President Iuliano addresses the state-wide shutdown and how it affects students and the College.
Heraclitus, a philosopher from ancient Greece, famously observed that change is the only constant in life. The last several weeks have given proof to his point, as this College and society adjusts to an unprecedented challenge to the way we live and interact. Yesterday, the College again experienced the need to adapt to changing circumstances and we are writing to explain more fully than was possible last night the judgments we made and how we are moving forward.
When the College decided to move to a remote learning environment, we did so with the health and well-being of the community as the highest priority. Within that framework, we wanted to give students a fair opportunity to retrieve their belongings, in part to ensure that they would have what they needed once remote classes began. The College nonetheless urged students to return “as soon as possible” because at any moment “factors beyond our control” could make it impossible for us to continue to make the residence halls available.
Last night, a factor beyond our control occurred: the Pennsylvania governor ordered that all businesses, other than those necessary for life and safety, cease their physical operations at 8:00 p.m. The order, while effective as of 8:00 p.m., also indicated that the commonwealth would not commence enforcement activities until midnight today, March 20. Given the order, and other considerations we explain below, we determined that we could no longer make the residence halls available to students as of 8:00 p.m. yesterday.
We have since heard from many students and parents, expressing concern about the change from our original deadline and asking why we did not elect to disregard the order during the period when the government would not be undertaking enforcement efforts. We understand this position, appreciate that the change in policy has added to the stress that every aspect of the pandemic is imposing on every family and on our students, and share the desire for students to have their necessary possessions once we move to a remote learning environment.
The decision to proceed as we did followed from certain foundational principles.
Most importantly, our touchstone throughout this period has been the safety and well-being of our community. The governor’s order to shut down businesses is extraordinary and represents a significant change in the commonwealth’s approach to the pandemic. It reflects an unequivocal statement about the growing nature of the risk to the population—an assessment supported by the growing number of cases in the state, including the first confirmed case in our county.
In this context, we made the decision we did. It was informed by the fact many students had yet to retrieve their belongings. We no longer thought it advisable—for the students or for the staff with whom they would necessarily be interacting—for a cohort of students to come back to campus over a compressed period of time and from various places across the country. The governor’s order spoke to the importance of minimizing contact as a means of flattening the curve and reducing potential burdens on our health care infrastructure; had we persisted with our existing schedule, not only would we have been acting against the order, but, perhaps more importantly, we would have been working against its essential public health objective.
To the students and their families who were en route, we recognize and are deeply sorry for the inconvenience occasioned by the governor’s order. We are, however, working hard to ensure that our students’ ability to engage with their classes next week occurs as well as possible. First, we have contracted with a professional moving company that will quickly pack and send to any interested student a box of essential personal belongings still on campus, such as laptops, medicine, and academic material. College Life has already been in touch with students about this possibility.
Second, we have been speaking with the faculty and underscored that students will be differently situated next week in their access to academic material. We have asked the faculty to spend time understanding each student’s personal situation, including what the students might see as potential obstacles to their being able to engage in their ongoing studies. Students who have concerns should reach out to their faculty members or to their advisors. Everyone at Gettysburg is determined to do everything we can to make the transition to a remote learning environment an effective one for all our students.
We thank you for your understanding and for everything you will do to help make this transition work. Like every one of you, the College is responding to a context that is changing by the moment, but we will continue to place our emphasis on the community’s well-being and, within that context, on the academic progress of our students.
For continuing updates and an FAQ, please visit the page on the College’s website dedicated to COVID-19.
Very truly yours,