According to documents obtained by the Commercial, on Sunday UAPB learned that a member of the community had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the first confirmed case on campus.
COVID-19 has put a damper in spring break activities and the May graduation at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
Instead of traveling to popular spring break destinations or walking across the stage in front of hundreds to receive your diploma in May, UAPB students will be adjusting to the new normal.
According to documents obtained by The Commercial, on Sunday UAPB learned that a member of the community had been diagnosed with the coronavirus, the first confirmed case on campus.
A letter sent on March 23 from the Office of the Chancellor, signed by Laurence Alexander, states it is believed the student contracted the virus from someone who tested positive. “The student has been and continues to be self-quarantined off-campus,” said Lawrence in the letter. “We pray for the student’s speedy recovery and we pray for the wellbeing of all those around the country and beyond our borders who are fighting the virus.”
On March 11, UAPB moved classes online and restricted access to the campus. This week is spring break and UAPB students will be vacating the premises. According to a memorandum sent to the residence hall students on March 20 from Elbert Bennett, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, students were to remove their items from the residence halls from Monday, March 23, through Friday, April 3.
“After careful deliberation and in consultation with the senior-level administrators, the Chancellor and the University of Arkansas System, we have decided to close our residence halls while we transition to online learning for the remainder of the semester,” the memorandum said. “We have established a mechanism for students to set an appointment to gain access to their rooms. Students will not be permitted to enter the residence halls after April. 3.”
Madriana Hall, a UAPB junior from Stuttgart, said she had to go online to pick an appointment to move out of the Delta Residence Hall so everyone wouldn’t be there at once trying to move out. “At first, I was kind of excited to have an extended spring break,” said Hall. “Hopefully, everything will go back to normal. I would like my senior year to be on campus and get to enjoy it with my classmates.”
The memorandum also addresses housing refunds, as most students expressed their need for a refund while moving out Tuesday morning. “Many students understandably want to know if they will be entitled to a refund for housing,” the memorandum said. “Due to the uniqueness of this situation, we appreciate your patience as we work to identify.”
“We intend to bring the matter to the UA System Board and obtain guidance on available options as soon as possible. Once a resolution is identified, communication will be shared with the UAPB student population,” according to the memorandum.
Ranetra Hamilton, a Delta Hall resident from Indiana, said despite the circumstances, she still plans to return to UAPB in the fall. “It happens,” said Hamilton, as she filled her car to capacity with her belongings.
The memorandum instructs the residents to watch their campus email and the university’s social media outlets for additional information. It also thanks everyone for their patience and cooperation stating “the grace our students have exhibited is commendable.”
A separate memorandum was sent on March 19 to the deans, chairs, faculty, staff and students from Robert Z. Carr, Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, concerning online and distance delivery of classes throughout the spring 2020 semester. The memorandum states that UAPB’s highest priority is the health, safety and welfare of its students, faculty and staff.
“In response to the evolving 2019 novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Arkansas and the nation, we have taken proactive measures to maintain a safe environment,” read the document. “As a result, we have decided to offer all classes through online/distance learning platforms for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.”
Olivia Williams, a UAPB freshman from Sherwood, wished her freshman year could have been completed on campus. “It’s hard working online when no one is actually sitting in front of you teaching,” said Williams. “I wish the virus would have never happened so we could learn physically.”
The memorandum states that faculty will continue to ensure that students are able to maintain the academic continuity required to complete the spring 2020 semester. Every course will have a corresponding learning platform such as Blackboard. Faculty will communicate with their students after spring break through email and other distance learning platforms.
A UAPB research associate who was seen traveling by bike on campus with personal protection equipment on, said he will remain on campus as the sole individual working in his department.
“I am going from one lab to another and the only one working,” said the research associate. “I am not contacting anyone and will remain on campus and take precautionary measurements. We are unable to physically take the classes. Nobody can talk face to face to each other.”
A letter from the Office of the Chancellor signed by Chancellor Laurence Alexander to the Golden Lion Family on March 20 gave further clarity and instruction with the steps the university would take that would be consistent with social distancing requests of government leaders and health officials.
“First, we have moved all classes online for the duration of the Spring 2020 semester,” said Alexander in the letter. “Our goal is to allow all students to complete their course for the semester, make progress on completing their degree plans, and remain on track for graduation. The letter also addresses the closure of all residence halls and the move out schedule saying they will package and store any personal items that cannot be collected by April 3.
The spring 2020 commencement will also be postponed. According to Alexander’s letter, the UA System Board of Trustees voted to cancel or postpone all commencement exercises through June 1, 2020. “We are making plans for all graduating seniors to receive degrees,” read the letter. “Diplomas will be mailed out after the degree certification process end of the semester.” According to the letter, additional information would be forthcoming on plans for graduates to participate in a ceremony later in the year.
Natalie Carr is currently in the master’s program at UAPB and says she is in shock. “I never had to deal with anything like this in my life,” said Carr. “I won’t be done with the grad program until August so I’m hoping this is all over by then."
Carr is pursuing her master’s degree in computer science and says she and her classmates wanted to take a cruise to celebrate after their graduation. Carr also realizes the severity of what is happening around her and hopes everyone takes it seriously. “I hope that everyone takes this time as a gift to reflect, despite the circumstances,” said Carr. “My hopes for the future is that we can look back on it and be thankful.”
All athletic, co-curricular and extracurricular events and activities have also been postponed, cancelled or moved online. The NCAA and SWAC suspended all spring sports. The letter from the chancellor is directing all student-athletes to contact their coaches regarding summer and fall activities.
Lastly, Alexander’s letter said that the university is not closing. Instead, university operations and activities are shifting to online or other remote means to the maximum extent possible. Essential operations and some on campus employees will be retained on-site, including some employees in senior-level administration, public safety and facilities maintenance, according to the letter. Other employees will either work remotely from home or be on call.
“We believe these steps will help reduce the spread of the virus while continuing to serve the educational needs of our students,” said Alexander in his letter. “This is a global crisis, and UAPB is not the only institution that must work through these issues.”
Alexander goes on to say colleges and universities across the nation have had to shift gears on a moment’s notice and while these decisions are not easy, know that UAPB cares about its students, faculty and staff and holds their well-being as a top priority. “We will continue to monitor this situation and we promise to continue to communicate with the UAPB community,” ended Alexander in his letter. “Please stay safe. We can get through this challenging period together. Students, have a safe, enjoyable spring break.”