Virtual Laker town hall focuses on return to campus, preparation for fall

President Philomena V. Mantella leads a virtual Laker town hall for faculty and staff members.
President Philomena V. Mantella leads a virtual Laker town hall for faculty and staff members.
Image credit - Valerie Wojciechowski

Nearly 1,000 faculty and staff members attended a June 3 virtual Laker town hall to learn the latest information on Grand Valley's plans for returning to campus and the Fall 2020 semester.

In her opening remarks, President Philomena V. Mantella said she wanted to first acknowledge pressures from the current pandemic and the protest and cries of injustice following the brutal killing of George Floyd and the unrest taking place, locally. The president sent a message to the campus community May 30, denouncing racism and violence against the Black community.

"We've always had an opportunity to work for justice and a better world," said Mantella. "Our mission of educating students lends itself to make a true difference. Let us each consider our role, not only in the physical safety of others, but also in the psychological and emotional peace of others."

Mantella said Grand Valley is planning for face-to-face learning and living in the fall because of the university's deep responsibility to fulfill its mission and provide access to all students. 

"We know our students want and need the full campus experience and, we believe, deeply, we can meet the challenging task of creating a health-informed, face-to-face environment, supplemented by digital education," said Mantella. "We will take the necessary steps to mitigate risk as we care for all of our students and employees." 

Maureen Walsh, associate vice president for Human Resources, said a six-week return to work period will begin June 22. She said appointing officers are creating plans for their work-specific areas that will address scheduling and staffing of employees, and physical distancing in work spaces. More information on the return to work plan can be found at

Tina Barnikow, senior director of health, said reducing the risk of COVID-19 will involve the entire campus community. She said university leaders are working with health department officials on guidelines for wearing cloth face coverings when appropriate and following CDC guidelines for social distancing, hand washing and other health protocols.

Tim Thimmesch, associate vice president for Facilities Services, said an enhanced cleaning and sanitation plan is in place on Grand Valley campuses. He said it will be "all hands on deck" as employees return.

"Our staff will transition to daytime shifts and will be visible and available," said Thimmesch. "We will be sanitizing classrooms, restrooms, break areas and conference rooms each day, and we need employees to hit those touch points in offices and work spaces. We will provide product for that."

Visit for the complete plan, including procedures for air and water quality.

Greg Sanial, vice president for Finance and Administration, said Grand Valley was able to absorb the initial financial impact of COVID-19 and now the university is taking measures to build the budget.

"With the uncertainty of enrollment and state appropriations we are taking measures to reduce our deficit, for example delaying capital projects, delaying pay raises and potential restructuring," said Sanial. "I'm confident Grand Valley will buck the trend. We just need to get through this deep V and we will be in good shape in the long run."

Lynn "Chick" Blue, vice president for Enrollment Development, said enrollment numbers for spring/summer 2020 were higher than last year and she is optimistic about fall enrollment. "The numbers are coming back steadily after they were stalled by COVID-19," Blue said.

Maria Cimitile, provost and executive vice president for Academic and Student Affairs, said deans and faculty members are reviewing course offerings to identify those that can be adapted to different formats: fully online, hybrid or physically distant face-to-face. She said there will be a shift from scholarship and service for one year to accommodate the need for more teaching.

"I know there are concerns. I am asking for a short-term sacrifice for the overall good," Cimitile said.

Mantella said leadership from across all divisions of the university are working on the complex plan for fall. "We understand the value of expert knowledge and we are utilizing that knowledge through our experts and through their networks and connections to lead our university forward," she said.

Visit for comprehensive information on preparation for Fall 2020, including health and safety, university life, support for students and faculty, and information about a campuswide signage plan, "Lakers Together — Standing Apart." 


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