Working to protect health, safety of campus community while still maintaining educational priorities
By Mark Eyerly
In a March 6 memo to the campus community outlining Lafayette’s extensive planning for possible impacts of the COVID-19 virus, President Alison Byerly wrote, “It is important to emphasize that preparation is not prediction. We hope that none of these precautions are necessary.”
Despite those hopes, the planning proved indispensable. Less than one week later, she announced that the College was moving to remote instruction during the two weeks immediately following spring break, a decision that effectively suspended all campus activity from March 16 through April 5. Cultural performances, academic lectures, athletic competitions, and admissions visits all were canceled. Faculty and staff were encouraged to work from home if at all possible.
Lafayette was of course not acting in isolation. Within several days, a number of colleges and universities announced plans for transitioning to remote learning. The Patriot League announced that all spring practices and competitions would be canceled, a decision soon followed by similar action from the NCAA.
Unlike some colleges and universities, however, Lafayette has not yet made a decision to move to online instruction for the balance of the spring term.
“At Lafayette, we value greatly the communal nature of the education that takes place in and out of the classroom,” Byerly wrote. “In all our decision making, we continue to hold out as our north star the hope of preserving as much of that community experience as possible, particularly for seniors spending their final semester at Lafayette.”
It was without a doubt a whirlwind of a week. But the College’s decision making was based on preparations that began much earlier, even before classes started in January. The College contacted members of the community known to have traveled in the parts of China impacted by the virus during the semester break, asking them to visit Bailey Health Center for screening upon their return to campus. All of them did so; none of them had symptoms.
On Feb. 5, Dr. Jeffrey Goldstein, College physician and director of health services, notified the campus that a student who had been in China returned to the Health Center to report corona-type symptoms. The student was hospitalized for a week until receiving negative test results. As of this writing, no member of the campus community has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
But by Feb. 24, as American universities began canceling study abroad programs that included some Lafayette students as participants, the College formed an Incident Action Group (IAG) that eventually grew to 34 people representing everything from academics, athletics and campus life, to communications, facilities, finance, and more. Byerly charged the group with prioritizing the safety and health of the community and the success and continuity of the academic experience, while also providing evolving guidance and policies that support the mission and values of the College.
The IAG, led by Amir Tejani, special assistant to the president for strategic planning and implementation, organized itself into subgroups focused on community readiness, instructional continuity, facilities planning, dining and food safety, fiscal impact, and other topics. The instructional continuity team, led by Tracie Addy, associate dean for faculty support, and Jason Alley, director of learning and research technologies, immediately began identifying resources and creating plans to help faculty manage the transition to remote instruction. (See this related story.)
“We recognize that this two-week period of remote teaching and learning will be challenging for everyone, but hope that a planned period of social distancing now will enable us to move forward with the remainder of the spring term,” Byerly said.
In a March 13 note to the campus, the president wrote, “It has been heartening to see how our community has rallied to adapt to changing circumstances. Faculty have dived immediately into creatively reimagining the courses they are teaching. Staff have worked hard to reconfigure their own work and support the many different needs of our students. Students have recognized that in asking them to change travel plans, cancel extracurricular activities, and undertake challenging academic work in entirely new ways, we are demonstrating our faith in their resiliency and strength as well.
“As we head into the weeks ahead, I ask all of you to call upon the qualities that define Lafayette: creativity, resilience, and a powerful sense of community.”