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Morgan postpones commencement, Hopkins to offer ‘virtual’ ceremony

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Morgan State University has postponed its spring commencement ceremonies and Johns Hopkins University announced it would hold a virtual commencement as universities continue to change plans in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Both universities and McDaniel College have also announced that they would use online learning for the rest of the spring semester, rather than teach courses in person. McDaniel has made no decisions about its commencement ceremonies.

In a letter to the Morgan community Tuesday night, President David Wilson wrote that the COVID-19 pandemic has become a serious concern for the university even though it has not had any confirmed cases of the disease, which is caused by the novel coronavirus.

“Please know that these decisions were made with thoughtful consideration of the needs of our students, particularly as it relates to graduation,” Wilson wrote. “Commencement is a very special occasion, and a great deal of care went into the recommendation to postpone it for health and safety reasons. Let me be clear — Morgan will have a Commencement for the graduates — though, at this time, again, we don’t see that happening in May.”

At Hopkins, the decision was made Wednesday in consultation with the university’s public health experts.

The university’s in-person commencement ceremonies will be canceled and information about the virtual commencement will be made available to students and families later this week.

The university has also canceled all in-person events and is encouraging all essential in-person meetings to be conducted remotely whenever possible.

“Community transmission of the virus is accelerating nationally and within our region, and we continue to be guided by public health authorities and infectious disease and epidemiological experts at Johns Hopkins who are now urging all of us to observe stricter social distancing protocols for a longer period of time,” university President Ronald J. Daniels and Provost Sunil Kumar wrote in a letter to the campus. “We make this decision mindful of the toll caused by the uncertainty around this pandemic, including the uncertainty that comes with not knowing whether or when we might reconvene in person as a university community this semester.”

For the most part, local universities have refrained from making new decisions about either graduation ceremonies or extending the period of distance learning. Most Maryland colleges will teach students remotely for at least two weeks starting Monday, when students return from campus.

McDaniel chose to cancel in-person classes and all on-campus events following guidance from Gov. Larry Hogan.

“In compliance with Governor Hogan’s mandate to limit the size of public gatherings, all on-campus events through the end of the Spring semester are now canceled,” the campus’s coronavirus task force wrote in a memo to the campus. “These cancellations include cultural events and performances, lectures, and large-format admissions and alumni events.”

It also said no final decision had been made about graduation ceremonies.

Morgan and McDaniel said they would keep their campuses open but have also asked that students not to return to campus. Both are arranging periods for when students can return to pick up their belongings.

The remainder of Maryland’s colleges and universities are likely to face their own decisions soon.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance suggests that public gatherings of 50 or more people not take place. That guidance is in place through at least mid-May, the same period during which most universities will wrap up their spring semesters.

President Donald Trump has also issued guidance further limiting gatherings to no more than 10 for the next two weeks.

While most classes on campuses are smaller than 50 students, most universities also have lecture classes above that threshold.

In a phone call with the Board of Regents Monday, University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman said he has been holding a phone call with the leaders of the system’s institutions every other day about the changing situation.

“As you know, circumstances are changing rapidly, as leaders at the state and national levels take more dramatic precautions to inhibit spread of the virus,” Perman said on the call. “And we’ve been responding in kind.”

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