Dear AU Community,
As we all look for ways to help and connect, I am heartened by the many ways our changemakers are taking action. The AU Development and Alumni Relations team created a great resource called AU Together that features ways to help, engagement from our alumni, and uplifting stories from our community. Thank you to Eagles everywhere for your commitment and caring.
This week, I want to answer some questions we have heard from across our community. With all the uncertainty of COVID-19, we are doing everything we can to provide you with as much information and clarity as possible. We are making decisions based on the best information available and the understanding that the situation could likely change. That is one reason why we have made decisions for defined periods of time, such as the expanded telework extensions. Additionally, we are focused on the long-term finances of the university, as COVID-19 creates unprecedented economic strain.
We won’t always have immediate answers to all the questions you have, but we are committed to communicating at each step in the process and letting you know when more time, information, or context is needed. By making decisions and communicating in this disciplined way, we are trying to be as responsive as we can while attempting to minimize disruption and provide support.
How is the university addressing the stay at home orders from local governments?
Our expanded telework arrangement is continuing through April 24 consistent with the District’s stay at home order. We have reduced on-campus activities to only essential functions supporting the small group of students in emergency housing and maintaining vital infrastructure. Maryland and Virginia have different timelines for their orders, and we are planning for scenarios if the orders are lifted at different times. This includes the potential schedules for local public schools, which we know create additional challenges for our faculty and staff.
Will there be any employment changes other than the limitations on hiring?
While other institutions have instituted full hiring freezes, our approach is to use a very high bar to bring on new staff, but strategically continue to advance mission-critical positions. This approach supports our current staff and retains financial flexibility. The Office of the Provost is making similar decisions regarding faculty hiring, balancing the teaching needs for the fall with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation.
Supporting our community is critical and that is why we continued normal compensation for our full-time and part-time employees through April 24. Our preparations and decision-making gave us the financial foundation to take this and other actions during this critical initial period. With the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19, we continue to gather information and make further decisions as we can, keeping front and center the best interests of our whole community.
How is American University supporting contract housekeeping and dining workers?
Our contract dining and housekeeping workers are an important and valued part of our community. For the Aramark housekeeping staff, we have not made any changes in staffing. For the Chartwells dining workers, AU is paying the employees’ share of their health benefits for the rest of the semester (we continue to pay the employer share) and funding the workers’ retirement benefits for this same time period. These actions will ensure the workers do not have any interruption in benefits. We are glad that we can support our contract workers in this challenging time. Additionally, the recently enacted federal stimulus and relief legislation expands unemployment benefits, making the workers eligible for an additional $600 per week on top of the standard DC unemployment compensation and extending the coverage timeline through the summer.
Will there be any summer activities on campus?
All summer classes will be conducted online, and as we announced last week, these courses will be discounted by 10 percent. While a number of the summer conferences that usually take place on campus are canceled, we are exploring opportunities to safely support communities and organizations that may need facilities when social distancing guidelines allow for it. Due to the global spread of COVID-19 and ongoing travel restrictions, we are canceling AU Abroad programs scheduled to start before July 31, 2020. We plan to continue AU Abroad programs for fall 2020 and Academic Year 2020-2021 that start in August or later. Students applying to study abroad in fall 2020 should also register for on-campus courses and housing (if needed). AU Abroad will work with students on alternative arrangements should the status of fall programs change.
Will in-person classes resume in the fall?
We are preparing for a return to campus for classes and activities in the fall. The schools and colleges are developing classes and curricula; our enrollment teams are working hard to engage our new undergraduate and graduate students; and staff across the university are pushing forward on our strategic priorities. Final operational decisions will be guided by the latest information from health authorities and local governments to ensure the safety of our community. We are closely monitoring the current situation and longer-term projections. We will provide further information for the fall as soon as it is feasible.
I know there are many more questions and we will continue to listen and respond. Please visit the COVID-19 Resources page, which is regularly updated with the latest information. As we all continue to adapt to the challenges we’re facing, know that we are here for each other. If you need help, please reach out. If you can help, please reach out. That is how we will get through this.
Be safe and be well.