An up-to-date FAQ guide about life after Duke closed due to coronavirus

It seems a long time ago when Duke announced its plans for possible student self-quarantining after spring break. The University has since changed many of its policies due to the rapid spread of the coronavirus, but the initial news generated more questions than it answered. The Chronicle compiled the questions that you asked and addressed them to the best of our ability below. 

Have a follow-up question? Ask us here.

We will update this guide as we learn more.

Q: How long will students be off campus? 

A: A possible return date to campus is very much up in the air, but it won’t be this semester. Duke encouraged students to leave campus housing as soon as they could on March 12, and Duke parents were advised March 16 that students in off-campus housing should leave Durham as soon as they were able.

Students who left Duke during spring break were told they should not return to campus, and a plan for students to gather their belongings, not just essential items, has not been announced yet.

The University has permitted students to remain on campus if leaving would put them at risk of their personal safety and health if they left, such as emancipated students and international students.

Q: So even if students don’t know when they can return to campus, is there a way to retrieve belongings from a dorm?

A: Right now, if you’ve left campus you can’t get them yourself, but Duke did offer to ship “essential” items from dorms to students. They have discontinued shipping additional items until conditions improve, according to a Qualtrics form.

Duke employees and students volunteered to pack and ship such necessary belongings, and Duke processed student requests that were submitted via a form from March 13 to March 17.

Q: What made something an “essential” item that could have been mailed to me?

A: Passports, wallets, prescription glasses, laptops, chargers and materials needed for current classes were among the objects that met Duke’s criteria. Some of the items Duke did not ship were clothes, food, bedding and room decorations. 

Students were initially told via email that they could have prescription medications sent to them, but Duke reversed that decision because it would be illegal to do so. Instead, students need to approach their original prescribers to get refills for such medications.

Q: What will students be reimbursed for?

A: There will be a reimbursement for unused housing and dining fees for students living on campus, but it's unclear whether that will come in the form of a refund or credit.

Barring a change from Duke, students fully on financial aid or scholarship will not receive a reimbursement. It's unclear what a reimbursement looks like for students partially on financial aid or scholarship. Duke will only reimburse what was actually paid for, according to Michael Schoenfeld, vice president of public relations and government affairs.

“It’s crazy busy but the real answer is that it is changing,” Alison Rabil, assistant vice provost and director of the Karsh Office of Undergraduate Financial Support, told The Chronicle March 19. “So I may have some of the answers today and they may be slightly different or entirely changed tomorrow.”

Q: What about commencement? Is that still going to happen?

A: In-person commencement will no longer take place May 10 and instead has been postponed to an unknown, later date. President Vincent Price pledged to hold commencement on campus in an email to the Duke community March 18.

Commencement speaker Ken Jeong, Trinity ‘90, will still celebrate on the original date virtually with the Class of 2020. He suggested on Twitter that he’s going to be doing so through TikTok.

Q: With events being canceled through May, what’s going to happen to summer programs?

A: While Duke hasn’t established a formal rule for summer programs, certain international programs have already been canceled.

DukeEngage programs in China and Korea were suspended in February, when both countries were under Level 3 travel risk advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DukeEngage Tanzania, Uganda and Vietnam have all been canceled.

The U.S. State Department issued a Level 4 travel advisory against all international travel for U.S. citizens, which was relayed to the Duke community March 19 in an email from Kyle Cavanaugh, vice president of administration and emergency coordinator. We don’t yet know what that means for other summer programs. 

Q: How's all this online learning going to work? How will courses be graded? What if I don't have Wi-Fi?

A: Courses are online for the rest of the Spring semester, and all undergraduate courses and courses of most graduate schools will be graded satisfactory/unsatisfactory by default. Undergraduate students must notify the registrar that they want to receive a letter grade by April 22 at 5 p.m.

Part of the reason that spring break was extended for an extra week was because Duke still wanted more time to figure all the particulars out. With thousands of classes and thousands of students, the best answers will come on a case-by-case basis as communicated by professors.

Generally speaking, Duke's Learning Innovation team has been working to streamline the transition process. Several of Duke's graduate and professional schools have online learning components, and Duke Kunshan University moved online earlier in the semester. 

Although the University hasn't dealt with a problem on this scale, it still has experience working to develop the technology and content for online courses.

Q: What’s happening to University-sponsored events?

A: Cavanaugh extended restrictions on University-sponsored events from April 20 to May 7 in his March 13 email to the Duke community. 

Previously, President Vincent Price announced that Duke would be canceling or virtualizing any on-campus or off-campus events with more than 50 people before April 20. 

Q: I have a reunion/tour/Blue Devil Days scheduled before May 7. Should I still go?

A: No. Reunions, campus tours for prospective students and Blue Devil Days before May 7 are all canceled. This includes recruitment weekends, such as the Black Student Alliance Invitational and Latino Student Recruitment Weekend.

Q: In the meantime, what's going to be open on campus? Libraries? Restaurants? Gyms?

A: Since March 13, all main campus buildings have required a DukeCard for entry. DukeCard access to dorms, however, has been restricted since March 16 at noon.

Duke Libraries has been closed since March 18 at 5 p.m. Duke Chapel, the Rubenstein Arts Center, the Nasher Museum of Art and Café, Duke Athletics Hall of Fame in Cameron Indoor Stadium, Sarah P. Duke Gardens and the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center have been closed to visitors since March 13.

There will be food service on campus, but the restaurants that will remain open are limited. According to Duke Dining’s website, Au Bon Pain, Cafe 300, Ginger & Soy, Il Forno, McDonalds, Panda Express, Sazon and the Loop are all open—but with shorter hours than normal. 

Duke Recreation facilities announced March 11 that they would temporarily close beginning March 12. It's unclear when they plan to reopen.

It's important to note that Duke is not actually shut down. Duke just does not want people gathering on campus and increasing the risk of the coronavirus spreading.

Q: What about campus workers who rely on students being present for their livelihood? Are they still getting paid?

A: University employees will be kept at their current pay status. Staff members who are able to work from home may choose to do so, and employees—such as bus drivers—whose duties are tied to a significant student presence on campus may be shifted to other jobs, but they will still be paid.

Although contract workers work at Duke, they are not employed by the University. Duke promised to give financial assistance to ensure contract workers maintain their current pay, if their employers aren’t able to pay and if workers aren't "covered by pending state and federal government programs," Executive Vice President Tallman Trask announced March 18. 

Duke later clarified that dining workers qualified for furlough pay are those who worked at least 30 hours a week in their pre-spring break assignments, which extends to all vendors on campus.

Q: What's the deal for Resident Assistants?

A: All RA responsibilities have concluded for the semester, according to an email sent to RAs obtained by The Chronicle. RAs will receive their April stipends, the email stated, but will not receive a payout for unused meal swipes or food points. If an RA wanted to remain on campus after March 23, they would have had to register through a housing registration form.

Q: What’s the situation with so many Duke community members testing positive for coronavirus after traveling abroad?

A: So far, around 30 members of the Duke community have tested at least presumptively positive for COVID-19 after traveling abroad. We don’t know whether all of these people were on the same trip. 

Duke has made three public announcements regarding these cases of coronavirus. 

Three Fuqua School of Business students tested positive outside of the United States and will remain in the unknown country until they have recovered. Duke announced four days later that at least 15 Duke community members tested presumptively positive in Durham after traveling overseas, while four other Duke community members on the same trip tested positive internationally and will self-isolate there.

As of March 18, 11 more members of the Duke community who recently traveled abroad tested presumptively positive in Durham.

Jake Satisky and Nathan Luzum contributed reporting.

Stefanie Pousoulides profile
Stefanie Pousoulides | Investigations Editor

Stefanie Pousoulides is The Chronicle's Investigations Editor. A senior from Akron, Ohio, Stefanie is double majoring in political science and international comparative studies and serves as a Senior Editor of The Muse Magazine, Duke's feminist magazine. She is also a former co-Editor-in-Chief of The Muse Magazine and a former reporting intern at PolitiFact in Washington, D.C.


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