To: Members of the Houghton Community
From: President Mullen
Re: Coming to Terms with COVID-19
For the past several weeks, our Emergency Management Team has actively monitored the unfolding drama of the COVID-19 pandemic, with special attention to potential implications for each of the several sectors of the Houghton College community. With students from nearly 30 countries around the world on our residential campus, semester-long programs in Kenya and London, and several off-site centers, we have truly been confronted with the COVID-19 from a global perspective.
I am grateful in particular to Dean Marc Smithers, our Chief Student Life Officer, who has chaired the Emergency Management Team, and to Dr. David Brubaker, our College Physician who has brought to our team not only his training and experience in global public health, but also daily connections with local, state and national public health authorities.
Throughout this process, the team has operated with a primary concern to protect our students’ safety, and secondarily, to limit the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their academic progress. As the crisis has developed, we have identified several additional guiding principles—including a recognition of our limited capacity to care for our community should the virus arrive on campus; the importance of executing a planned and orderly suspension of campus activities rather than a chaotic and sudden shut down in response to a confirmed case; the importance of erring on the side of caution in the present, lest there be a narrowing of potential options for action; and the need to act in the interests of the entire community, especially those who are most vulnerable.
While there is much that we do not know at this point, there seems every reason to believe that the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 will continue to rise. After taking into account counsel from the World Health Organization, the Center for Disease Control, and local and state Departments of Health, in the context of our own guiding principles, we have made the decision to suspend all on-campus instruction from the end of the academic day on Wednesday, March 18, 2020 through the end of the spring semester.
There are many implications of this decision—the most immediate of which include the following:
- Alternative learning delivery methods will begin on Monday, March 23rd. Your professors will be in contact with you about the specific modalities that will be utilized in their particular courses. Professors will be working between now and March 23rd to determine the most helpful ways to allow for continued instruction through the end of the semester. With the suspension of face-to-face instruction, it is imperative that students regularly check and respond to emails, as this will be our primary and most likely only way of communicating with students.
- Students are expected to leave campus as soon as they can after their last academic commitments on Wednesday, though residence halls will be open until 12:00pm the following day. We ask that all students be completely moved out of their residence hall rooms by Thursday, March 19th at 12:00pm. If you know you will have difficulty leaving by that time, please contact the Student Life Office as soon as possible with these concerns. We are currently working on contingency plans for student teachers and education majors taking practicums and will be communicating directly with these students and their professors in the coming days.
- Students who believe they are at high medical risk and should leave campus earlier than next Thursday should discuss their concerns with the Health Center.
- We are currently evaluating how best to make appropriate financial adjustments for room and board and will keep you posted on these matters.
- Though there are still no confirmed cases in Allegany County, nor any confirmed or suspected cases on campus, it is still prudent for the college to try and limit large gatherings of individuals for the time being. With this in mind, all events with external participants are cancelled between March 18th and the end of Easter break. Those directly responsible for planning these events should consider contingency plans or alternative attendance methods.
- Based on recent guidance from New York State which has limited public gatherings to no more than 500 people, Chapel will not be held for the remainder of the semester.
- In accord with today’s decision of the Empire 8 Athletic Conference, the college has suspended or cancelled upcoming athletic competitions for the remainder of the Spring semester.
- All college-sponsored international travel is cancelled at least through July 1, 2020. All non-essential college-sponsored domestic travel will be suspended until further notice. This would include trips whose goals can be accomplished at a later date, or through alternative media, as well as trips to high risk locations, or that involve large crowds.
- This provision includes the cancellation of all off-campus Mayterm travel—both international and domestic. (Any further information about potential alternative plans for these programs will come from the Off-Campus Programs Office.)
- The college will reevaluate both the large event gathering restrictions and on-campus Mayterm course delivery on or around April 1st. Any changes would take effect after April 14, 2020.
- Additional information about Commencement, end of the year banquets, and other large events will be decided at that point and communicated in a timely fashion.
- At this point, it is our expectation that the college will be fully operational during this period. Faculty and staff are expected to report to work as usual unless alternative work arrangements need to be made as a result of health or family concerns.
- We will continue to communicate further information as it becomes available.
Concluding Reflections. . .
This moment is unprecedented in Houghton’s history—and in the history of higher education. In a certain way, it seems appropriate for us that it comes in the midst of the Lenten Season—reminding us once again of our own finitude, our mortality, and our lack of control even over the circumstances of our daily lives. With little warning, the COVID-19 virus has turned our world upside down. Even for those not directly afflicted by the disease, this invisible enemy has threatened to upset our carefully laid plans for the rest of the spring semester; it has crushed dreams of overseas travel for many of our students; it has added new disappointments and disruptions to already stressed schedules. In short, COVID-19 has reminded us that we live in a world full of mystery and unpredictability—and that we are not in charge. It is my hope and prayer that we will seek—and find– in these unwelcome circumstances opportunities for redemptive creativity and improvisation. May it be that, in the not-too-distant future, we will look back on this season with gratitude for unexpected and yet unseen signs of grace.
In addition to following the college website, you may address any questions to my office at 585-567-9310. We thank you for your prayers for our students, faculty, and staff as they seek to continue to be the Houghton Community for each other in this challenging moment.
Shirley A. Mullen, 1976