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Spring 2020 Update: Commencement; MD General Assembly; Federal Assistance

Dear University of Maryland community,

Governor Hogan announced yesterday that all non-essential businesses in Maryland must close and reminded us that we are all in this together. We must continue to practice important preventive measures and social distancing, if we are to slow the transmission of this pandemic.

Spring Commencement 2020
One of the most regrettable impacts of COVID-19 is on commencement. There is no academic ceremony that I cherish more than congratulating graduates on their receipt of a UMD diploma, and bidding them Godspeed as they commence the next chapter of their lives.

In my campus letter last week, I wrote that "there will not be an in-person spring 2020 commencement." But that is not the end of the story.
The Chancellor of the University System of Maryland had announced previously that "USM institutions will not be holding traditional, in-person commencement ceremonies" in spring 2020, complying with the March 12th order of the Governor that "events of more than 250 people are prohibited at all locations" and "must be canceled or postponed" until the "state of emergency" proclamation of March 4th is rescinded.

Canceling the May 22nd ceremony was heartbreaking, and I want to assure the Class of 2020 that the University will do its utmost to honor and celebrate your academic success with an in-person ceremony, so that your family, friends, professors, and staff can share in this joyous occasion. We are also exploring producing a virtual celebration to commemorate May 22nd. Provost Mary Ann Rankin leads a planning group and is gathering input from graduating students. We expect to announce plans within a couple of weeks.

I'm sorry for all the disruption that students, faculty, and staff are undergoing in their daily lives this semester. Many things have been canceled or postponed because of COVID-19, but caring for each other is not one of them. I appreciate the sacrifices you have made and the solidarity you have shown during this public health crisis. Please continue to keep in your thoughts and prayers the members of our community who have been infected, or are at risk of being infected, by this virus.

Maryland General Assembly 2020
Not since the Civil War has the General Assembly adjourned early. This year, legislators completed their work in record time for reasons of public health.

The legislature and the Governor set aside a minimum of $160 million to respond to the outbreak in the coming fiscal year and made emergency funds available right now.

The overall budget demonstrates ongoing support for public higher education. The operating budget will keep us on an even keel, enabling us to maintain the mandatory day-to-day expenses. To keep education affordable, it caps in-state tuition at 2%. It includes a 2% cost-of-living increase for all state employees, starting next January.

The capital budget funds the continuing construction of the new Chemistry and Biochemistry building and the new School of Public Policy building. The latter is made possible by additional and substantial philanthropic funding. The capital budget also provides resources for repair or upgrade of some existing buildings and campus infrastructure.

The General Assembly renewed the Maryland E-Nnovation Initiative. Designed to spur basic and applied research in various fields, it offers matching state grants to recruit and retain top faculty and researchers. To date, this program has enabled the University to secure 11 endowed chairs.

Legislators also enacted bills to:

  • Increase funding for the Maryland Small Business Development Center, which the University operates as part of its land-grant mission of advancing economic development. This Center trains small business owners and helps them to secure needed capital. This work could not be more critical than at this moment, when many small businesses are tottering amid the safety restrictions to slow the transmission of the coronavirus.
  • Make it easier to secure a conviction for a hate crime, by not requiring the prosecution to prove that hate was the sole motive for the crime. It is named after 2nd Lt. Richard Collins III. The University's plans to honor and memorialize the legacy of Lt. Collins will be announced on a date that all the parties deem is most opportune.
  • Settle a long-running lawsuit on behalf of the State's four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), to compensate them for unequal practices in the past that have disadvantaged these institutions. The legislation would increase funding for the HBCUs over a ten year period.
  • Implement the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, intended to make major improvements to the State's K-12 public schools.

At this time, we do not yet know what will happen to the funding of the HBCU and the Kirwan Commission legislation. We also do not know what the State's budget would look like next fall, because of the uncertainties on tax revenues and increased expenses resulting from the pandemic.

I thank the Hogan Administration and the General Assembly for their response to the public health crisis and for their continuing support of higher education and of the flagship institution. I also want to recognize all who advocated for UMD in Annapolis: USM officials; our state government relations staff; many faculty, staff, students, and administrators; our Alumni Association; and our UMCP Foundation Board of Trustees.

Federal Assistance for Students and Institutions 2020
COVID-19 is disrupting profoundly the lives of students, faculty, and staff; institutional operations; and institutional finances, across the entire higher education landscape.

The Federal Government is working on a coronavirus stimulus plan to boost the economy in anticipation of an economic recession. Therefore, the American Council of Education, together with other higher education associations (and UMD is a member of these organizations), has requested $50 billion in federal assistance as part of the stimulus plan.

It would provide (1) emergency aid to students, including direct grants; (2) support for institutions to cover the operating losses and increased expenses because of COVID-19; (3) support for federally-funded research labs on campuses, that must wind down now and restart operations later; and (4) funding for the transition to distance education. Access to federal funds would relieve pressure on state budgets that will be stretched during a financial crisis. Supported by our outstanding federal government relations staff, we are advocating for this assistance with members of our congressional delegation.

In concluding, I want to again thank you—every one of you—for being part of the Terp family; for your time, efforts, and dedication to serve our University community; and for caring for each other. Be well and stay safe.

Sincerely,

Wallace D. Loh
President, University of Maryland