College Moves to Remote Instruction for Remainder of Semester
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
Students will not return to the Gettysburg College campus for classes this semester. The college will transition to remote instruction, many employees will work from home, and the college will remain broadly shuttered as social distancing measures take on heightened urgency as the coronavirus spreads.
President Bob Iuliano made the announcement Monday, six days after his initial declaration that extended spring break through Mar. 23, one week past its scheduled end.
In the past week, faculty members have prepared to teach online courses, students have returned home from European study abroad programs, and isolation zones have been established on the outskirts of campus, though it now appears those zones are obsolete. Only students with extenuating circumstances — such as living in a country to which there is a travel ban — will be permitted to continue to live on campus, and doing so requires special college approval. Other students must return to campus by Mar. 21 to gather their belongings, surrender their keys, and return home.
“Following a conversation with the Board of Trustees, the College has determined that the only responsible step for our students and the entire community is to move to a remote learning environment for the remainder of the semester,” Iuliano said. “We considered, as some have urged, making a series of interim decisions. Given the view of public health experts that the virus will continue to expand domestically for the foreseeable future, and the need for families, students, faculty, and the College itself to make plans, we decided it was not constructive or appropriate to create such uncertainty.”
The college will refund 50 percent spring semester room and board charges, but will not refund tuition.
“Our school is one of tradition and for us to not be able to partake in the activities that would bring our class together one last time, activities that we’ve looked forward to, is heartbreaking.” – Callie Fucarino ’20, Senior Class President
The effect of the decision has landed particularly hard for seniors, who will not get to return to campus to finish their final semester with friends and mentors and who may not have the opportunity to walk at an in-person graduation ceremony. A decision about Commencement, which is currently scheduled for May 17, has not been made.
“Our school is one of tradition and for us to not be able to partake in the activities that would bring our class together one last time, activities that we’ve looked forward to, is heartbreaking,” Senior Class President Callie Fucarino said. “Of course we wish we could gather to have our senior toast, jump in the fountain if we haven’t, and walk out of Penn Hall at Commencement looking to the future. At this point, I’m sure many of us would even love to cram in the library for an exam. However, we must adjust and remember the silver lining of all of this; the memories, friendships, and great lessons we have acquired over these last three and half years can not be taken away.”
The decision to shutter campus also falls at a precarious time for the Admissions Office, which has been forced to cancel dozens of student visits and other events in the height of yield season, when high school seniors are weighing college decisions. Decisions for the Class of 2024’s regular decision pool were released last Friday at 5:00 p.m. Get Acquainted Day, scheduled for Apr. 18, has not yet been officially canceled, a college spokesperson said, but is the topic of active conversation about how to proceed. At a special presentation of enrollment and financial information to the faculty held Jan. 28, Vice President of Enrollment and Educational Services Barbara Fritze signaled that she was “cautiously optimistic” about enrollment numbers for the incoming fall class, though that remains contingent on strong enrollment from accepted students in the regular decision pool.
Gettysburg is not alone, of course, in confronting these challenges. Almost all of Gettysburg’s geographically-closest peer institutions have moved to some form of virtual instruction, beginning with Bucknell, which announced last Tuesday that it would suspend in person instruction and on campus activities for the remainder of the semester, and continuing with Franklin and Marshall, which, to date, has suspended those activities through Apr. 3.
Last Friday, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf ordered all Pennsylvania public schools to close for two weeks, and he ordered heightened social distancing measures in counties where the threat of community spread is particularly acute. Thus far, Adams County does not fall into that category.
Still, Pennsylvania health officials have signaled strong support for colleges across the Commonwealth engaging in mitigation strategies. At a press conference last week, Pennsylvania Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine was direct when discussing the closures of Bucknell and Penn State.
“I support these actions,” Levine said.
The long-term impact on Gettysburg College remains unknown, and students of all class years are in various stages of processing the news. Yesterday, some signed a controversial petition urging the college to resume in-person instruction.
To Fucarino, the abrupt end to the on campus portion of the semester should not define the experience students have had.
“Saying goodbye in a way we weren’t prepared for will be difficult,” she said, “but it should not take away from who we all have become and who we will continue to be as we go forward with what Gettysburg has taught us in and out of the classroom.”
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