Dear campus community,
Since March, the global pandemic has presented a set of unprecedented and deeply complicated challenges to all of American higher education. Confronted with a notably efficient and persistent virus, higher education has sought to remake itself to ensure that it continues to meet its educational obligations to its students in the context of a pandemic. The necessary transformations have been many and profound. None has been more significant than creating a wholly new public health infrastructure on our campuses that includes requiring important changes to the way we interact.
We entered the fall with such a public health infrastructure—a comprehensive system guided at every step by medical expertise. We were and are confident in its effectiveness. But we are also seeing, in ways not distinctive to Gettysburg College, how quickly the virus can spread if the protocols that undergird that infrastructure are not followed. On our campus, we are now presented with a system taxed to an extent that requires us to rethink how we proceed for the remainder of the semester. Since our last message to the community, we have confirmed six new positive cases, bringing our total for the week to 31, and to 64 positive test results over the past eight days. We have 150 students currently in quarantine because of contract tracing, and many others who have been in quarantine and since been cleared to return to residence.
I am writing, therefore, to share the difficult news that, after consultation with our Board of Trustees and medical experts, we have determined it is necessary to reduce the number of students on campus. The first-year class and a cohort of other students will be able to continue to remain in residence; other students will return home and learn remotely for the remainder of the fall semester. Below, I outline our next steps in this process, as well as identify what student cohorts will remain on campus and those that will phase out of our residential model. More details regarding this transition can be found on the College website.
This is a significant step, and one we do not take lightly. But, since our first communication about COVID-19, we have emphasized that our decisions as a College would be guided by what we could reasonably and responsibly do, with a focus on the health and well-being of the community we serve. In too brief a time, we have seen a deeply concerning increase in the incidents of cases on our campus with the resulting stress on all of the systems that support a productive return to campus. Sixty-four cases in a little more than a week must give us all considerable concern. It threatens to outstrip our ability to house and quarantine students, as well as our contact-tracing capacity. We are beginning to see symptomatic students. Regrettably, we find ourselves on a path that is not sustainable, and it has caused us to come to the necessary but regrettable judgment that we needed to act before our overarching commitment to community well-being was compromised.
This decision is also guided by our determination to provide students with a dynamic and engaging residential experience. It is clear that the spike in cases has made it harder to meet what our students want, indeed deserve, much less what we expect of ourselves. The recent need to engage in substantial campus-wide restrictions—which we recognize has imposed a meaningful burden on our students—is the most evident illustration. Less obvious is what this has meant for the ability of the College to provide the transformational co- and extra-curricular activities that help define this campus. Simply put, the call on our resources to buttress the public health infrastructure has meant that we have been too stretched to support too many of the other activities that make this a special experience for our students.
A recalibration will not stop us from advancing our mission or achieving our highest academic priorities; rather, it is the next step in our public health model—designed to ensure the effective protection of our campus community as a whole and in the quality of our educational offerings. For the students who will remain in residence (our residential cohort), it holds the promise of enhancing their overall experience. The first-years will remain together, here, forming the relationships with faculty and each other that will endure throughout their lives. We will be able to give each student a single room and College Life will be better positioned to provide co- and extra-curricular programming. Fewer students equates to a lesser demand on our public health infrastructure. All of our requirements about the use of masks and physical distancing will, of course, continue to apply, and in that vein, it is worth noting that the first-year students have demonstrated a commendable commitment to our protocols.
For the students who will be learning remotely (our remote cohort), our faculty have intensively prepared for this possibility over the summer. Indeed, our faculty have been engaging our students through innovative online pedagogy during the opening weeks of this semester. Furthermore, our faculty will be prepared to engage individual students who need additional support throughout the remainder of the fall semester. We have also established a range of co-curricular activities, including virtual fitness classes and programming on the presidential election, that will ensure an engaging educational experience, both academically and co-curricularly. We will have more details about how remote education will be administered in the coming days.
Finally, this decision speaks to what we will do for the remainder of this semester, not for the remainder of the year. A smaller residential student body will give us opportunities to learn about how we might change our approach to the second semester in ways that may permit us to return together as a community. There are also encouraging developments on rapid-testing and vaccines, either of which could make a dramatic difference. As I have said throughout the summer, we want to be together and we will work as hard as possible to make that a reality for the spring.
I recognize that most of you will be deeply saddened, even frustrated, by our need to de-densify. I share in these emotions. I so looked forward to having you all back on campus this fall. In my conversations with you, I know you were excited to be back as well. Returning to residence amid a global pandemic was always going to be challenging. We understood and embraced this, investing our best thinking and energies into making it possible. Given all that our residential liberal arts experience offers, we owed it to our students to try. Indeed, it was a worthy pursuit.
That said, we have much work ahead of us to ensure a smooth transition. At this juncture, therefore, I ask that we dedicate our focus to ensuring a safe and orderly campus departure for the students pivoting to remote learning, supporting those students who will remain on campus, and doing everything in our power to provide an exceptional in-person and virtual educational experience.
Transition and Pausing of Classes
In the coming days, we will reduce our total number of students in residence to approximately 900. This will enable our institutional infrastructure to more fully support our health protocols and any positive cases that may occur. Two fundamental ways we will achieve this is by assigning each student to their own residence. Additionally, we believe we will be able to provide regular testing for all students who remain in residence.
Our decision to retain the first-year students is fundamental. We know that first-year experiences are critical to a student’s success for their four years at Gettysburg College. Our decision to retain them on campus centered around providing them with the educational opportunities and connections they need to be dynamic and contributing members of this community into the future.
The College’s de-densification will occur over a three-day period (September 5 -7), assuring our students and staff can adhere to safe masking and physical distancing protocols, similar to our Move-In Week. This process will begin as early as tomorrow. As outlined in the de-densification process that can be found on the website, students pivoting to remote learning will depart campus on an assigned day based upon their state of residence. We recognize the challenges created by the current campus-wide restrictions and are actively engaging with our public health advisors about how we can best proceed in the coming days while the move-out takes place; at a minimum, the measures taken today to permit certain activities are expected to stay in place. Please continue to check your email for updates.
Recognizing the challenging task of moving approximately 1,300 students out of residence, the College has instituted a one-week pause of classes. We will extend our fall semester by one week, concluding final exams from December 7 - 13. Classes will resume, both in person and remotely, beginning on Monday, September 14. For questions regarding the one-week pause of classes, please contact Vice Provost Jack Ryan.
Students Remaining in Residence
Upon a comprehensive review that included perspectives from the Board of Trustees, the President’s Council, the Implementation Committee, the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Registrar, and members of the faculty, it was decided that the following student cohort will remain on campus for the fall semester, up to our 900 maximum:
- All first-year students
- All transfer students
- All international students
- Student teachers with placements in local schools
- Residential & First-Year Programs (RAs and CAs) student leader staff
- Student leaders charged with supporting a robust in-person co-curricular experience
- Students with specific graduation requirements, particularly seniors, which could include capstones, laboratory research, and/or creative activities, may be able to remain on campus where they will have access to the facilities necessary to complete their degree.
Students petitioning to remain on campus for academic reasons must complete a Housing Petition Form by Monday, September 7 at noon. For academic related requests, students must have the support of a faculty advisor or mentor to make this request. The petitions will be reviewed by a committee in the Provost’s Office.
Students with a demonstrated need to stay on campus. To be eligible, students must complete a Housing Petition. Only students who experience significant housing insecurity or other difficult circumstances will be approved. The petitions will be reviewed by a College committee. The committee will approve or deny each request. All petitions must be submitted by Monday, September 7 at noon.
Students identified as eligible to remain on campus will be notified by College personnel today. Again, if you have personal hardships that the College should consider in its evaluation of eligible residential cohort, please submit the petition form linked above. To learn more about College’s criteria for selecting this residential cohort of students, please visit the College website.
Emergency funding for students is available on a case-by-case basis. Factors considered for funding include the student’s financial need, the nature of the funding request, and the availability of funding at the time the request is made. All requests are confidential. Students in need of financial assistance are encouraged to submit an Emergency Fund Request.
For questions, please visit the College website. The phone bank (717-337-8800) will be open during the times listed below. Any additional questions can be directed to email@example.com.
- Friday, September 3: 3 - 9 p.m.
- Saturday, September 4: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
- Sunday, September 5: 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.
While this transition is certainly difficult for all us, I know it will be particularly challenging for our students. For the members of our remote cohort—our sophomores, juniors, and especially our seniors—I understand how deeply you will miss living, learning, and interacting on this campus. For our residential cohort—our first-year class and those who will remain on campus—I likewise know how deeply you will miss your classmates and the vibrant experience that comes with us all being together. Let us commit to keeping the bonds between us strong through this de-densification and over these next three months, and that we are doing all that we can to ensure we are safe, healthy, and continuing to support one another.