In Facebook Live Town Hall, Iuliano Answers Questions About College’s Handling of Coronavirus
By Phoebe Doscher, News Editor
President Bob Iuliano began Wednesday afternoon’s virtual town hall–his first live, public interaction since announcing Gettysburg College’s transition to remote learning for the remainder of the semester–alongside Vice President of College Life Darrien Davenport with an outpouring of gratitude for the campus community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He recalled a moment days earlier when he saw a group of seniors enjoying what very well might be their last time together on campus by stepping into the (empty) fountain. He noted their sadness, but was inspired by the positive reflection of Gettysburg’s lasting effect on its students.
“They were obviously sad; they were sad about the fact that the last few weeks of their senior year would culminate in a way that would not have them physically together,” he said. “They were also reflective that this place had worked its magic.”
Davenport and Iuliano spent a half hour on Facebook Live two days after students were directed to pack their belongings from campus for the semester fielding questions from students, parents, and other members of the Gettysburg College community in response to the decision to go remote. At the time of the town hall, Iuliano noted that the transition was well underway as students packed dorm rooms and faculty worked to prepare for classes to resume on Monday, Mar. 23.
Before turning to the questions, Iuliano told students to be on the lookout for communication from co-curricular programs, including the Eisenhower Institute, Center for Public Service, and other Gettysburg programs, for ways to engage during the remote learning time. He encouraged students to jump in and stay connected and creative, directing listeners to his weekly virtual office hours, available for signup on the College website. Here are the key takeaways from Iuliano’s town hall:
1. The College has yet to make a decision about Commencement.
Iuliano emphasized that no official decision has been made about Commencement; he is delaying making a decision for as long as he possibly can, although he will likely have to decide soon. He said he realizes how much it means to the seniors to have this tradition take place as it normally would, and whether they choose to go ahead with the May Commencement date or reschedule to a later date, he said, “We will find the right way to bring students together, to celebrate their remarkable four years here, their connection to this college.” He hopes students will have the chance to come back together to celebrate their accomplishments before being passed on to “the world that awaits.” Commencement Prep Day, scheduled for April 22, has been canceled.
2. A physical Get Acquainted Day will not take place for the Class of 2024.
Iuliano announced that the College will not be holding a physical Get Acquainted Day due to the health circumstances that exist, but aims to find a way to ensure that admitted students get a sense of the college, from the student body to the faculty and all the unique aspects of Gettysburg. “We will find a way to make sure that you all have the very best sense of the Gettysburg College that is quite a compelling place for our students and our faculty,” Iuliano said.
3. Those looking to support the college can do so in a myriad of ways.
Those who wish to help provide financial support to students at this time can donate to the Student Emergency Fund. Lauren Hyer ‘21 also began a Facebook page titled “Gettysburg College – Residential Resources!” to provide housing options for students. Iuliano mentioned that connectGettysburg is another way to link alums with students and provide mentorship.
4. About 50 percent of the room and meal plan will be reimbursed.
Students will receive a refund of about 50 percent for this semester’s meal plan and housing plan. “It’s the right thing to do since the students will not be on campus and eating their meals here,” Iuliano said.
5. The College has yet to decide if a pass/fail policy will be established for this semester’s courses.
Iuliano said the faculty is actively working to consider the possibility of making courses pass/fail in addition to a host of issues during the transition and disruption to the normal academic cycle. He has no official answer now, but the question will likely be addressed in the coming days. A source directly involved in such planning told The Gettysburgian that an update could be forthcoming as soon as this week.
6. Gettysburg will continue to monitor the opportunity for students to return to the residential environment, though Iuliano is not optimistic about a return.
President Iuliano voiced that he believes in a residential liberal arts and sciences education that is amplified when students learn from each other on campus, so “if it becomes safe and possible—just given timing issues—for us to return to a residential environment this semester, we would, of course, do so.” He recognized that the possibility of this happening, though, is low considering the trajectory of the outbreak. The College will continue to monitor the situation.
7. Iuliano explained the “careful” decision-making process used to determine the College’s transition to remote learning and the reaction from parents, alumni, and students.
After consulting with health and medical experts, the College recognized both the repercussions of the safety of the community and implications on students and families before deciding to go remote. He emphasized that the first priority was the safety of students and the broader community at Gettysburg College and the surrounding area. The responsibility to protect the community in an environment where social gatherings are central to operations coupled with the ability of the College to provide effective education by remote means made the judgement necessary for everyone’s best interests.
Iuliano has noticed a supportive response to this decision, pointing to a balloon sent to him by students to say thank you for making the best decision possible. He said he feels the sense of loss, but also notices the optimism and strength of the community to rally to make the most of the situation.
8. President Iuliano addressed the potential challenges with remote learning.
Students and faculty will have to undergo trial and error during this process, which Iuliano understands will not be flawless. He understands that it will take time to resume a new rhythm but has confidence in faculty and students to adjust and make proper academic advancements come the first day back in classes.
Iuliano encourages students who are struggling to engage with faculty, Peer Learning Associates, academic advisors, and other educational resources.
“If you are uncertain, if you are feeling like you’re not making the progress you want to, don’t sit back. Make sure you raise your hand, talk to a faculty member, talk to an advisor. We’re going to figure out how to get you the resources you need to make progress during this period.” he said.
9. The President shared his thoughts on the petition for students to return to campus.
Delaney Etzkorn ‘23 began a petition before the remote learning announcement encouraging the Office of the President to allow students to return to campus after the extended spring break through March 23. Iuliano said he thought the petition was “wonderful,” and was an example of Gettysburg’s ability to encourage students to use their voices to make a difference in a “thoughtful, respectful, and engaging way.” He agreed with their sentiments to return, but ultimately had to make the decision to keep students off campus for the semester considering the overarching public health issues.
10. Iuliano’s final message to seniors: Thank you.
He ended the virtual town hall by addressing the seniors to thank them for their patience and understanding during this time. He applauded their contributions to the community and vowed to find a way to celebrate them before sending them into the post-collegiate world. He also apologized for the sadness associated with this necessary decision.
Iuliano and Davenport directed the campus community to the College website for information regarding COVID-19, particularly the Frequently Asked Questions section which will be updated as questions arise.
A phone bank is also open for direct communication with the College at 717-337-8800.