The decision to move classes online for the rest of the semester and the related issues of student move-out, Commencement, student employment and other issues are all part of an ongoing story. The Collegian is committed to reporting on these things in depth as quickly as we possibly can. We will publish more reporting on this topic in the coming days.
UPDATE: As of March 17, the College issued new guidelines for student item retrieval. The article has been altered to reflect these changes.
Kenyon College classes will take place remotely for the remainder of the semester. This move is intended to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is triggering increasingly stringent restrictions in the United States. President Sean Decatur first made the announcement in a town hall meeting that took place at 11:30 a.m. this morning. An email was also sent to students and employees this evening alerting them of the College’s updated plans.
As Kenyon closes down most of its on-campus operations, the College is actively planning for the remaining eight weeks of the semester. In addition to moving coursework online, the College is setting up a process for students to retrieve or obtain their belongings.
The College is also working out a method for reimbursing students and continuing on-campus employment remotely where possible. In a separate email sent to the class of 2020, the president promised that the College will carry out Commencement when it is possible to do so.
The College has requested that the roughly 150 students on campus depart by noon on Sunday, March 22, although students with “extenuating circumstances” will be allowed to remain on campus for as long as necessary if they submit a petition by Wednesday. The College will try to provide financial support to students who are on campus and desire to go home.
In his comments at the Town Hall, Decatur said that going online “was the only option” moving forward. In an interview with the Collegian, he said he reached this decision in response to guidance from the state’s mandates as well as from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which yesterday called for an eight-week moratorium on all gatherings in excess of 50 people. Recent guidance as well as mandates issued by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine have made clear to Decatur that the College would have to alter its initial approach rather quickly.
“We know that we [had] to extend the window we’ve got, and so the options begin to whittle away very quickly,” Decatur said of the College’s decision to move online.
While Kenyon will move classes online, the school aims to provide students with more than recorded lectures and assessments. “Professors and departments will determine their own practices,” Decatur said. “It’s really about redesigning the classes in a way that fits a very different modality of teaching and that’s going to vary from discipline to discipline, from class to class.”
Professors from different disciplines have already been in touch with students about remote learning options. Music instructors are considering delivering lessons via Skype, Google Hangouts or Google Meets, while some professors are planning to record their lessons for lecture-style classes. Other professors are considering Zoom, a platform commonly used for conferencing and webinars, to conduct online classes.
The Office of the Registrar has given faculty permission to request an expedited switch to C/NC (credit/no credit) in special courses — such as laboratory or community-engaged learning (CEL) courses — “where it is clear that access and resource issues will impact our ability to assign a grade.” While students taking these classes will not receive grades, the courses will still fulfill the same diversification, graduation or major/minor credits.
The College has also instituted a temporary plan to make online courses less stressful for students. Firstly, the cap on the amount of P/D/F credits a student can earn overall will be temporarily increased from 3.0 to 5.0, and students will be allowed to take up to 1.0 credit worth of classes within their own major as a P/D/F for the spring 2020 semester. The Registrar will be sending out a form that will allow students to take existing courses as P/D/F. Students will have until April 10 to change courses to P/D/F and—while they are encouraged to do so—students will not have to seek the permission of their advisors.
Vacating Student Residences
A major issue with the sudden closure of campus is how to handle student belongings. After originally giving students until Sunday, March 22, to move out, the College altered its policy for retrieving belongings on March 17. Students still have the option to retrieve belongings between the 17 and the 22 but students may leave belongings in their rooms until May. There will be a moratorium on students returning to campus between March 23 and May 1.
The College reversed its decision after a number of complaints from students and parents after the initial announcement on March 16. In the News Bulletin issued on the morning of March 17, the College stated that this change in policy is due to further changes in CDC and Ohio guidelines. As of March 17, there is one confirmed case of COVID-19 in Knox County.
These new changes are detailed on the College’s FAQ webpage. Other changes to the FAQ’s information include an added note that if students elect to have a College staff member pack and ship or store their belongings, this will be at the College’s expense. If students wish for their items to remain in their rooms until May, students must complete a form letting the College know by noon on Friday, March 20. If students previously signed up to come to campus and are changing their minds in response to this new policy, they also have until noon on March 20 to inform the College. Students who want either a select few items or all of their items packed and shipped to them must also indicate this preference via forms accessible on the College’s FAQ webpage by March 20 at noon.
For those that still intend to retrieve their belongings by March 22, the process for doing so remains unchanged from March 16. For those who want to retrieve their belongings before March 23, the College has given students the options of moving their things off campus at a time between tomorrow and Sunday, having a roommate or housemate pack their stuff up during this time, or having the College pack and ship or store students’ belongings for them.
Students who come to campus to retrieve belongings must sign up for a time slot of 9 a.m. to noon or 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. during the six days that campus will be open for this purpose. Being on campus at any time other than the chosen slot may be considered a violation of the Student Handbook and result in sanctions.
Students who opt to have the College pack up their belongings will be able to ship or store their items and will be asked to provide a window of availability over the next week for a virtual appointment with a College staff member.
According to Decatur, the option to come and pack up belongings in person is meant to apply to Ohio residents and others for whom Gambier is in driving distance. Students are not encouraged to fly back to campus or travel a great distance.
The College has offered to provide financial assistance to students for whom returning to campus is an unexpected financial burden. Students should direct emails regarding financial assistance to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Some people are close enough to pick stuff up, some people it may be easier to have things packed and shipped and—perhaps some big things—stored in some way,” Decatur said.
Part of the reason for the short time window in moving out belongings is making sure the College has a chance to deeply clean spaces in a way that fulfills CDC guidelines. For students who elect not to move out, staff will still need to access it to clean, discard perishables and unplug appliances.
As of yet, it is unclear when, exactly, students who do not retrieve their belongings now will be able to do so. The College plans to inform students in April on when they will be able to return to campus. In the meantime, the College says it will continue to closely monitor guidance from local health authorities.
Decatur noted that student employment that can be conducted remotely will continue. He cited positions in the Office of Admissions, at the Math and Science Skills Center and at the Writing Center as examples of work that can be done remotely.
According to Decatur, the College is still determining how federal work-study benefits will function, but is working with the Department of Education to figure out how to continue federal work-study at the same rate despite the complications.
In addition, the College plans to reimburse students for housing and dining fees for the remainder of the semester, though the details of this are still being worked out.
“Some students are on financial aid packages where the package actually helps to cover room and board, some students were studying away this semester where the concerns about how their room and board get calculated are slightly different depending on their program and how long they’ve been away,” Decatur said.“So basically there’s a lot of deep diving into individual cases to figure out exactly how this is going to work.”
Students Currently on Campus
As of right now, there are roughly 150 students on campus that were approved to stay through the original March 28 move-in day. On the “COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions” webpage, it states that all students are encouraged to depart by Sunday, March 22 at noon. Students with extenuating circumstances have until noon on March 18 to petition to stay.
“[For] students who can’t go home for a range of reasons, we will continue to support the ability of those students to stay in Gambier. I feel like that is our obligation and the right thing for us to do,” Decatur said. “If a student could go home but the barrier is financial, we will help students meet the financial barrier.”
The Class of 2020
As for the class of 2020, many of whom have sent emails to Decatur over the past 24 hours expressing their desire to have Commencement and other graduation-related traditions, Decatur repeatedly emphasized that the College would work to honor these traditions when it is safe and possible to do so.
“I really found moving the accounts from seniors on the importance of being able to say goodbye to friends and faculty and the place itself … so we want to make sure that that happens in some way,” he said.
After the College solidifies its plans for online coursework and student move-out, Decatur plans to work with senior class leadership to map out options. Among options Decatur mentioned were a graduation ceremony in May, if it would be safe, or potentially later in the summer, after the conclusion of the academic year.
Following the News Bulletin emailed out to all students, President Decatur issued a second email to the class of 2020.
“Commencement and its associated end-of-year events are valuable rituals, and we are determined to find a way for these traditions to continue,” he wrote. He apologized for the College’s inability to provide certainty on this issue at the current moment.
The administration has yet to finalize the details for how the College will operate in the coming weeks and months. The College will be developing its protocols for a wide variety of issues regarding coursework, College finances, College employees and many others in the coming days and weeks.
For tips, comments, stories and experiences related to COVID-19 and the College’s response, please email email@example.com.