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Kenyon temporarily suspends on-campus activities in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Kenyon temporarily suspends on-campus activities in response to COVID-19 pandemic

Kenyon’s response to COVID-19, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on Wednesday, March 11, is an ongoing story and the Collegian will put out updates as necessary. Please be aware that information reported in this article and issued via campus-wide news bulletins is subject to change. 

In response to the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, Kenyon College has temporarily delayed on-campus academic life. On Tuesday night, President Sean Decatur issued a statement announcing that student residences will not reopen until March 28, with in-person classes set to resume on March 30. Students currently on campus must depart by March 13 at noon, unless approved to stay by the College. In the interim, students will have an extra week of break followed by a week of remote coursework.

Kenyon joins dozens of other institutions state and nationwide that are shutting their doors to students until late March or early April as a precautionary measure to prevent community spread of COVID-19. The College’s decision comes after Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, on Tuesday morning, urged colleges and universities  to shift to remote classes. While Kenyon has stopped short of moving classes online for the remainder of the semester, as Grinnell College and others have done, President Decatur and Vice President of Student Affairs Meredith Harper Bonham ’92 stressed that the College, like the rest of the country, is awaiting more information about the virus’ spread in the United States.

Nationwide, as of March 11, there are over 1,000 verified cases of COVID-19 in the United States and 31 deaths. Of these cases, there are three confirmed cases in Ohio, all in Cuyahoga County, none of which are connected to Kenyon. DeWine declared a State of Emergency on Tuesday after these cases were confirmed. As of this time, no member of the Kenyon community has coronavirus and there are no current cases of the virus in Knox County.

Shift to Remote Coursework

For the time being, President Decatur believes that the one-week delay on resuming coursework will not force the College to add weeks to the academic calendar. He said that, perhaps by compressing the week of finals and Senior Week and asking non-seniors to stay a few days extra, the academic year can still come to a close before Commencement, which is scheduled for May 16.

“If in fact there are indications of either increased severity, increased spreading, more guidance that comes about, [or] larger risks, we’ll certainly take that into account,” Decatur said. “For now, we think that the two-week window that we have gives us a moment to assess and to also allow all of us to have more information, more understanding about what’s going on, but if circumstances change we’ll adjust accordingly.”

If the situation worsens, Kenyon could extend the window of time during which professors and students will have to carry out classes remotely. However, Decatur noted that extending remote learning would require a “threshold event,” such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing more stringent guidelines.

Decatur said that the extra week of break will primarily allow faculty and staff to put together plans for conducting coursework remotely. The Center for Innovative Pedagogy (CIP), Library and Information Services (LBIS) and faculty are currently determining ways to conduct class activity from afar. According to Decatur and Bonham, the College has not pursued a contract with any distance learning company such as Zoom Technologies or WebEx. Rather, the CIP is exploring what can be done using Google Suite technologies combined with Moodle and other already-in-use campus platforms.

According to Bonham, transitioning to remote coursework is going to prove to be a major learning experience for a college that has little background in offering online courses. This experience will be helpful, though, if the length of time that coursework is done remotely has to be extended.

“I think we’re going to learn a lot over the next week and a half as we work with faculty on how to deliver courses through alternative means,” she said. “So that will help us determine our ability to finish up the semester.”

Remote learning will require flexibility on the part of students and faculty, and it will take different forms across different disciplines and departments. Faculty will need to work around various logistical challenges, such as how to cater to multiple time zones, which might entail pre-recorded lectures for early morning classes. As for drama, dance, art and music courses, as well as labs and other courses where distance learning is not possible, Decatur remains optimistic that one week away will not disrupt the semester too severely. If time for remote learning is extended, he said, figuring out how to conduct these courses may become more complicated.

Next Steps

Moving forward, the College’s goal is to mitigate the risk of bringing COVID-19 to campus, and to follow state and national directives as more information about the virus emerges. Decatur expressed frustration about the lack of available information concerning the extent of the virus’ spread in the United States.

“For me, one of the things that is frustrating about where we are now in this pandemic is how little we know about those questions, and that’s leading to some speculation and decision-making which may not be truly fact-driven and data-driven,” he said, adding that as more tests are issued and more data becomes available, there will be more knowledge for Kenyon to work with.

However, Decatur also praised Governor DeWine’s response so far. Since Miami University’s (Oh.) cancellation of basketball games on Jan. 28 due to potential cases of COVID-19, the Governor’s office has conducted multiple conference calls with representatives from Ohio’s institutions of higher education. Tuesday morning, DeWine issued guidelines and directives for people and institutions across the state.

“I think there’s been very clear and direct recommendations and guidance for institutions in the state, which has been very helpful,” Decatur said.

Student Issues

After Kenyon’s announcement, many students are concerned about the specifics of returning to campus and the logistics of an unexpected change to travel and housing plans.

At the moment, if students return to campus on March 28 and are  asked to stay a few days into Senior Week, Decatur expects that campus services students do not use now will balance out overtime. As such, the College is currently not discussing any plans for reimbursement, though  they will address the issue in the event that the remote learning period is extended.

Regarding student access to dorms, Decatur and Bonham directed students to the Office of Housing and Residential Life (ResLife). Per Decatur’s announcement on Tuesday, students who cannot return home have until March 12 to petition to stay on campus. For students who need to come to campus simply to retrieve items for their room, they still have K-Card access to their residence halls for the time being but are encouraged to reach out to ResLife first.

Additionally, all athletic events have been cancelled until March 28, with the exception of men’s and women’s swimming and diving. These athletes are set to compete in Greensboro, N.C. on March 18 through 21. Since the athletes have remained on campus for the duration of the break, Decatur and Bonham believe none of them would have been exposed to the virus and thus there is no risk in sending them to compete. As for other spring sports, non-conference matches have been cancelled outright through March 28 and the College plans to reschedule intra-NCAC matchups.

All on-campus gatherings of 50 people or more are cancelled through April 5, including the Center for the Study of American Democracy’s Biennial Conference, although Decatur has said that some components could be rescheduled for later in the semester.

Additional preventative measures include a restriction on campus visitors, including personal guests of students as well as admissions-related visitors for tours, interviews and information sessions. Additionally, College-sponsored travel on common carriers, such as planes and trains, will also be restricted, alongwith travel to events with 50 or more people. None of the College’s travel restrictions encompass students who are currently abroad. The College is deferring to the programs themselves and the Center for Global Engagement to monitor the virus’ spread closely and update students of any changes, per Decatur’s announcement.

As these unanticipated, unprecedented changes go into effect, Decatur and Bonham ask two things of students: to keep a close eye on their emails and to be patient when asking College offices about individual circumstances. According to Bonham, the College is currently being inundated with questions that the rapidly evolving situation makes it difficult to respond to promptly. Decatur and Bonham both ask that people direct their questions to the appropriate points of contact, as outlined in Decatur’s Tuesday announcement. In the immediate future, the College is hoping to update the website with answers to frequently asked questions.

As of now, the College is set to reopen on March 28. Meanwhile, peer institutions like Haverford College and Denison University have closed their doors until April. Amherst College has moved classes online indefinitely, while Grinnell College and Williams College have both announced that they are moving coursework online for the remainder of the spring semester.

As the situation develops, Decatur urges all Kenyon community members to practice social distancing. Furthermore, he says individuals should self-isolate if they begin experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have reason to believe that they have come into contact with someone else who has symptoms or might be a carrier.

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