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COVID-19: Letter from the President 3-12-2020

March 12, 2020 4:30 p.m.

 

To the Covenant College Community,

 

I am writing to provide an update on our response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) and our plans for the remainder of the spring semester.

 

Let me begin by sharing the basic and most important news:

  • We will be moving to virtual/online instruction for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester.
  • We are extending Spring Break. Classes will resume on Monday, March 30.
  • Students who are away on Spring Break are strongly encouraged to return home or remain home if they are already there.
  • Students who are on campus are strongly encouraged to return home by this weekend.
  • All residential students are asked to move out of their on-campus housing as soon as possible, and by no later than 3:00pm, Wednesday, March 18. Students with exceptional reasons to stay on campus longer, including international students, can request to remain via this form stating the reason for the exception. The form needs to be completed by Monday, March 16. We will work with those who have extenuating circumstances to ensure that students have a place to go.
  • All college events—athletic, theater, music, etc.—are canceled for the remainder of the spring 2020 semester. A decision regarding commencement will be made later in the semester, as will decisions about May Term and college-sponsored summer travel.

 

These are, obviously, dramatic steps that will cause significant disruption and disappointments for many in our community. For that, I am truly sorry. To say that this was a difficult decision would be a gross understatement. For many of us, the work that we do here on campus, in a vibrant community, is one of the most exciting and valuable pursuits we could undertake. Nevertheless, we feel obliged to take these steps in light of recent developments, both global and local, and in light of the counsel of public health officials.

 

We do not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 on campus or in Chattanooga, and we enjoy some separation from the city of Chattanooga, so we considered the least disruptive response to the pandemic: continuing classes and campus activities as normal. However, even in the last 24 hours, the Georgia Department of Public Health has quarantined one of our on-campus students due to contact with a quarantined individual who had confirmed contact with an active COVID-19 case. That student has been sent home for two weeks of quarantine, and our facilities services group is following approved protocols for cleaning the student’s room and bathroom. This incident has made us keenly aware both of how easy it is for members of our community to be exposed to the virus and of what our limitations are with regard to cleaning, quarantine, and healthcare capacities. With hundreds of students set to return to campus from Spring Break, the risk of transmission within our community is elevated dramatically.

 

Our Emergency Response Team has met numerous times in recent weeks, and even more frequently in recent days. Having consulted with public health officials, watched announcements from the CDC, monitored the latest updates on the outbreak, and assessed our own capacity to handle positive cases in our community, we believe that it is prudent for us to take proactive measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 before it arrives on our campus.

 

Our approach in addressing this situation has been guided by three priorities: 1) our desire to care for the most vulnerable in our midst; 2) our commitment to our academic work; and 3) our care for our students. We have become convinced that reducing the number of people residing on campus and moving to online instruction is the best way for us to honor these priorities. We cannot, of course, eliminate every risk, but we believe that the steps we are taking mitigate the most significant risks we face.

 

To reiterate, the college will remain open for the spring 2020 semester. We are simply (though it is not so simple) moving to an online delivery model for our courses in order to allow students to remain at home and avoid the coronavirus risks associated with living in a tight community with fellow students who would be returning to campus from all over the country and even around the world. We hope that we will be able to bring students back to campus at the end of the semester for commencement, but as we may not be able to do that, we are working on contingency plans.

 

A few notes for specific groups within our community:

 

Students

  • I know that for many of you (hopefully all of you), not being able to return to campus, to continue to pursue your academic work in-person, to compete for championships or take part in performances, to be with your friends, is a real disappointment. Having enjoyed the riches of Covenant’s community myself, I understand. And I especially feel for those of you set to graduate in May. We certainly considered the cost of this decision, and the fact that we made it should only indicate our level of concern for you and for others in our community.
  • As mentioned above, if you are currently away on Spring Break and are able to, we strongly encourage you to return home or stay home. If you cannot return to campus by March 18 to move out, you will be able to arrange a time with your resident director later in the semester to come and collect your belongings.
  • We recognize that some students are not able to go home for a variety of reasons, ranging from the fact that their hometowns or countries are not safe to the fact that the college is now their primary residence. In exceptional cases, the college will provide housing and modified dining services to students who genuinely cannot return home. Students with exceptional reasons to stay on campus longer, including international students, can request to remain via this form stating the reason for the exception. The form needs to be completed by Monday, March 16. We will work with those who have extenuating circumstances to ensure that students have a place to go.
  • We strongly encourage students to take all of their belongings if at all possible, and especially all items and materials they need to continue their studies remotely.
  • Our faculty and staff will deploy all of their energy and creativity to ensure that you are able to meet your academic requirements remotely. We will pay particularly close attention to the situations of students scheduled to graduate in May. You will be hearing from professors in the coming week with details about your classes. Note that some courses may require special arrangements.
  • Advising and Preregistration for Fall 2020 will be completed online. Look for more information from the Records Office and from your adviser regarding scheduling a time.
  • Housing sign-up for Fall 2020 will also be completed online on an accelerated timeline. More information will be shared by your Resident Director and the Residence Life Department in the days ahead.
  • If you have pressing questions about housing please contact Jon Wylie, Associate Dean of Students, Residence Life (jon.wylie@covenant.edu). Other general student questions can be directed to Brad Voyles, Dean of Students/VP for Student Development (brad.voyles@covenant.edu).

 

Faculty

  • As one who is steadfastly committed to the advantages of face-to-face teaching, I can’t imagine that you are excited about moving your courses online. I am very sorry for the massive disruption and inevitable complications this decision causes for you. Know that I am deeply appreciative of your flexibility, your creativity, and your willingness to do what has to be done in service to our students and our mission.
  • All faculty will be hearing from Jeff Hall, VP for Academic Affairs, soon with more details about moving classes online.
  • IT and Academic Affairs have put together a team that will provide the necessary training and technology to move courses online.
  • If you have pressing questions, please direct them to Jeff Hall (jeff.hall@covenant.edu).

 

Staff

  • I am mindful of the fact that some of you will have greater exposure to coronavirus risks than anyone else on our campus, and I know that many of you will be doing a lot of work behind the scenes to allow us to continue to provide a Covenant education to our students. Thank you for your unswerving faithfulness to the college.
  • For the time being, staff should continue reporting to work as usual, while taking the recommended steps to prevent illness.
  • Staff with questions or concerns about their current work or personal situation should speak with their supervisor.
  • We strongly encourage staff who are feeling sick to remain at home.
  • If you have pressing questions, please direct them to Rebekah McNair, Director of Human Resources (rebekah.mcnair@covenant.edu).

 

We realize you will likely have questions, both about this decision and about COVID-19 in general. We will be posting updates to this page regularly, and we will also be sending out more detailed communications about various elements of our planned response. As this is a fluid situation, we will also provide updates if there are any significant changes to the plan outlined in this email.

 

I would like to express thanks to all of those who have served on the college’s Emergency Response Team or who have been involved in various subcommittees or task forces of that group. Numerous people have been working incredibly hard over the last few weeks, in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that the college responds appropriately to the challenge posed by the coronavirus situation. I am deeply grateful to serve alongside so many dedicated and capable people, who are unwavering in their commitment to the well-being of the Covenant College community.

 

I would also like to express thanks to all of you for your patience and understanding. This has been a trying situation, especially given that Covenant College has never encountered anything like it. We have never dealt with a pandemic. Nevertheless, I have tremendous confidence in this community—in your dedication, your resilience, your creativity, your commitment to caring for one another, and your passion for the mission of the college. I have special faith in our students. For many, the health risks are generally low and the disappointments of missed campus life are high. However, I trust that they recognize this as a time to consider the well-being of those around them.

 

We are in this together, though I readily admit that the impact of this decision on various members of the campus community will be uneven. Given our commitment to close community and residential liberal arts education, this decision certainly has a negative impact on students’ Covenant experience. Especially for those of you who graduate in May, we are grieved that you may not be able to finish your studies in quite the manner you had anticipated. This is not how we envisioned this year coming to a close.

 

While the challenge posed by the COVID-19 outbreak is unique, this is not the first difficult situation Covenant College has faced. Through all of those situations, our predecessors remained faithful and steadfast, praying for God’s provision and laboring diligently in support of the college’s mission of exploring and expressing the preeminence of Christ in all things. By God’s grace, I hope we too will be found faithful, and that our Savior and King would be glorified through how we, as a community, care for one another and respond to this challenge.

 

In Christ,

J. Derek Halvorson, Ph.D.
President
Covenant College

In omnibus Christus primatum tenens