Virginia Tech President Tim Sands shared updates and answered questions from the Hokie community virtually on Thursday during his first town hall to discuss COVID-19.

Nine members of Virginia Tech’s Incident Response Team joined Sands during the meeting, held via Zoom and streamed on YouTube, to offer additional details and to field questions submitted online from participants. The town hall was the first of several that Sands and university officials plan to host this spring.

Sands addressed the changes and the consequences of those decisions that the university has made in response to the global pandemic. This includes everything from moving spring semester classes online, shifting May Commencement to a virtual ceremony, and transitioning summer session courses and related activities online.

Sands said he is pleased with the way that faculty and students are adapting to remote teaching and learning. The effort involves 2,400 faculty and instructors teaching approximately 4,500 spring class sections online.

“The process has gone better than anyone could have reasonably expected,” Sands said. “It hasn’t been perfect, and we are learning quickly about what can and can’t be done remotely. The good news is that we will have new tools to make teaching and learning more resilient and more flexible, both of which will benefit the learner and our faculty going forward."

He also praised efforts by Blacksburg area Hokies in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 by following social distancing and quarantine guidelines. About 40 percent of Virginia Tech’s students remain in off-campus housing in Blacksburg, while fewer than 500 now reside in campus residence halls.

“I have no doubt that the spirit of Ut Prosim is helping us flatten the curve locally,” Sands said. “We have already seen remarkable evidence of resilience in our Hokie community that defines itself by shared experiences and service to others.”

Dawn Jefferies
Dawn Jefferies served as the moderator of the virtual town hall.
President Tim Sands
President Tim Sands gave an update on university operations and plans for the coming weeks.

He added that Virginia Tech’s researchers are developing personal protective equipment and other materials and resources to help during this crisis, while others are providing expertise on a national stage.

“Expertise matters especially in times like these,” Sands said. “As we work our way through the pandemic, Virginia Tech will be in an even better position to lead.”

The following are key points made during the town hall. Watch the full video below.

May Commencement: Virginia Tech will host a virtual commencement ceremony on May 15. The Class of 2020 also can choose to attend December 2020 or May 2021 Commencement ceremonies. Also, the university plans to recognize 2020 graduates during a Virginia Tech football game, planned for Sept. 26. “I do feel for our seniors, because they have been looking forward to this in-person Commencement for four or five years,” Sands said. “This is a big loss, but we are all making do the best that we can.”

Fall semester: Virginia Tech expects to announce plans for the fall academic semester in early June, Sands said. The university will be operating, but it is unclear what that will look like. “As for the fall, I am optimistic that we will be back in business,” Sands said. “Likely campus will be different going forward, but in many ways it can and will be better.”

Tuition and student fees: Students will not receive reimbursement for tuition, because spring semester is moving forward as planned with courses, Sands said. In some cases, the cost for remote courses is higher than in-person classes, he said. The university is offering refunds for some student fees, and it is continuing to evaluate if additional refunds are needed.

Aid for students with financial hardships: There are a variety of resources for students who have lost jobs and are experiencing financial struggles. Students may contact the Dean of Students Office or Student Opportunities and Achievement Resources (SOAR). Resources also are listed at the university’s COVID-19 website. Donations to help students may be made to the Student Emergency Fund.

Status of employment for Virginia Tech faculty and staff: Virginia Tech has initiated a hiring freeze and currently is eliminating discretionary spending. But at this time, there are no plans to reduce staffing, Sands said. “We were prepared in many ways to address a crisis from a financial perspective,” he said. “At the moment I am optimistic that we will be able to maintain close to normal operations going into the academic year.”

— Written by Jenny Boone