As the University of Mary Washington embarks upon yet another “unusual semester,” President Troy Paino yesterday offered via Zoom a message filled with hope and honesty. Channeling FDR’s “Fireside Chats,” he spoke from the heart, delivering his all-University address near the fireplace in Brompton.
UMW faculty and staff have shown a “willingness to adapt to changing circumstances,” Paino said, thanking those working from home as well as faculty teaching in the classroom and remotely. He expressed gratitude toward frontline workers in residence life, dining, housekeeping, maintenance and university police, who have made it possible for students to return to campus this weekend. He also singled out Mary Washington’s mental health community for supporting students, faculty and staff during these challenging times.
Surveys that went out last semester indicated students were proud of how the UMW community persevered and kept its coronavirus case numbers low through the fall, Paino said. Despite the January uptick in local COVID-19 cases, he remains confident that Mary Washington’s comprehensive plan and MMDC campaign – monitoring, masking, distancing and cleaning – will minimize risks for the campus and the community.
UMW is even more prepared this spring in terms of testing, he continued. The University plans to administer tests to all students – residential and commuting – upon their arrival on campus and to randomly test 500 students each week throughout the semester. With the need for additional tests and other COVID-related resources, Paino has requested more funding from the state legislature.
Providing updates on UMW’s work with Mindpower, an Atlanta-based branding firm, he described their proposed creative concepts as “authentic” to Mary Washington’s identity. He expects the internal brand rollout to happen in late spring. Paino also encouraged an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to assist Admissions with recruitment and retention efforts, welcoming faculty and staff to contribute wherever and whenever they can.
Noting the retirement of Provost Nina Mikhalevsky and announcing the retirement of Vice President for Equity and Access Sabrina Johnson, Paino said both are working closely with administration to lay the foundation for the future of the institution. He said 2020 was a learning year. Revamping UMW’s strategic plan is now a priority, he said, using lessons learned about course offerings, technology and teaching modalities, equity and access, affordability and the University’s role in addressing systemic racism.
On the heels of the recent renaming of Trinkle to Farmer Hall, plans are under way to honor other individuals who have contributed to the UMW community. Paino thanked Professor of Biology Andrew Dolby for leading an ongoing effort to recognize the late Dr. Venus R. Jones, a former chemistry major and physician who was Mary Washington’s first Black graduate.
The president also gave updates on current and planned campus construction projects, including the renovation of Virginia Hall, scheduled to open in fall 2021, as well as the adjacent fountain in front of Monroe Hall. Restoration of Seacobeck, future home of the College of Education, is under way, with plans to open in 2022. In May, disruptive underground work will begin on UMW’s aging steam and water infrastructure, but Paino offered assurance that Campus Walk will be restored by the time students return this fall.
As for commencement for the classes of 2020 and 2021, UMW will continue to monitor circumstances and make an announcement by mid-March, Paino said.
He concluded by touching upon his response two days after the Jan. 6 civil unrest at the U.S. Capitol. As he was weighing his decision to address the incident, Paino said he felt a sense of responsibility as the president of a public arts and sciences institution.
“Our most fundamental purpose is to educate citizens that will ensure not only that our democracy survives, but that it thrives,” he said, citing UMW’s ASPIRE values. “Scholarship, respect and civility are necessary ingredients in the pursuit of that mission.”