ETSU President Brian Noland told the Press the university has been closely monitoring COVID-19’s spread across the globe since the beginning of the semester. The university has an emergency response team that was initially convening weekly but has been meeting daily for the past few weeks. The team has been helping the institution develop contingency and continuity of operation plans.
“Today we made the decision for a variety of reasons to move forward with the implementation of the plans,” Noland said Thursday. “Those plans are aimed at ensuring the safety of our faculty, staff and students and doing all that we can to assist in the state, regional and national efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus.”
Noland said students leave tomorrow for spring break.
“As those students return, not knowing where their travels have taken them, there was potential they were bringing back whatever they picked up on those travels back to campus,” he said.
Noland said those three weeks will allow any exposure to COVID-19 to present itself. He said the university — including the library and the D.P. Culp Center — will remain open.
“The university will continue to meet its mission of teaching, research and service,” Noland said. “However, when students have their typical spring break brought to a close, for the next three weeks courses will be offered in an online format.”
The university will assess the situation during that period and will make adjustments as appropriate. He said ETSU’s primary goal in moving classes online is to ensure students can still pursue their degree in a timely manner.
Of the roughly 3,000 courses the university offers, Noland said about 800 are already online. Those online courses are offered through the university’s online educational platform, D2L. Some faculty also use Zoom.
Noland said online courses are supported through tools like chatrooms, email and embedded course videos on D2L.
“There’s all kinds of means through which we’ve offered online courses at the institution for decades,” he said.
Noland said ETSU will offer training seminars for faculty on D2L and Zoom to ensure instructors have the training they need to continuing teaching online.
In an email to students announcing the move, Noland said the decision was made “in light of this fluid situation and with the health and safety of our ETSU Community as the top priority.” The move is a change from Wednesday, when administrators had said they were not yet planning to make the move to online-only classes.
“ETSU is an institution where people come first, are valued and are treated with dignity and respect,” Thursday’s statement read. “These decisions are being made to protect the health and safety of the ETSU Community and that of the surrounding region. Your continued patience is deeply appreciated.”
In the release, the university said students should stay home through spring break and resume classes online from their permanent residence. Students who cannot return to a permanent residence may apply for an exemption. Residents will receive further instructions from the Department of Housing and Residence Life.
All ETSU events through April 13 are canceled, though “most” university operations will continue.
On Wednesday, the university suspended all domestic, university-related travel and had previously suspending university-related international travel. ETSU Vice President for Student Life and Enrollment Joe Sherlin told students in an email Wednesday that suspending in-person classes was “possible” and encouraged students “to be prepared for a change in operations.”
Other colleges around the state and region, including the University of Virginia-Wise and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and Chattanooga have already suspended classes. Emory and Henry extended its spring break by one week, with plans to resume in-person classes on March 30. Virginia Highlands Community College also extended its spring break.
“Everyone is encouraged to engage in social distancing for meetings and gatherings and to follow mitigation protocols recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” the statement read. “Please continue to check your email throughout spring break for additional announcements. The latest information, including resources and previous announcements, is available at www.etsu.edu/coronavirus.”
On Thursday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak that the World Health Organization declared a pandemic yesterday. As of Thursday, Tennessee had 18 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including one case in Sullivan County.
Read the full statement below:
East Tennessee State University officials continue to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak. In light of this fluid situation and with the health and safety of our ETSU Community as the top priority, the university is taking the following actions for all locations:
All current face-to-face courses will move online effective Monday, March 23 for three weeks (through April 9) as university officials continue to evaluate COVID-19 mitigation efforts. Everyone should prepare for online courses to extend through the entire semester if necessary. Prior to April 9, the university will announce the official decision on resuming face-to-face courses. Students will not be charged any additional fees for courses impacted by this change. Experiential learning experiences such as student teaching, service learning, clinical rotations and internships will continue. Faculty will provide students with additional information about their specific courses. Current online classes will continue as scheduled.
Students should stay home after spring break and resume classes online from their permanent residence. Please recognize the transition to online course work will require flexibility and patience on the part of faculty and students. Students living in campus housing who are unable to return to their permanent residence or are participating in experiential learning experiences may apply for an exemption to remain on campus. Residents will receive instructions and further information by email from the Department of Housing and Residence Life. University officials are exploring options that may allow potential credit or prorating for unused portions of housing and meal plans if face-to-face courses do not resume for the spring semester.
All ETSU events scheduled through April 13 are cancelled; however, some events may be rescheduled at a later date and updates will be provided. During this time, in-person gatherings or employee/student organization meetings should be minimized. Everyone is encouraged to follow recommended COVID-19 mitigation procedures and social-distancing. Please take advantage of teleconferencing resources available through Zoom.
Most other university operations, with the exception of face-to-face courses and activities listed above, will continue. Faculty and staff will continue to report to work at this time. Students with appointments on campus, such as advising or meetings with faculty, are encouraged to have those meetings using phone or Zoom.
Everyone is encouraged to engage in social distancing for meetings and gatherings and to follow mitigation protocols recommended by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Please continue to check your email throughout spring break for additional announcements. The latest information, including resources and previous announcements, is available at www.etsu.edu/coronavirus.
ETSU is an institution where people come first, are valued and are treated with dignity and respect. These decisions are being made to protect the health and safety of the ETSU Community and that of the surrounding region. Your continued patience is deeply appreciated.
President, East Tennessee State University