Fincher Hall

Southern Arkansas University residence halls have all but emptied due to the COVID-19 emergency.

Southern Arkansas University trustees on Friday adopted a resolution and endorsement of the university’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In light of social distancing, trustees held a special meeting via teleconference to hear from Dr. Trey Berry, SAU president, and Dr. Jason Morrison, SAU Tech chancellor, who updated the board on the pandemic response at each of their campuses.

Lawrence Bearden, board chairman, began by thanking the heroes working to save lives during the pandemic, asking for a moment of silence in recognition of those heroes.

In his comments, Berry welcomed new board member Erica Woods, whose work as a nurse he hailed. “We consider her our hero today,” he said.

Berry thanked SAU faculty and staff for their efforts to “adjust to this new reality,” noting that both the nation and the campus are seeing “unprecedented times.” He said he and Morrison are in daily, sometimes hourly, contact to monitor the situation on their respective campuses.

As of March 30, SAU moved all face-to-face campuses online to adhere to the government’s social distancing guidelines. Faculty underwent one week of training to make the transition, which Berry said has gone smoothly and been an inspiration. He offered his personal thanks to faculty for its heroic efforts to move courses online.

“We are doing our best to work with students individually,” Berry said. “We had a student in northern Louisiana with no access to a computer. One of our faculty members drove two hours to deliver that student a laptop so that they could continue their studies.”

Some computer labs are still open to students on campus, and hot spots have been created in parking lots so that students can get their work done in their cars. To accommodate the online transition, faculty created a new grading scale for this semester only. Berry outlined the new scale for the board.

Summer school classes will be moved online this year, Berry said.

SAU has officially closed its apartments and residence halls for the remainder of the semester. About 164 students still live on campus under hardship exceptions, and are receiving meals.

The campus will face financial challenges in light of the budget shortfall recently announced by the state. Berry said the university is working hard every day to overcome the shortfall, and that both SAU and SAU Tech are working on their portions of the federal stimulus package. The university should know more about the budget within the next 30 days.

Berry informed the board that there are no cases of the COVID-19 virus on campus.

“That is a very good bit of news,” he said.

Morrison told the board that many SAU Tech employees are now working virtually, with all general education and a majority of technical classes having been moved online.

Housing is still open to accommodate students needing Internet access. Morrison noted that he and his family will be moving into on-campus housing to help comfort and support those students.

He thanked community members for cooking and delivering hot meals to students still on campus. “This is a tremendous show of support from our community,” he said. “We appreciate everyone going the extra mile for our students.”

After executive session, the board passed one action item and the resolution/endorsement. The board authorized system administration acting on behalf of student, faculty and staff to apply for any current and future federal stimulus grants that would benefit the institution.

A resolution drafted by Bearden acknowledged the board’s support to close campus and take action to keep students and the community safe during the pandemic.

The resolution states, in part:

“The Board of Trustees … endorses the campus staff’s efforts to screen and keep areas of the campus free from disease.

“In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the administration, staff, and faculty of Southern Arkansas University have taken extreme and appropriate steps to protect the students and the campus community over the past four weeks.

“The Board of Trustees applauds the efforts of … faculty to convert their teachings to online to accommodate students in the face of the COVID–19 crisis. The board also applauds the efforts of … staff as they continue … the vital functions of the university in the face of extremely difficult circumstances.”

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