Clemson moves online for semester, graduation postponed

CU shells out nearly $1 million in virus response

By Riley Morningstar

The Journal

File.

CLEMSON — Clemson University students will complete the spring semester through online instruction and graduation ceremonies have been postponed.

Late Thursday afternoon, Gov. Henry McMaster encouraged public and private universities to move instruction online for the remainder of the academic year.

Clemson’s spring break ends Friday, and online classes had been set to take place March 23-April 5.

Clemson president Jim Clements said the decisions made by the university were in “alignment with the guidance” of McMaster.

“We have been preparing diligently for this possibility, and I am confident that our faculty is more than capable of delivering high-quality content to our students so that their academic progress is not hindered,” Clements said in a release. “These are extraordinary times, and the situation continues to evolve rapidly. I know these actions, while necessary, will inconvenience many and may prove to be a burden for some among the Clemson Family, but we are there for you.”

Commencement ceremonies had been scheduled for May 7-8 before being postponed and the decision, Clements said, “heartbreaking.”

“Unfortunately, this public health emergency left us no other responsible choice,” he said. “Rest assured, however, that we will do everything in our power to create a memorable experience for our graduates.”

Provost Bob Jones ensured the pivot to online learning will “remain fully compliant” with all accrediting bodies.

More than 1,400 instructional faculty will be delivering 4,353 online courses beginning Monday, Jones said.

All “non-essential” school employees have also been required to work remotely until further notice, Clements said.

Cost of response

Clemson has spent approximately $1 million in its response to the virus pandemic.

During an early-morning special teleconference meeting of the school’s trustees on Thursday, vice president of finance and operations Tony Wagner announced a hiring freeze had also been implemented.

“At this time, I would estimate we have accumulated about $1 million in expenses related to our response,” he said. “That’s probably split pretty evenly between bringing students home from overseas and extraordinary costs related to that and the cost related to moving to modified operations across campus.”

No plans have been finalized to refund housing and dining contracts for students as of yet, he said.

“We know this is a concern for our students and families,” Wagner told the trustees. “Our immediate focus has been on the health and safety of our students and staff, and that’s why we’ve been putting all our efforts into implementing online instruction and telecommuting. We are working on possible solutions and we will communicate those with our families and students as soon as possible.”

Clemson’s current housing and dining contract allows the university to revise or cancel the agreement without penalty due to “circumstances beyond the school’s control,” including a “public health outbreak” listed under section 5(a) of the contract.

Almost 500 students to return

Clemson received more than 1,000 forms from on-campus students requesting exemptions to return to their residence halls and apartments, with the university approving 474.

Restricted access to the buildings began at 5 p.m. Thursday and will continue through the end of the semester.

University Police Chief Greg Mullen said those allowed to return were primarily international students and those with Wi-Fi issues.

Mullen said there are no plans to issue a shelter-in-place order for those students who will return. He said police will be present to ensure large group gatherings aren’t happening.

“If we need to make further decisions about sheltering in place, we can do that,” he said.

One dining hall will open three times a day for meals to be picked up.

One trustee asked Wagner what sanitation measures were being taken at all Clemson facilities.

“We have teams of our custodial staff working throughout the university to do extraordinary cleanings in our buildings,” Wagner said. “We want to make sure we get our buildings especially clean right now, and we keep those areas wiped down on a daily basis. … You can’t really go anywhere on this university without encountering large stockpiles of hand sanitizer at this point.”

Study abroad update

Jones said of the 386 study abroad students who were recalled to the United States more than two weeks ago, all but 31 are back.

“Of those 31, many of them have tickets already booked, so we’ve done an excellent job and a lot of hard work to do that,” Jones said.

The 99 students who had been studying in hard-hit Italy have all returned home. The group had been Clemson’s largest contingent overseas.

Seven teachers were abroad for sabbaticals. Four are staying in their respective countries and are “safe,” according to Jones, while three have returned to the United States.

rmorningstar@upstatetoday.com | (864) 973-6685