The full membership of the Virginia Tech Board of Visitors met in special session Thursday, and for the first time, they met entirely online to receive reports and updates from senior university leaders regarding the institution’s planning efforts and response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All 14 board members, as well as the student, staff, and faculty representatives, attended the online meeting convened using Zoom. The meeting also was broadcast live using YouTube Live to make the accessible to the university community and general public. As many as 220 individuals participated in or viewed the virtual meeting.

Board of Visitors Rector Horacio Valeiras opened the meeting by thanking the university community for its efforts and extending condolences to those directly affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

“On behalf of the board, I want to thank President Sands, the administration, faculty, staff, students, and their families,” said Valeiras. “We have been in uncharted territory in our lifetimes: The pandemic has caused significant dislocation, upending plans and lives, and caused a lot of pain and anxiety in the Hokie Nation and beyond. I am proud to say that the Hokie Nation, as has always been the case, has pulled together, found solutions, and moved forward.”

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands began the series of seven presentations with an overview of planning efforts and decisions made by the university this spring. Sands described the timing and process used by the university to make several historic decisions, including decisions to extend spring break and move courses online, and to postpone, move online, or cancel university events, including the 3.2 Mile Run in Remembrance and commencement.

“These were all difficult decisions, depriving Hokies, and especially our graduating seniors, of the cherished spring gatherings on campus,” said Sands. “They were the right decisions, decisions that put the health and well-being of our students, faculty, staff, and community members first.”

Mike Mulhare, assistant vice president for emergency management, and Noelle Bissell, director of the New River Health District, followed Sands and shared how the university, Virginia Department of Health, and local health providers have worked together to provide the most current and accurate public health information. Partnerships, Mulhare and Bissell said, are key in situations like this, and consistent messaging among these partners is essential. They said that individual responsibility and the actions each person can take to protect the broader public is the focus of public messaging.

Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke provided an update on the huge effort to move courses online, along with the status of the university’s spring study abroad program and the university’s research enterprise. Clarke praised the more than 2,400 faculty members teaching this semester who transitioned more than 4,500 course sections to an online format in just two weeks.

He also acknowledged the tremendous effort of the Technology-Enhanced Learning and Online Strategies team for the support they provided both students and faculty as courses were moved online.

Clarke also noted that 232 students who started the spring semester on a study abroad program have returned home, while seven are currently in transit and 18 have requested to shelter where they are.

Dwayne Pinkney, senior vice president and chief business officer, spoke on the current status of university’s operations and workforce. Pinkney started by emphasizing that Virginia Tech is operational, and that the university is scaling the operations that are necessary to meet the needs of current activities. He also discussed how the university is now preparing for possible future operations issues.

Frank Shushok, interim vice president for student affairs, provided an update on student services. He said that as of March 23, 957 students remained in university housing, down from more than 10,000 at the start of the academic year. He also shared that 4,612 off-campus students terminated their dining plan and transferred their remaining dining dollars, flex dollars, or commuter cash to the fall 2020 semester. Shushok added that while most campus life facilities have closed, Schiffert Health Center remains fully operational to meet the health needs of the remaining students, and Housing and Residence Life is also working to secure single rooms for all remaining on-campus students.

“Virginia Tech students continue to make us all proud,” Shushok said. Students have been “abundantly helpful, generous in their disposition, and modeling our motto, Ut Prosim, in truly inspiring ways.”

Tracy Vosburgh, senior associate vice president for university relations, provided an update on communications efforts to provide information to all members of the Virginia Tech community during this rapidly changing crisis. The university’s COVID-19 website has been the primary repository for university information on all topics and issues affected by the pandemic. Additionally, the university has employed the Daily Email for faculty and staff, the three-times-per-week email to students, and university social media channels to raise community awareness and provide critical leadership messages and information. The university social media accounts have seen an 85 percent increase in impressions, mainly due to the amount of content related to COVID-19.

The spring Board of Visitors meeting, originally scheduled for March 29-30, has been canceled. Visit the Board of Visitors website for information on future meetings.

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