Spring semester classes will be completed via “remote learning” and students will not be allowed to return to campus at the conclusion of spring break due to the “unprecedented health crisis” posed by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), President Clayton Rose this morning announced in an email to the Bowdoin community.
“Our decision to move to remote learning is driven by our concern that students returning to campus after spring break would likely hasten the virus’s spread,” Rose wrote, adding that classes will resume remotely on March 25, as opposed to March 23.
Rose wrote that if the “crisis resolves itself in the near term,” the College will “reevaluate whether students might return to campus.” However, he described this possibility as “quite unlikely.”
In a phone interview with the Orient, a somber Rose said that the administration considered less severe alternatives than the ones announced today, but after conferring with public health experts the College concluded it “would be at real risk of overwhelming [its] capabilities” if classes were to be conducted on campus.
“If we get lucky and get a break, we’ll absolutely bring students back, but I didn’t want to create false hope,” Rose remarked.
Rose said there will be a refund of room and board fees for the portion of the semester that students are not on campus and that the College will do its “very best” to ensure “all students” vacate campus by March 18. He also added that Bowdoin will limit the public’s access to campus buildings.
In an email sent to the student body at 12:41 p.m. today, Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann detailed the College’s plans to vacate students. All students who are able to return to campus before March 18 should do so to pack up their things, wrote Lohmann, and students who cannot should designate a friend or roommate to pack up their things for them. Lohmann also wrote that “we have staff who have offered to help.”
The Division of Student Affairs created a “help line” to answer additional questions, Lohmann added, which will be available every day through Saturday, March 14, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m..
In his email, Rose called the situation “extraordinary, very complicated, and uncertain.” To date there are no known cases of the coronavirus in Maine or among Bowdoin community members Rose said, adding “it is only a matter of time before it finds its way here.”
The College’s “distressing” decision, Rose wrote, was necessary because Bowdoin does not have the ability to implement the necessary “social distancing.”
He cited the “distinct possibility” that isolating a “large number” of students, faculty and staff on campus could “create sufficient strain on our capabilities that could require us to close before the end of the year and put at risk the ability of students to successfully complete their coursework.”
Rose acknowledged that a remote learning environment would not “replicate the experience of being on campus together” but it was the only way that the College can “confidently protect the health and safety of our community.”
Despite classes moving to remote learning, Rose wrote that the College is not closed and staff will work their regular hours and receive their normal pay.
Spring athletic seasons will cease on Saturday, although winter sports still playing will be permitted to finish their season.
Rose also announced that campus gatherings will be limited to no more than 100 people, admissions tours and information sessions have been cancelled for the duration of the semester, and faculty and staff are asked to refrain from domestic and international travel sponsored by the College.
Writing that “we are all saddened by the need for this drastic measure,” Rose specifically apologized to seniors who will lose the “the opportunity to finish out [their] time as students at Bowdoin in the best possible way.”
Rose did not offer specific plans regarding commencement and baccalaureate exercises planned for the end of May.
“I know how incredibly important a life event this is for our students and families,” said Rose. “But it’s not a decision we’re close to making today. We’ll do our level best to make something happen.”
Editor’s Note 3/11/20, 11:02 a.m.: This article has been updated to include information from a phone interview with President Clayton Rose.
Editor’s Note 3/11/20, 8:47 p.m.: This article has been updated to include information from an email sent by Dean for Student Affairs Janet Lohmann.