Texas A&M President Michael K. Young announced Tuesday that the university is offering its students prorated credits or refunds for housing and dining as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and the university said that critical operations such as health services, to-go food services, residence halls and janitorial and maintenance services would remain operational during the county-wide shelter-in-place order that went into effect at 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Young and other Texas A&M officials participated in a virtual town hall hosted by the university’s Student Government Association on Tuesday afternoon and answered questions about the school’s protocols and plans in the midst of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
During the town hall, A&M leaders said that though the university has been urging students on campus to return to their family homes in advance of the shelter-in-place order, those who chose or needed to remain would be supported by operational services.
Young said that no decision has yet been made about the format of A&M summer classes, and Daniel Pugh, senior vice president for student affairs, said that discussions also were ongoing about how to hold new student conferences that typically take place in person in May and June. Both noted the constantly evolving nature of the pandemic.
“Our first priority is the safety of our students, our faculty and our staff,” Young said. “We know a little bit about this pandemic, about this virus, and there’s a lot that we don’t know. It’s a moving target; it changes with great rapidity, and we’re trying to respond as effectively as we can.”
Pugh said that Aggie Muster will take place in some capacity and be broadcast on April 21, but it will not take place on campus at Reed Arena.
“There will be a Muster this year, albeit differently than in Reed Arena — but it will happen,” Pugh said.
Additionally, A&M announced recently that spring graduation ceremonies will not take place in May, though officials are discussing possible options for later in the summer. Final exams will be taken online.
Young and A&M Provost Carol Fierke said during the forum that much is being done to ensure that students slated to graduate in May or August can remain on that path, noting extensive efforts put toward online education, as well as the potential limits of web-based education as a substitute for in-person learning.
“Our goal is to help all students manage to graduate this semester, and we are working with everyone on campus to reach that goal,” Fierke said. “We are planning to have a commencement ceremony for seniors at some point. I can’t give you a date yet; we will wait until it’s safe to do so.”
Fierke also remarked that one potential result of the sudden move to online learning will provide opportunities to gauge various online elements, and that the remainder of the semester “is likely to have a long-term effect on how we do higher education.”
Dr. Martha Dannenbaum, director of Student Health Services, said that the SHS continues to operate and see students with modified processes in place, including the establishment of a separate clinic for patients reporting respirator symptoms. Dannenbaum said that in-person care is available following a screening process, and said that telehealth options are available for students to consult with health care providers remotely.
“Just know we’re there for you, and here to help you stay well and do well — even if you’re not physically on our campus,” Dannenbaum said to students.
Young announced Tuesday that students who live on campus can get room rent refunds or credits based on the number of nights between when the housing contract is canceled and the end of the contract term, May 9. Students must cancel their housing contract, remove their belongings and return their key. Students with meal plans at A&M can receive a refund or credit by applying to cancel their meal plan.
Eric Mendoza, A&M student body president-elect, and current student body president Mikey Jaillet co-hosted the virtual town hall; Anne Reber, Dean of Student Life at A&M, also participated.