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A Q&A with ASU President Michael Crow on COVID-19

Crow sat down with The State Press Monday to answer questions about coronavirus and ASU's response

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ASU President Michael Crow meets with The State Press editorial board on Wednesday, March 4, 2020, at the Fulton Center on the Tempe campus.

President Michael Crow sat down with The State Press over Zoom to discuss recent and future University developments amid the spread of COVID-19.   

Crow celebrated largely positive results following the first week of University-wide online classes and applauded the innovation seen across the board from both students and faculty. 

ASU is the largest user of Zoom of any university in the world with thousands of sessions happening on a daily basis. 

According to Crow, some professors have said the online learning environment has encouraged them to engage more frequently and thoroughly with students.

“In the middle of all this, we've got groups of students and faculty, not just from the research perspective, but they're right at the front line,” Crow said.

Currently, 90% of the University’s staff is working remotely, but ASU-affiliated groups are still on the front lines working to improve access to testing, developing vaccines and working with 3D printers to make health products.

Here are a few questions Crow answered Monday afternoon.

Is ASU considering a University-wide pass/fail option for the semester?

Crow said Monday that ASU "will definitively not do a pass/fail option on a University-wide basis" but that faculty members could choose to do so on a class by class basis. 

"It turns out that we have high-quality online capability," Crow said. "We were able to deploy our technology successfully. We have assets; we have tools; we think that we're in pretty good shape."

"No decision yet" on spring commencement

"We're attempting to be creative," Crow said. "So we've gone out and said, 'If we are not able to do it physically together, what could we do?'"

Crow said he is hoping there can still be some sort of assembly for graduation but admitted it doesn't look likely at the moment. He added that a decision will be made at least a month before the planned commencement, if not sooner. 

"The last thing that we would do is say we're canceling graduation," Crow said, adding that he doesn't want to rush into a decision before it's necessary. 

"Now, the other thing we thought about is that if we can't assemble in May of (20)20, we may just have the most, the most fantastic party you could possibly imagine," he said. "On the first day, we can get everybody together, and we won't have it as a graduation, we'll just have it as a celebration."

While figuring out a plan for commencement is important, Crow said that it is more important to make sure all students planning on graduating are able to. 

Future of students living in University Housing

Unless ordered by health officials to do so, University Housing will remain open and students will have the option to live there, Crow said.

"We have lots of students, many thousands of students that have nowhere to live — this is where they live," he said. "They can't go back to their home; they can't go back to their country. They've decided to stay here."

Crow said that while he didn't want to be critical of other universities that have chosen to send students home, he didn't fully understand why those decisions were made. 

"For us, you know, so many of our students, you know, we're it," he said. "We're the family or we're the place they live ... I'm very proud of our students and our faculty for deciding they wanted to try to make this work."

How many ASU students currently have the new coronavirus?

There are about 15 reported cases of ASU students who currently have COVID-19, whether they are at home or still in Arizona, with only one student hospitalized due to a pre-existing condition, Crow said.

Likelihood of refunds for meal plans, unused services

Crow said the University "will be looking into" a potential refund for services that go unused but that the University's main focus is students' health. 

"This is an unprecedented moment," Crow said. "We're living in a moment where you've got thousands of students living in the residence halls and, in fact, the majority of students still living in the residence halls. We've got all kinds of complexities relative to feeding everyone.

"When the smoke clears, we're going to come back in and take a very close look at what were our expenses? What were our costs? And I'm hopeful that we can find some way to recognize that some people obviously weren't eating the food that they had already paid for."

At the end of the day, Crow said the University "is going to be fair" when it comes to reimbursements. 

What is the University doing to help students unable to access computers or Wi-Fi?

Crow said the University will lend a laptop to anyone who needs it and provide a hotspot for students who do not have high-speed internet access. 

"We bought and deployed thousands of laptops and hundreds of hotspots for anybody that didn't have access to what they needed," Crow said. "So no one is left out. Everybody that said they needed something got one."

Crow also said ASU will provide internet or a computer to faculty members who don't have access as well. 

Will students who are unable to make tuition payments have their fees waived? 

Crow said tuition issues will be handled on a case-by-case basis, adding that any student who has run into financial issues should reach out to the financial aid office. 

"So for this semester, the best thing that I can say for you guys to communicate that anybody who has financial issues needs to contact financial aid right away," he said. "And if they can't get what they need from financial aid right away, they need to contact me. And so we've always worked this way, and we work these things out and that's what we're continuing to say."

Moving forward

Despite the uncertainty, there are a lot of positives and learning opportunities to evaluate what needs to improve going forward, Crow said.

"There's been a lot of a lot of people talking about needing to be ready for these kinds of things, these unique viruses, managing our urban environments better, putting more money into the defense for our day to day life versus other kinds of historical defense things."

He noted that while it's hard to focus on anything outside of the virus, this time allows people to refocus and reevaluate what they want their lives to center around.

“At the end of the day, mark my words, we’re going to come out of this, stronger and better.”

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