Commencement, finances, return to TU addressed at virtual town hall

By: Sophie Bates, Assistant News Editor

Featured Photo screenshot from student town hall/ The Towerlight

Towson University President Kim Schatzel and Provost Melanie Perrault hosted virtual town hall meetings live Wednesday, which were later posted to Youtube

One meeting was for faculty and staff at 4 p.m. and the other for students at 6 p.m., both addressing questions and concerns from the Towson community.

“Today we will cover the answers to more than 230 questions that have come from our University community,” said University Vice President for Marketing and Communications Marina Cooper.

The topics covered in both town halls included campus health and safety, academic affairs, student life and resources, students’ and staff’s return to TU, remote working and teaching, employee resources and budget and finances. 

Vice President for Student Affairs Vernon Hurte helped to host the student town hall, alongside Schatzel and Perrault. One question addressed during this town hall was the plan for how TU’s senior class of 2020 will celebrate their commencement. 

“All of the class of 2020, all of you Towson Tigers that will be graduating, you have my absolute promise that we are going to celebrate you,” Schatzel said. “We’re planning on this going to be in the fall, of course that’s going to be subject to social distancing and what we can do at that time. We’re going to make that happen. We are not going to do virtual commencement. We are going to bring you back to campus. We’re going to have you walk across that SECU stage. We’re going to celebrate you.” 

In addition to the commencement ceremony, Schatzel also said that the University has started planning a recognition event that could happen virtually during the original graduation week. 

“The week that we would have had a commencement in late May, we’re going to have a series of celebrations that we can do virtually,” Schatzel said. “We might even be sending some gifts to your houses.” 

   TU senior Sarah Malik said she thinks that President Schatzel’s “approach to commencement is positive in comparison to what I’ve heard.”

“Some of my friends at different universities are not having a physical ceremony or theirs is becoming combined,” Malik said. “Personally, I don’t think that’s fair. I am glad President Schatzel is giving us fair recognition during these unprecedented times.”

There were no new updates announced during the town halls regarding when Tigers will be able to return to campus. According to Schatzel, the ReTUrn to TU Task Force is observing the situation, going through scenarios and advising when individuals will start being able to return to campus. 

“I put the task teams together and they are going to be looking at our classes in the fall, housing in the fall and looking at, over the next few months, how to bring employees back to campus,” Schatzel said. “I want to make sure that we are clear about the health and safety of our community being our top priority.” 

During the student town hall, Pereault addressed the shift to the optional pass/fail grading that is in action for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.

“I would encourage as many students as possible that are comfortable with it, to choose the pass/fail grading option,” she said. “You could always switch back the grade.” 

In terms of student resources, Hurte said that he was proud of the work going towards providing students support in an online space. 

“Everything from campus life, to our career services, to our student support services, we have really continued to support our students in providing engagement and support in virtual spaces,” he said.

Hurte also stated that the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity is continuing to respond to reports of sexual misconduct and incidents of discrimination, hate bias and ADA issues at TU. 

Within the student town hall meeting, Schatzel also addressed the financial state of the university. 

“One of the things that we were able to do, of course, is to be able to make our commitments in terms of the refunds to the students for the spring semester,” Schatzel said. 

She added that federal financial aid will be supporting the university as well, with the recent passing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) on March 27. 

“Towson University will be receiving about $17.4 million of funding based on the CARES Act,” Schatzel said. She added that this is the second highest amount in the state of Maryland and they are currently working on how they will be utilizing the funds. 

For faculty and staff, there are support services available in terms of a need for financial support. 

“We’ve stood up a fund to be able to provide emergency funding for our employees as well as our contractual employees,” Schatzel said. “We’re working very closely with our advancement office to be able to have those resources available as soon as possible.” 

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