation today, we will have someone here next week from the academic division to talk with you about the remote classes, and someone from the Career Connection office on a future meeting.
Our thoughts are with you and your families. Take care of yourselves. Take plenty of good long, deep breaths; this is not the way we had planned to live. There is a lot of uncertainty, but it’s an important time to be caring for one another. It’s a good time to be with family and to be with those you love and for whom you care. I hope you’ll find all that you need at a time that none of us had expected and none of us wanted.
Today, like every day, is a Great Day to Be a Bishop, and it is great to be with you as Bishops.
Good luck in this new learning format, and I look forward to all that you and the faculty will be learning together. I think in some ways, you’ll have some experiences that are terrific, that you have not realized you could have.
Thank you so much and take good care.