President Iuliano updates the campus community on reopening Gettysburg College in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dear Members of the Gettysburg Community,
It is hard to believe we are now more than a month into our remote learning environment, with only a few weeks remaining until final exams. When we made the decision to move to an online format, we did so with the health and safety of our community foremost in mind. In that spirit, I very much hope that you and your families are doing as well as possible in these extraordinary times.
I said early on—and I have reiterated many times since—that I have been struck by the resiliency of this community and its ability to adapt, not only without complaint but also with an impressive sense of determination. I know that remote learning is not what any of us would prefer, but let us continue our commitment to engage with one another, to support one another, and to remain connected to one another as the academic year comes to a close.
Last week we surveyed our students to see how they were adjusting to learning remotely. What we heard back was not all that surprising—some students are doing well, others need extra support, and essentially everyone misses being together on campus. It’s a sentiment I feel each day, too. For the students who indicated that they need extra help, our Academic Advising Office, Information Technology Office, and College Life Division have each reached out to offer that support. Now more than ever, I would also encourage everyone to connect with family, friends, and fellow Gettysburgians to see how they are doing.
To our students, I wish you all good fortune on your remaining academic responsibilities. I also hope that you are taking advantage of the co-curricular programs that we continue to offer. I have been impressed with the many activities that are available, and grateful for the creativity and sense of continuity they reflect. These programs are an excellent way to stay connected, and to broaden your experiences and perspectives, so please continue to participate in them.
As the calendar heads toward May and the spring semester comes to a close, I am certain that the question of what will come of the fall semester is on your mind. As you would expect, the College has for several weeks now been engaging in a study of various scenarios. We would now like to expand that work through a series of groups focused on specific issues.
Before saying more about the working groups, let me be clear about two central principles:
First, as it has been from the outset, protecting the health and safety of our community is our highest priority. We are paying careful attention to federal and state guidelines, including the federal government’s Guidelines to Open America Again and Pennsylvania Governor Wolf’s guidelines for Pennsylvania. And we will continue to seek public health advice, as we have done from the outset of this situation.
Second, we have an abiding commitment to and belief in the importance of the residential educational experience. Our community has responded with skill and ingenuity to the remote learning environment, and that has ensured that our students have continued to make academic progress. I could not be prouder of our collective response. Yet we want to be together, indeed we are at our best when we are together, and we are determined to resume our residential environment in the fall if it is responsible for us to do so.
In saying this, we recognize that the pandemic, at least in its current form and intensity, presents a unique set of challenges to a residential learning environment. By our very design, we work in close quarters, and our students live together, eat together, socialize together, study together, and come to us from all parts of the country and the world. It is this reality, coupled with the inherent uncertainties about the evolution of the virus, that has encouraged us to approach the fall through a systematic evaluation of options.
I have therefore charged four groups, made up of faculty and staff, to build on the thoughtful work the College, and especially the Campus Emergency Response Team, has done from the outset of the pandemic. Each group will report to me and will create a set of recommendations, which in turn will be advanced as appropriate in our shared governance system.
- One group will be focused on the continuity of fall and spring academic programs, including a possible scenario in which we are unable to convene residentially for some part of the academic year. This group will assess possible changes to our academic calendar, curriculum, pedagogy, and learning platforms.
- A second group will be asked to evaluate how the College should consider institutional work or related travel in the fall, including study abroad and international conferences.
- A third group will focus on the residential and co-curricular dimensions of the calendar and assess the implications on the student experience, campus health and safety, counseling, housing, dining, athletics, student engagement, and inclusion. The goal of this work is to advance our commitment to campus safety, while also ensuring that we provide our students the fullest possible educational experience under any scenario.
- A fourth group will be asked to recommend a clear roadmap toward the recovery of normal business operations, including measures to facilitate the continuity of operations in the wake of the pandemic. This group will also examine various pricing structures if we cannot return to our residential learning environment.
In consultation with the new Student Senate officers, we will also be constituting a student advisory group consisting of a cross section of our student body. It will serve as a resource to the working groups and to the College as a whole. While each of the working groups will be open to suggestions from the entire community—including from students—the student advisory group will help ensure that student perspectives are fully included in the process.
Taken together, the working groups will be focused on issues that speak to fundamental aspects of how we are structured. It is work that will be undertaken in the context of considerable uncertainty about the future scope of the virus and its implications to society and to institutions, like ours, that see the importance of being together. It will require the groups, and ultimately each of us, to be creative, flexible, and open to new ways of doing our work.
As I said at a recent faculty meeting, the broad education we offer our students instills in them an important capacity for adaptability and resiliency. What we have modeled as an institution over the past several months is precisely those traits, and they will continue to be called upon as we respond to a set of economic and social challenges brought about by the pandemic. But it is also those traits, and the inherent strength and connectedness of this institution, that assures me that the path we chart will be one driven by our most fundamental values, including our focus on our students.
As a College, we seek to ready our students for an increasingly complex and interconnected world. That mission has never been more important, and I look forward to working with all of you as we advance this essential mission.
With enormous gratitude,