The University of Maryland’s Graduate Council voted Wednesday morning to relax the graduate school’s existing policies on holding dissertation and thesis defenses remotely in the event of a “public health emergency.”

Graduate school policy previously allowed only some parties in a thesis or dissertation examining committee to participate in a student’s defense remotely — the candidate, the committee’s chair and a representative of the graduate school’s dean were all required to be present in the examination room.

But recognizing that it may not be possible to physically convene the committee in the same room during the coronavirus crisis,  the Graduate Council agreed that all participants should be allowed to take part remotely via videoconference if putting off a student’s defense would “significantly delay” the time it would take them to earn their degree — by at least one semester.

“We’re allowing for flexibility given people’s concerns and preexisting conditions and travel and all that,” said Brooke Fisher Liu, associate dean in the graduate school for academic standards and policies.

The new policy clarifies, however, that normal rules for the examination should apply if the university is open.

“Remote participation by candidates, chairs and Dean’s Representatives during a public health emergency will not establish a precedent for remote participation in non-emergency situations,” the policy reads.

The Graduate School approved the policy a day after the university announced it would be cancelling classes for a week following spring break and moving all coursework online for at least two weeks thereafter in response to the spread of COVID-19 across the country. Students should expect not to attend in-person classes until at least April 10, the campuswide email said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, three positive cases of the virus had been confirmed in Prince George’s County, and as of Tuesday evening, there were five other cases in Montgomery County and one in Harford County.

Before holding a defense remotely, the chair of the student’s dissertation committee should ask the graduate school for permission, according to the policy. Permission should be granted if one of the individuals previously required to be present during the defense are unable to travel to campus due to quarantine or travel restrictions recommended by Maryland or the U.S., or if they present “other compelling reasons” for not being able to meet in person.

If the defense is held remotely, software must be used that allows all participants to be able to see and hear each other throughout the defense, according to the policy.