COVID-19

New memo announces more details on housing, worker compensation and on-campus life during the coronavirus threat

Commencement is still on so far, some workers will receive paid leave, and certain services will be available for students on campus.

USC sent a university-wide memo on Friday announcing details about courses, housing, employment payment, events and travel during the remote instruction period due to the COVID-19 threat.

The USC community received the memo in an email sent just hours after President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus pandemic a national emergency - promising to allocate up to $50 billion in federal resources to fund COVID-19 testing programs, among other efforts.

The university memo emphasized that there are no reported cases of COVID-19 at USC.

CLASSES AND CAMPUS

The university is still planning to resume in-person classes on April 14, according to the memo from USC Provost Charles F. Zukoski, but the memo asserts that this could change with time.

Zukoski told Annenberg Media that the campus will remain open during this time.

“We are not under martial law. The campus is open in the sense that the gates will be open and people can walk through,” he said.

He adds people can visit campus and USC Village if they wish, but it’s up to each individual store to decide if it will remain open for business.

The memo adds that some buildings and facilities will be closed to the public. Zukoski told Annenberg Media that most of campus buildings will require key access.

USC Bookstore announced Friday evening via email that USC Bookstore locations at University Park Campus, Health Sciences Campus, USC hospital gift shops and SC Trojan Town at South Coast Plaza will remain open during this time. USC Bookstore will offer free FedEx Home Delivery Shipping on all online orders from now till April 13.

The memo also emphasized that all undergraduate classes will continue remotely, and students are expected to complete their coursework as the semester progresses. Zukoski confirmed in an interview with Annenberg Media that all undergraduate classes, including lectures, seminars, labs, studio, production and performance courses, will be taught via online instruction.

Graduate students will have their lectures and seminars held remotely, but some of them are still permitted to work in research labs and on their research projects as a requirement for their degree, as long as appropriate social distancing and good hygiene can be maintained, according to the memo. For health and sciences schools, clinical activities will continue without interruptions.

STUDENT WORKERS, STAFF AND FACULTY

Work from home options for staff will also be in place from March 16 to April 13。

In this memo, Zukoski specified that a minimum of two weeks of paid administrative leave will be granted to “staff and student workers whose work cannot be performed from home.” Zukoski said in the interview that he recommends student workers to talk to their supervisors on specific guidelines.

The announcement came days after a group of work-study students created an online petition on Change.org, urging USC to either continue student employment or establish a pay-out system for those who won’t be able to clock-in. As of Friday, it received just over 1,800 signatures.

Faculty will continue to be able to work in their campus office, lab and studio, which will be closed to the public due to the need for social distancing, according to the memo.

UNIVERSITY HOUSING AND DINING

While USC said in the interest of public health, students are expected to leave on-campus housing for Spring Break until April 13, the memo also laid out guidelines and regulations for students that remain on campus. Belongings may be left in locked dorm rooms, and students do not need to move all of their things out at this time.

USC is “encouraging” students who leave campus housing for spring break to stay home, according to a FAQs: Housing page on USC’s website. These students who left for spring break can access their USC Housing room to pick up belongs, but they are “discouraged” from remaining on campus and sleeping in their dorm.

“We are strongly discouraging traveling and interaction between communities that will increase exposure,” the USC information website repeats this message five times.

The provost’s memo also said any student who is unable to leave USC Housing will be allowed to remain on campus following a notification to USC housing.

Students must send their request to remain in their student housing to housing@usc.edu by Monday, March 16, according to the housing FAQ page.

The process applies to all university housings, including those that are near to the campus such as Cardinal Gardens, Troy Hall and Annenberg House.

“We would like all residents of USC Housing to let us know they intend to remain in their assignments via an e-mail to housing@usc.edu," USC Housing Director Christopher Ponsiglione. "USC Housing will be sending out notices via e-mail early next week with a link to gather more specific information from those students who are staying in order to align our operations to support them as efficiently as possible.”

Security, food and health services will be provided to students who are staying on USC Housing, while the fitness centers will be closed.

Everybody’s Kitchen will be open from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. during spring break, according to the housing FAQ page.

The university is still working on the exact way of delivering food to these students, Zukoski told Annenberg Media, but he promised there will be food provided. He said the concern is that the current buffet-style in dining halls may increase the spread of the virus.

“If the university implements a full closure, USC Hospitality will require students and guests to pick up their food-to-go. Kitchens will continue to operate in order to serve the Trojan community, but dining rooms will be closed until the closure is lifted and the university resumes a normal schedule,” the housing FAQ page states.

Additionally, “the guest policy for USC Housing will be suspended until April 14, only students who live in an assigned building will be able to access their respective buildings,” the memo stated.

Students who remain in the USC Housing will be able to leave their residential buildings and run basic errands in the city, according to the FAQ page.

Zukoski also noted that there will be a “pro-rata” - meaning proportional - refund or credit granted to students who have already paid housing and dining fees, although he specified that “we have not yet worked out the details or the process.”

Students who live in USC Housing can also choose to cancel their housing contract and they will receive a refund prorated from the date they move out, the FAQ page reads.

EVENTS, USC ADMISSIONS AND COMMENCEMENT

All university-sponsored, on and off campus events that are scheduled through April 12 will be canceled or postponed. The USC Athletics department has suspended all practices, camps and clinics, as well as all on and off campus recruiting and recruiting-related travel, until further notice, according to the memo.

All domestic and international university-related, non-essential travel for students, faculty, and staff – except for the purpose of students returning home – is suspended until April 12.

USC Admissions also announced earlier on Friday that all USC tours, information sessions and in-person events have been cancelled through until May 3, but this had no relation to the most recent memo or President Folt’s announcement sent out, according to USC Director of Admission Kirk Brennan. He said it was in reaction to USC’s Wednesday decision to extend online classes until April 14.

Brennan said that the extension “started to encroach on some planned events that we had” and “put a serious cramp on our ability to meet any strategic objectives.”

Brennan added that May 3 was selected to be around the time students will be making their final choices for colleges, but he said that “I don’t really know how that date specifically came up.”

“We anticipated from a campus visiting standpoint that we should focus our attention on developing some online content…for admitted students,” Brennan continued.

Right now, Brennan said that the admissions office is working on creating an online “menu of options for students to learn about different facets of campus.”

Brennan hopes these will be developed the same time that admission decisions are mailed out, around March 26th, but he said that “this is a crazy time, I don’t expect anything to be set in stone.”

While the memo laid out plans for changes that USC students will have to adjust to in the coming months, it also mentioned what will remain in place at this point.

Commencement, for example, is still scheduled for May 15 - almost one month after students are expected to return to campus for classes on April 13.

“While we still hope to gather at the end of the semester to celebrate commencement, we will continue to provide frequent updates on all these matters,” Zukoski wrote.

INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS AND INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL

International students are advised to carefully consider a return to their home country. The memo says it’s a personal decision. If they choose to do so, they are advised to check in with the Office of International Services via 213-740-2666 or ois@usc.edu to discuss visa status. Those remaining on-campus housing will receive the same housing, health and dining services described above.

The memo reminds international students that travel restrictions could arise at any moment.

“In the event you cannot return to USC from your home country, your academic program will assess your options. We are committed to supporting your academic progress,” the memo says.

The Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), which is a unit within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that oversees the F-1 international student visa program, has issued guidance to universities that in light of the rapid development of COVID-19 situation, “international students may temporarily take their classes online during a university’s period of modified instructional format, either from within the United States or outside the country,” according to the FAQ page for international student on the USC website.

The website also says that for graduating international students, they still need to be physically present in the United States to apply for Optional Practical Training, known as OPT, and OPT STEM extension. OPT is one way for international students to work in the U.S. after graduation.

Tony Tambascia, the executive director of OIS, said in an interview with Annenberg Media that the university will do their best to help affected international students to get enroll and continue their education at USC. Tambascia said he encourages students to make decisions first based on their individual needs, such as their health.

Tambascia told Annenberg Media that there is a significant short-term risk for students who leave the country and come back to the United States, and that risk is difficult to predict. For international students who are out of the U.S. for more than five months, they need to apply for a new I-20 form. Having a record of applying for a new I-20 form may be interpreted negatively by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services as starting over an F1 visa. That also could affect these student’s OPT employment eligibility.

He said many universities, including USC, are urging the Department of Homeland Security to give more flexibility to the five-month rule for students who may fall out of status due to travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus situation.

PRESIDENT CAROL FOLT

This memo came in tandem with a personal message from USC President Carol L. Folt, stressing the power of unity and the university’s efforts to act quickly while facing an uncertain future.

“I have been deeply moved by your patience, strength and resolve as the COVID-19 pandemic changes our lives. I am hearing and seeing that strength in our community now, and it is an inspiration,” she wrote. “This is a defining moment for who the Trojan family is and what the Trojan family and community means to us.”

Folt also shared her thoughts on the graduation commencement in her message.

“We all love commencement. It is a joyful time for our students and their families, and for the faculty and staff who have been working with them for years,” she said. “While we remain hopeful that we will be able to resume on-campus activities and host a full set of commencement events, we know this may not be possible. We will keep you updated and please know we already are thinking creatively should alternatives be needed.”

Folt noted that the university will continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and share updates with the USC communities.

“New decisions are being made across the country that will affect us and some are likely to offer relief to our community,” Folt wrote. “We promise to continually re-evaluate our options and to reach out to you whenever we have news, or if we plan further changes in USC activities.”

Update on 12:43 p.m., March 14, 2020: The story has been updated with a statement from USC Housing Director Christopher Ponsiglione about the housing process.