Message to the Mercer Community from President Underwood

June 30, 2020

Dear Mercer Community,

We ended the 2019-20 academic year at Mercer with much to celebrate. More than 1,800 students earned degrees at the conclusion of the spring semester. We will celebrate their graduations at commencement ceremonies on August 7 (Law School), August 8 (Macon) and August 9 (Atlanta). We experienced our strongest year ever in student achievement, with more Fulbright, Goldwater, Gilman, and Phi Beta Kappa recipients than ever before. While we had to complete the spring semester virtually, we are all working hard as we prepare to resume traditional instruction in the fall.

Our goal is to ensure a full and complete Mercer experience for our students, while also providing a safe and healthy environment for students, faculty and staff. Many faculty and staff members throughout the University are working toward this objective on a daily basis. We have learned a great deal over the last three months and I anticipate that we will learn a great deal more in the months and years ahead that will help us cope with this new virus. I wanted to provide you with the following update of where things stand in our planning for the fall semester.

In-Person Classes Return for Summer Session II

In-person classes began on June 22 for a limited number of Summer Session II classes on the Macon and Atlanta campuses. Classrooms and labs have been modified to incorporate social distancing, masks are required in classrooms and labs unless otherwise indicated by the instructor, enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures have been implemented, and additional hand sanitizing stations have been installed. We have the capacity to test for COVID-19 and process those tests at a certified laboratory dedicated to this purpose on our campus in Macon. This limited return to in-person classes is allowing us to fine-tune our plans and procedures for the fall.

Commencements

As previously announced, the University will hold the postponed May commencements on August 7-9. The schedule will be:

  • Friday, August 7, 1 p.m., Law Commencement, Hawkins Arena, Macon Campus
  • Saturday, August 8, Macon Commencements, Hawkins Arena
    • 9 a.m. Ceremony – Graduates of the School of Business, School of Engineering, College of Education and College of Professional Advancement
    • 3 p.m. Ceremony – Graduates of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, School of Music and College of Health Professions
  • Sunday, August 9, Atlanta Commencements, Infinite Energy Center, Duluth
    • 10 a.m. Ceremony – School of Business, College of Education, and College of Professional Advancement
    • 5 p.m. Ceremony – College of Nursing, College of Pharmacy, College of Health Professions and School of Theology

Tickets for the Macon and Atlanta ceremonies will be required and a number of protocols will be implemented to maintain social distancing and to adhere to other health precautions such as masking. More details will be sent to graduates via e-mail, including guidelines and requirements for these ceremonies. You can review these on the Mercer Commencements website.

Fall Semester

As previously announced, Fall semester classes will begin as originally scheduled, but a modified calendar will be in place that will end most classes prior to the Thanksgiving break. The University will, nonetheless, remain open after Thanksgiving break and will continue to provide regular campus operations and student services such as dining, housing, recreational facilities, and the Student Health Center.

Student Move-In

The move-in schedule for incoming first-year students on the Macon campus has been expanded from one day to three days – August 12-14 – in order to maintain social distancing. More details on move-in day will be communicated to incoming first-year students in early August. Upperclassmen living in Mercer housing will receive information on their move-in process from the Residence Life Office.

Bears Care

A key component of our strategy to maintain healthy campuses is the Bears Care initiative. We must each take personal responsibility for our well-being and the well-being of our fellow students and colleagues. To assist with that objective, we are assembling and distributing 12,000 “Bears Care Kits” to every student, faculty and staff member. Some of these kits have already been distributed to Summer Session students and faculty. Included in the kits are:

  • Mercer cloth mask
  • Two-ounce bottle of hand sanitizer
  • Digital thermometer
  • Bears Care button
  • Sticker with Student Health Center hotline number and list of COVID-19 symptoms
  • Info card on proper mask usage and personal hygiene tips
  • Bears Care pledge card

It will be important that every student, faculty and staff member practice daily self-monitoring to avoid infecting others. We are evaluating some additional tools to assist with self-monitoring and will announce those as they are finalized.

We continue to receive guidance from infectious disease experts, but as of right now, you can anticipate the following additional measures this fall:

  • A screening process by Mercer Medicine for all returning students. This process will be shared with the University community when it is finalized in the coming days.
  • An on-campus COVID-19 testing laboratory capable of processing as many as 1,000 tests per day.
  • Special accommodations for students who need to be isolated.
  • An on-campus Student Health Center with a 24/7 hotline and access to leading infectious disease experts in the School of Medicine. Protocols for assessing and managing COVID-19 cases have been developed in consultation with these experts. You can review those protocols here. They will be updated as conditions and new guidance warrant.
  • Enhanced sanitizing and disinfecting protocols in all facilities.
  • Classes adjusted to allow proper social distancing.
  • Mandatory masks in all classrooms and laboratories, unless otherwise directed by the instructor.
  • Temperature checks at entry points to high-traffic areas.
  • Hand sanitizing stations throughout our campuses.
  • Modified food service to incorporate additional safety protocols and new features such as a mobile ordering app.
  • Reconfigured extracurricular activities that promote healthy practices.
  • Signage and posters across all campuses with reminders about social distancing and healthy practices, as well as other special instructions. 

Student Requests for COVID-19-Related Accommodations

Student requests for an accommodation due to COVID-19 will be handled through the Office of Access and Accommodations. The OAA staff will work with individual students to assess their needs and to develop appropriate plans for accommodations and services.

A Reminder about the Student Health Center Hotline and Testing

All students, faculty and staff have access to the 24/7 Student Health Center hotline – (478) 301-7425. If a student, faculty or staff member develops symptoms or receives a positive test by an outside health care provider, they are REQUIRED to call the hotline to be evaluated. If you would like a COVID-19 test – even if you are asymptomatic – you may request one through the hotline. With our on-campus lab, tests can typically be processed within 48 hours.

Look for continued updates in the weeks ahead as we approach the fall. In the meantime, I encourage you to regularly check our COVID-19 website and The Den for additional updates and resources.

I very much look forward to seeing you on campus in August for what promises to be a great academic year.