March 11, 2020
4:35 PM EST
Dear Students, Faculty and Professional Staff,
As I described in yesterday’s all-campus email, the COVID-19 virus is creating unprecedented circumstances. In response, Senior Staff, the Crisis Management Team, and I have been weighing all available information and determining the best ways to protect the health and safety of F&M’s students, faculty, and professional staff, while ensuring our students can complete their academic requirements for the semester and for graduation.
First, we should not overreact. There are no reported cases of coronavirus at F&M, nor is anyone from our campus community being tested for coronavirus. One of our faculty members was notified this week that she had been in contact with someone who later tested positive for coronavirus. She is not experiencing symptoms and has self-isolated since notification. However, she did teach one class on campus before being notified. Dr. Amy Myers, managing physician for the Student Wellness Center, is currently reaching out to the students in that class. Based on consultation with health authorities, we are very confident that our community has not been endangered by this potential exposure to the virus. Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health has advised us that the odds of the virus having been transmitted are very remote, particularly because 10 days have passed since the faculty member’s potential exposure and because she continues to exhibit no symptoms.
That said, this situation is an obvious reminder that our campus does not exist in a bubble, and as the virus spreads, it becomes more difficult, almost by the day, to mitigate risk for our community. The advent of spring break complicates that risk considerably.
There are many unknowns about the COVID-19 virus, but we do know from health authorities that social distancing is among the most effective means of mitigating its transmission. Therefore, for the health and safety of our community, our goal for the near future is to reduce the number of instances where our faculty, staff, and students are gathered in groups or spending periods of time in close proximity with one another.
We have made the following decisions in support of that goal:
- After spring break, beginning on Monday, March 23, F&M’s classes will be conducted online or via other alternative modes through at least April 3. The College will reassess the circumstances prior to April 3 to determine whether students may return to campus, or whether instruction must remain online or via alternative modes for the remainder of the semester.
- All students who are able to go home for a few weeks and then return to campus on or after April 3 must do so. Since there is some possibility that the COVID-19 situation could become far worse, students should plan to take whatever they need to do their academic work online from elsewhere. At the moment, our plan is to resume normal functioning after April 3.
- Some students will need to remain on campus, including those from countries with travel restrictions and others with extenuating circumstances. We will soon send a link to a form for those who wish to petition to stay on campus.
- We are mindful that this unprecedented situation creates many kinds of hardship. Some examples include questions related to on- or off-campus employment, extra travel expenses, and digital access. We have established a one-stop email address for all of your questions and concerns: COVID19@fandm.edu. Please reach out. The College stands ready to listen and help.
- For those who do remain on campus, we will implement practices that reinforce social distancing, including changes to dining hall practices and seating, and decisions regarding events. We will inform the community as soon as possible about any changes to these activities.
- Dining Services, the library, Facilities Operations, and the Wellness Center will remain open. Faculty may continue to use their offices, labs, and studios. We do ask that meetings where attendees are required to sit in close quarters (closer than six feet apart) be switched to Canvas, Google Meet, or other online platforms.
- We will be communicating about meal plan information, shuttles, library hours and many other details in the near future.
- The College will remain open. Administrative offices will continue to operate as normal, and professional staff should report as usual.
This has been a tough decision. A critical element of the F&M experience is personal interaction—students with their professors and coaches, and with one another. We are a close-knit community. We are fully committed to our distinctive model of personalized education. But in this time of too many unknowns, we must focus on what we know (that social distancing is critically important) and prioritize the safety of our community members. This is particularly true for members of our community who are immunosuppressed and those who are older.
We will employ a lot of creative thinking to enable the continuation of not only our classroom work, but also the substantial learning that happens in labs and studios. But I commit to you that we stand prepared to do all that is necessary to make our unusual circumstances function well, and to support our faculty, staff, and students as they continue to teach and learn as only Diplomats can until we are able to resume normal operations on or after April 3.
Students: I know there are many questions yet to be answered, including how an extended disruption could impact our Commencement ceremony. Please keep an eye on your F&M email accounts as more information will follow soon.
Professional staff: Our jobs will continue as before, but we all can expect some change, as well. During the next few weeks, we may need to shift how we spend our days, to include greater support for our faculty and students, whether assisting those who are still on campus or those who are working out new models of alternative learning. The spirit of generosity that you bring to your work every day is something I have come to count on, and I thank you in advance for helping us all to get through these next weeks. More communications will be coming from Human Resources very soon.
Faculty: I thank you for your patience, good will, hard work and inventiveness. We know this circumstance asks a lot of you. You will be hearing a great deal more from Provost Wesson and from other areas providing support, such as ITS.
We don’t have answers to all the questions, but we are working diligently to answer as many as possible. You can find answers to questions on our COVID-19 FAQ, which we will update regularly. We also will stay in contact with the campus community via email. I have asked a group of colleagues on campus to help respond to questions generated by these decisions. Please write to COVID19@fandm.edu with your questions or concerns, or just hit reply to this message and one of us will get back to you as soon as possible.
Finally, at this highly stressful time, I urge us all to act with empathy, caring, and awareness of others. Please exercise caution and care in your personal travels and activities, such as attending events with large numbers of people. Our personal risk is elevated with increased exposure to large groups, and we have a responsibility to ourselves and to the others around us to make good decisions. This is our best chance of returning to normal operations in April.
Barbara K. Altmann