Message to the Mercer Community from President Underwood

Members of the Mercer University Community,

This is an exciting time of year for our students. Many are working toward completion of research and design projects that are the culmination of weeks, months and even years of work.  Others are engaged in clinical work necessary for completion of their academic programs. Over the coming weeks, we expect to celebrate a range of student achievement in a variety of venues.  None of these things can adequately occur in virtual formats. Likewise, virtual formats cannot fully capture the enormous value of face-to-face instruction and the camaraderie of studying and learning in the company of one’s mentors and peers.

At the same time, I am surely aware of the developing public health concerns related to the latest strain of coronavirus. The safety of members of the Mercer community is my highest priority. For several weeks I have been regularly consulting with government authorities and leading infectious disease experts on an ongoing basis about the risk profile of our campuses. The current level of health risk remains quite low. We have no confirmed or suspected case of this newest strain of coronavirus on Mercer campuses. Nor has there been any confirmed case in Macon and the surrounding counties, though I expect that to change in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Throughout the evolving coronavirus outbreak the University has sought to balance our primary objective of ensuring the safety and well-being of all Mercerians with the commitment we make to our students to deliver a high-quality educational experience. Any decision we make regarding ongoing University operations in this challenging environment is not going to be ideal. We are a complex institution with 12 schools and colleges encompassing undergraduate, graduate and professional programs that are delivered in multiple locations across Georgia, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

With the information we currently have and with the input of government agencies and our own health care professionals, the University is implementing intermediate measures that will continue until April 3, with the recognition that circumstances may necessitate further adjustments during that period. Decisions on University operations beyond April 3 will be made no later than March 30.

  • Undergraduate students on the Macon campus have the option of remaining on campus and continuing in-person classes as scheduled, or electing to return home and move to virtual delivery of their coursework. Online delivery of coursework for students choosing the latter option will begin on March 23, and faculty will communicate details of how that will work to their students by the end of next week.
  • Macon undergraduate students who choose to return home may do so at their convenience. Additional information on the beginning of online instruction on March 23, for those who choose this option, will be sent to students by their faculty members next week. No on-campus classes are being cancelled for students who choose to stay. Faculty will work with students who choose the online option to get them caught up in their courses.
  • Residence halls, food service, recreational facilities, the Student Health Center, and other student services on the Macon campus will remain open and available. Students choosing to remain on campus will be well-cared for and receive the best instruction possible.
  • University Libraries – including Tarver Library (Macon), Swilley Library (Atlanta), the Electronic Resources Library (Cloud-based) and Regional Academic Center libraries – remain open.
  • We have informed our students of symptoms of the virus, we are taking a number of sanitation-related precautions, and we are urging our students to do the same.  We have provided our students a hotline to call our School of Medicine physician practice group seven days a week, 24 hours a day. As a reminder to all, that number is (478) 301-7425. The Mercer Medicine team understands that any student who calls must be seen immediately.  These health care services remain available to all students, regardless of whether they are studying on one of our campuses or remotely.  We are working toward developing protocols for regularly testing students remaining on our campuses.  Pursuant to CDC guidelines, faculty are being asked to report unusual absenteeism patterns to the dean of their school or college.
  • Students choosing to move to virtual classes will also be provided the best instruction possible under these circumstances, acknowledging that for residential undergraduate students virtual formats cannot fully capture the Mercer experience. Any student choosing to return home and attend courses virtually who is experiencing any symptom associated with this latest strain of coronavirus should check with the Student Health Center before leaving campus.
  • Macon undergraduate students need to register their choice – remain on campus or return home – by 5 p.m. Monday, March 16, by completing a short online form.
  • We want to afford students the maximum flexibility possible. A student who initially decides to continue with in-person classes on campus can move to a virtual format at any time by letting us know of that decision with this same notice. This can occur whether the student remains in our residence halls and continues to use food service and other facilities or returns home. Likewise, a student who initially decides to convert to a virtual format can decide to return to campus as circumstances continue to evolve. A student’s chair in class, residence hall room, and dining option remain available.
  • The School of Medicine will continue normal operations, recognizing the important role that its students, faculty and staff play as part of our health care delivery system.
  • For schools and colleges other than medicine, additional guidance and information for students is available through the following link.
  • A number of events, performances and meetings have already been cancelled or postponed. We expect additional cancellations in the days to come. We will collect these cancellations and post them to Mercer’s coronavirus website as they are received: https://www.mercer.edu/coronavirus/. Please send your event cancellations to smith_m@mercer.edu.
  • At this time, all other University offices and operations are operating on normal schedules. I recognize that additional demands are being placed on faculty and staff at a time when they are also dealing with possible coronavirus impacts in their families. Employees should work with their supervisors to ensure that their responsibilities are covered. I am deeply grateful for the spirit of cooperation and dedication that all of our faculty and staff are demonstrating in this stressful time. Additional guidance and information for faculty and staff will be forthcoming from our Human Resources Office.

We will continue to communicate information to the University community as new developments arise. If circumstances change in a material way, I will not hesitate to respond appropriately. There are questions for which we do not have answers at the moment, so I appeal to you to be patient as we work our way through the myriad issues that our present circumstances have created. I am confident the Mercer community and our country will get through this challenging time as we work together as friends and colleagues – as Mercerians.