April 19: Update in Regards to the Remainder of the Semester
Dear Merrimack College Community,
I hope this email finds you well and that you had a restful Easter Break. I know this has been a very difficult time but I want to reiterate how proud of you I am as you have taken on remote learning and remote work with gusto.
The past few weeks have challenged all of us in ways that we could have never imagined. Right now, the world and everyone in it is experiencing tragedy and pain on so many levels. Especially the individuals and families whose loved ones are sick or have passed away from this terrible disease. Our prayers and our love are with those individuals and families at this most difficult time. For those who have been spared please continue to take care of yourself, be well and be safe. And also do your duty to protect others by staying home and flattening the curve so that we may all get back to our regular lives. I also want to take a moment to publicly thank all of those on the front lines, the nurses, doctors, grocery workers and the millions of people who are ensuring we are receiving the medical treatment, food and supplies we need to sustain ourselves.
This public health and economic tragedy has created unrelenting fear, anxiety and uncertainty. Although these are trying times, I am confident that together we will work through this and that the Merrimack College community will come out on the other end stronger, and better.
I must reiterate again, as I have in other messages, how sorry I am that your Spring semester has been altered in such a drastic way, especially our seniors, whom I promise that we will make it up to you as soon as we can safely celebrate together.
The intent of this message is to update you on important matters with regard to the rest of the semester and beyond. As I have said in previous messages, there are many unknowns, and the pure speculation and hypotheticals we see in the media, only adds to the fear and confusion. That is why we have decided to make decisions on a month to month basis and not to overreact or underreact. Therefore I would like to lay out for you our thoughts regarding the next few months.
First, I would like to address with you a number of recent articles, news stories and rumors about next Fall that appear on a daily basis on network news and other media outlets, and have created concern in our community. I want to be clear, although we are examining all alternatives, Merrimack College is planning to be residential and open in the Fall. We have a number of task force members focused on a variety of possible scenarios for next year, including an opening in September as a residential campus as we have done for more than 70 years, or having a delayed opening in the Fall by a month or more. We are even planning for the possibility of remote learning for some part or all of the Fall semester. However, I want to reiterate that I do not expect that outcome unless public health and government officials mandate remote learning.
We are a residential college, our suburban location and wide-open spaces allow us to control access to campus and provide improved social distancing practices. And as the state is pulling together its reopening plan, we are actively creating our reopening plan as well. We expect to be open in September as a residential campus; that is our goal and we are working on a plan to provide the safest campus possible when we open our residence halls, classrooms and cafeterias in the fall. To be residential on campus, we will most likely have to embrace new practices and policies that will make the campus safe. We are exploring, like every other business and organization in America, everything – buying medical face masks for the campus, performing regular temperature checks, doing COVID-19 testing and tracing on campus ourselves, isolating but providing remote learning to those students, faculty and staff at risk, organizing cafeteria eating times by groups to create less social density, expanding disinfecting services, creating quarantine beds for students on campus, limiting large group gatherings, possibly locking down the campus allowing only students, staff and faculty, creating social distancing and behavior policies to protect community members, and more. We have extensive online and remote learning capacity if we need it, and we can conduct both a remote and residential experience at the same time, protecting those who may be at risk. All of these are being examined to make the campus as safe as possible, as well as keeping the surrounding communities safe, when the campus reopens for business. The College is planning for this “new normal” until a vaccine is widely available or this crisis permanently abates.
Merrimack College will continue to plan and make informed decisions in the wake of this crisis based on the health advice of federal and local health agencies. However, let me be clear, there has been no decision to move the Fall 2020 semester to remote learning and this decision will not be made for many months as this crisis continues to be fluid. There is simply not enough information currently to support such a decision.
We will notify you on or before August 7, 2020 with a decision about the Fall so you can plan your travels back to campus, accordingly. That is more than three months away, and a lot can happen over three months. It is important that we all wait, remain patient and see what social distancing and flattening the curve along with medical advances bring to alleviate us from this terrible disease.
In addition, the College is working through the complexities of Spring 2020 housing, food, parking and short-term study abroad vouchers and reimbursements for students. We will begin to notify students by early May. It is also my hope that we can announce a graduation and senior week date very soon.
I also want to remind undergraduate students that we have added many online summer courses (that are being offered at a reduced cost) to help students continue to work toward degree completion. Many students have already signed up in record numbers. You can find more information by going to the summer school registration website. Classes start on May 11, May 18, and July 6. I also want to let seniors expecting to graduate that we are examining new scholarship funded graduate programs so that seniors can earn their masters at Merrimack in the Fall. We will be announcing these scholarships over the next few weeks.
Finally, I hope the announcement regarding the new pass/fail policy for Spring 2020, which was recently sent to students, was helpful as we begin the final weeks of the spring semester. Faculty and staff are working hard to create a positive and productive remote environment that enables you to continue your studies and plan for your bright futures. I know there is a lot weighing on your minds and it is my sincere hope that this new policy eases some of the stress you may have had regarding your course grades so that you may focus on what truly matters.
I want to conclude my message with a sense of hope and optimism. Things will get better. It is difficult right now but there will be opportunities in the future for us to be together. The economy will come back. Medical advances will solve the coronavirus problem. The campus will open again. We will attend plays and sporting events together, and we will celebrate together, that I am sure of. What we need to do as a community today, is to be good to each other, love each other and be honest with each other, even when things are difficult to hear. We need to be patient and we need to remain positive.
Good luck in these final weeks of remote learning and do not hesitate to reach out to the Task Force with any issue or concern you may have. We are here for you and will do everything in our power to ensure the best remote Spring 2020 semester for each of you.
Thank you. God Bless. Be safe and be well.