UVM President says school will reopen in fall despite pandemic

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SAWYER LOFTUS/Vermont Cynic

President Suresh Garimella addresses assembled media at a press conference, Nov. 14.

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Two days before high school seniors across the country chose their future college, President Suresh Garimella announced UVM would be open this fall.

Although Garimella said he remains committed to having students on campus for the fall, graduating seniors will not be able to celebrate with an in-person commencement.

Standing in front of the Ira Allen statue, Garimella addressed the UVM community, announcing that students will be coming back to campus during the fall via a YouTube video sent to students in an email April 29. 

“Based on the information currently available, I am confident UVM will be able to return to in-person status in fall 2020,” he said. 

Garimella said he is able to make that decision due to different factors, such as the UVMStrong Fall 2020 committee, and because UVM has an advantage in ongoing testing because of the Larner College of Medicine and College of Nursing and Health Sciences. 

The UVMStrong Fall 2020 Advisory committee was set up by Garimella to develop plans to ensure we are fully prepared if there is a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall, according to an April 16 UVM Today announcement. 

Garimella also credits Vermont Gov. Phil Scott for his approach to flattening the curve.  

“To accomplish this, the state coordinated multiple entities, including the University of Vermont, to develop a comprehensive pandemic response,” he stated in an email sent alongside the video. “This proficiency – and openness to collaboration – positions us well should there be a future outbreak.” 

Although he is confident that students, old and new, will be able to come back to campus, this will require major shifts, Garimella stated. 

“It is all but certain that cultural and behavioral shifts will be required as we navigate a world changed by COVID-19,” he stated. 

This includes additional precautions in classrooms, dining facilities and residential halls. 

Garimella ended the video saying that he looks forward to welcoming students, new and returning, back to campus in the fall. 

The president also addressed seniors’ requests for an in-person graduation through a written statement published on UVM’s website April 28. 

“Due to COVID-19, an in-person ceremony is not possible right now, and likely not possible this summer,” he stated. 

Instead, there will be an online celebration May 17, the original date of commencement, while the in-person commencement ceremony will be rescheduled.  

Garimella stated UVM is asking seniors to submit a highlight of their time from UVM. 

“This celebration will include messages from several of us and the conferral of your well earned degrees,” he stated. “Most importantly, this will include messages from you.” 

He ended the message by praising the seniors for their strength and determination during this time. 

“You and your classmates have overcome challenges few would have expected even a few months ago” he stated. “We look forward to honoring you.”