KU postpones spring commencement, implements hiring freeze amid COVID-19 pandemic

photo by: Richard Gwin/Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from May 15, 2016, University of Kansas mascot Big Jay is dressed in graduation regalia during KU's commencement.

Updated at 12:03 p.m. Thursday

The University of Kansas on Thursday announced it would postpone the annual spring commencement ceremony to a date in late summer or early fall as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread across the globe.

The ceremony was originally scheduled for May 17, but Chancellor Douglas Girod and Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer said the timing was simply too uncertain to bring together thousands of people in Memorial Stadium.

Degrees will still be certified as normal, but there will be no in-person graduation events in May, the two leaders said in a message to campus. Students responded to a survey last week about what they wanted for a commencement ceremony if it couldn’t be held as scheduled, and the response was overwhelmingly in favor of a later date rather than a virtual ceremony as some universities are doing.

“While we remain hopeful a summer or fall event will be possible, we must also recognize the reality that the pandemic may again impact this event,” the message said.

Girod and Bichelmeyer also announced that the university was implementing strategic freezes on hiring and salary increases for faculty and staff members. The measures will be in place until KU can determine steps to “re-establish (its) financial footing.”

“Even though we’ve taken great measures to ensure the university continues to operate and students continue to learn under these extraordinary circumstances, the pandemic has already had a significant financial impact on our institution,” the message read.

The hiring freeze will apply to all new hires, except for positions directly related to the following areas:

• Critical campus and community safety

• Continuity of critical research mission

• Continuity of critical education mission

• Continuity of critical business functions

• Contribution to critical health care/clinical mission

All of the exceptions are still subject to leadership approval. The message also said that any job offers already made and accepted in writing would be honored. If a job offer was made but not yet accepted, it will be reviewed by a hiring committee.

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to affect KU’s operations, the university suspended all business-related travel with exceptions for Kansas and Missouri. Even that travel was discontinued for the time being, the university announced. Missouri has over 1,500 cases of the virus as of Wednesday.

Finally, the message said, KU’s summer courses will likely take place entirely online, but officials would be monitoring a possible return to in-person classes for the summer, should the spread of the respiratory disease drastically slow.

Girod and Bichelmeyer emphasized the importance of all members of the campus community taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“Jayhawks, we can’t stress enough how important it is that you each take seriously social distancing and stay-at-home measures, as well as hygiene and cleaning recommendations,” the message read. “We want you back with us in person, not just on a screen.”

“Our road to renew campus, to hold Commencement, to revitalize our operations – it all depends on you, your classmates, your colleagues, and your friends and family members being active participants in efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19.”

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