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Monmouth University to Continue Remote Learning Throughout the Semester

On Tuesday, March 24, President Leahy announced via email the decision for Monmouth University to continue remote, online learning for the remainder of the spring semester in response to the novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Remote instruction began on Monday, March 23 and was previously scheduled to end on April 10.

“We held out on making this decision as long as possible in the hope that we might all be together again before the end of the semester, but, unfortunately, that no longer looks possible,” Leahy wrote in the email. “While we will be unable to gather on campus as one Monmouth community, we remain committed to offering you in this remote learning environment the personalized education that you expect from us, enabling each of you to continue to make progress on your academic journey.”

All on-campus events were cancelled for the remainder of the semester, in addition to summer study abroad trips.

The decision came eight days after New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed Executive Order 104, which ordered the indefinite suspension of in-person instruction at colleges and universities beginning on March 18. The more recent Executive Order 107, signed on March 21, directs all New Jersey residents to stay at home until further notice.

The President’s email also mentioned an optional pass/fail grading policy, prorated refunds on unused room contracts, meal plans, and parking fees, and the transition to remote work for student employees. Residential move-outs will take place over a 14-day period beginning on Thursday, March 26, and will require students to schedule appointments to recover their belongings.

As of now, graduation commencement will be postponed from May to an unknown time later in the summer, “When public health officials deem it safe to hold such celebrations,” according to the email. All summer courses will continue normally as of now.

“We’re trying to take this one step at a time,” said Mary Anne Nagy, Vice President for Student Life and Leadership Engagement. “It’s a series of decisions that are being made and will continue to be made in the hours, days and weeks ahead.”

Kathy Maloney, Director of Health Services, said, “We’re all facing a lot of uncertainty trying to prep as best as we can. All these things that the public is doing in terms of quarantining and social distancing, are all measures to try and curtail [the virus] because we don’t have any pharmaceutical interventions in our toolbelt to stave this off.”

COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, with 42,164 cases in the United States and 372,757 globally as of Tuesday, March 24. According to the State of New Jersey’s COVID-19 Dashboard, there are 288 confirmed cases in Monmouth County and 3,675 throughout the state as of March 24. There is a total of 44 deaths in New Jersey. The state currently has the second highest number of cases behind New York.

In a March 21 email, Leahy announced that a member of the Monmouth community has tested positive for COVID-19 and is seeking treatment. The identity of the individual has not been disclosed for privacy and safety reasons.

The University activated a precautionary Crisis Management Team (CMT) in late January in response to the novel Coronavirus outbreak to closely monitor the situation. Since then, the team has been meeting twice a week to monitor the status of the virus and prepare for preserving the health and safety of the University community.

“When China just started to explode over those weeks in January, it was time to activate that Crisis Management Team,” said Maloney, who actively represents Health Services in the CMT.

According to Nagy, who serves as the chair of the CMT, the cross-functional team consists of various departments including the Office of the Provost, Global Education, Residential Life, Student Life, Public Affairs, Health Services, Marketing and Communications, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Monmouth University Police Department (MUPD), and Facilities Management.

Leahy said that the CMT bases its decisions on national, state, and local guidance from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the New Jersey Department of Health, and the Monmouth County Health Department.

“The CMT comes together for any kind of situation that may have an implication or impact on a campus community,” said Nagy. “This is not the first time that we’ve had some public health concern. We’ve had meningitis concerns in the past, we’ve had measles, we’ve had the avian flu. We have emergency preparedness and pandemic plans that date back 13, 14, 15 years. It’s not unusual for the CMT to come together.”

Prior to the decision to cease in-person instruction, the CMT canceled all Monmouth-affiliated spring break travel on March 4.

Leahy said, “We want to minimize, to the extent we can, the number of people who might be traveling to countries, going through airports, and making the disease spread.”

Melanie Wright, a junior health studies student, was affected by the cancellation of a university-sponsored spring break trip to Guatemala. She said, “I’m very upset because we spent our entire Guatemala Public Health class writing papers about Guatemala, their culture, society, laws, US public relations with them, etc. We created lesson plans in Spanish to teach people in Guatemala things like hygiene and therapy. Now, it feels like it’s all gone to waste. It’s still valuable knowledge, but it’s frustrating that we worked towards something we’re not getting anymore.”

Leahy said that 55 students were affected by the decision to cancel university-sponsored international spring break travel.

“That was a very difficult decision because students were really looking forward to going,” said Maloney. “But if a student who became exposed comes back, exposes someone else who’s now immunocompromised, goes home and gives grandma a big hug, and grandma dies, the University is then liable for all that because we sponsored the trip. We’re walking that very thin line of being cautious and trying to protect our students.”

“The number one priority of this president is the health, safety, and welfare of all the individuals entrusted to my care,” said Leahy.

Maloney continued, “It is a very easily transmissible virus, so people are going to get sick. If you’re sick, stay home, otherwise you just spread it. Eighty percent are going to have mild cases. However, we do have students with underlying medical conditions that might be immunocompromised, or a bad asthmatic, or maybe they’re a vaper or a smoker.”

Maloney said that the University is registered with the Monmouth County Health Department as a point of distribution (POD) for vaccines. If a vaccination for COVID-19 becomes available, The University would receive 10,000 doses from the county.

“We’re going to live through this,” Maloney added. “There’s a lot of people on campus who are prepping for this. We’re all in this together.”

“I pray that all of us can summon additional strength to navigate these turbulent times,” Leahy concluded in his March 24 email. “Together, we will weather this storm and make Monmouth University better than ever.”