When I last wrote to you, I described our plans to bring our students back to campus for a face-to-face, yet hybrid experience, along with all the preparations that were underway.
Since then, most universities have announced their plans, and some have shifted since and opted to go fully online. Some have chosen to implement a hybrid plan. Others are going fully in person. No matter what they’ve chosen, I wish them all the best of luck for the upcoming semester. I see no right or wrong way to manage this, and I daresay none of us has ever before experienced a pandemic centered around a virus that has so many emerging symptoms and side effects—nor one that has been as controversial.
While we have a lot of important work to do in the next year, I’ve encouraged the university community to understand that while the pandemic might be temporary, we really don’t know how temporary.
This situation reminds me of life in the United States during World War II. Then, those who joined the military put their lives on hold and served (not unlike our frontline health-care and essential workers). Those who stayed on the home front adjusted their lives to adapt to uncertainty and shortages.
Many referred to the adjustments they had to make as doing it for “the duration.” No one knew how long the duration would be. They just knew it meant ’til the war ended. Those who stayed on the home front went on with their daily lives with adjustments for the duration.
That’s not unlike the situation we currently face. As human beings, we live by time and schedules and seasons. It’s in our nature to want to know what to expect next. And, that’s why I’ve asked the university community to understand that while we don’t know what the pandemic’s duration will be, we all must try to get on with our lives, with adjustments, as best we can.
Through survey, we know that our students first and foremost want to have an in-person experience. They want to be here. We also know that for many students, learning in an online-only environment is challenging for varying reasons. Some of our students do not have a safe or conducive home environment. Too, we’ve said often that we firmly believe a face-to-face education, supplemented with online tools, is the best way to learn.
But, as we announced August 3, because COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Pennsylvania and in our county, we have changed our plans and intensified our efforts to mitigate the potential transmission of the virus to keep our students, employees, and community as safe as possible and to avoid straining IUP’s and Indiana County’s ability to adequately test and conduct contact tracing.
Our rebalance plan brings about a third of our students to campus for the fall semester—first-year students, undergraduates whose degrees depend on a high level of hands-on educational experiences, and most graduate students, because these groups have the greatest need to be in a face-to-face environment. The balance will learn remotely. We are making exceptions to this plan on a case-by-case basis, and we may switch it up in the spring semester.
You may know that the PSAC has suspended all competition until the end of 2020. Student-facing employees will work on adjusted schedules to enable distancing. We are taking precautions like requiring face coverings and providing guidance on distancing and hand washing, and conducting regular cleaning and disinfecting, because we are following guidelines provided by the CDC, Pennsylvania Department of Health, and the American College Health Association. They all say that those actions help to limit transmission of the virus. We are encouraging staff members who do not work directly with students to continue to work from home.
Until the medical and public health communities understand more about immunity to COVID-19 and create a vaccine, we will continue to require face coverings, distancing, and the like. We are concentrating on health and safety as much as we are concentrating on education.
The IUP experience is only as good as the people who work together to create it. Our new strategic plan is completely centered on doing all we can to help students succeed—and that includes learning to be flexible and living and learning with adjustments. It’s a shared commitment, and I thank you for being interested in being a part of it.
Sincerely and with best wishes for your safety and continued good health,
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