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March 12, 2020 — Message from President Wippman

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Parents,

As I noted in my message to our community yesterday, it might prove necessary to adjust our plans on short notice. I’m afraid I didn’t anticipate just how short. It is with enormous regret that I must inform you we will be shifting temporarily to online education immediately following spring break.

Specifically, remote instruction will begin Monday, March 30, and continue for at least two weeks. As we near mid-April, we will reassess whether it is possible to resume normal operations safely for the remainder of the semester.

We will be asking all students to return home this coming week. We understand that for some students, this may not be feasible, for a variety of reasons. The Dean of Students Office will work with those who may need to remain on campus or need other assistance. This message will be followed soon by more detailed information about the timeline for leaving residence halls and related issues.

I make this decision with great reluctance. I understand how precious the Hamilton residential experience is, and how much of the social, extracurricular, and cocurricular experience will be lost by moving to remote instruction. I have spoken with many of our students, especially our seniors, and I know how saddened they will be at the prospect of losing a substantial portion of their remaining time on campus.

Unfortunately, developments over the last 24 hours make this the only safe and responsible option. Those developments include:

  • The World Health Organization declared that coronavirus has reached pandemic status.
  • Several additional states have declared a state of emergency.
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the president’s coronavirus task force, noted in testimony yesterday that the worst is yet to come. 
  • New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, indicated yesterday that he expects cases in New York to skyrocket and directed SUNY and CUNY schools to shift to online education.
  • President Trump decided to restrict travel from Europe for 30 days.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued a Level 3 warning (avoid nonessential travel) for most of Europe, recommending that travelers avoid all nonessential travel to the specified countries.
  • A student in Hamilton’s program in Washington has been in contact with a coworker at the student’s internship placement who has tested positive for COVID-19. All of the students and the program director are in voluntary self-isolation, pending direction from the D.C. public health authorities.

In addition to moving to remote instruction for at least part of the semester, we will also shortly restrict gatherings to fewer than 50 people, restrict visitors to campus, ban all College-funded international travel, and prohibit all nonessential business travel by College employees.

We are taking these measures for multiple reasons.

First and foremost, we want to protect the health and safety of our students and the rest of our community. While students are generally among those least likely to experience serious effects from COVID-19, almost 20 percent of our community includes individuals who fall into one of the higher risk categories, including older individuals and those with significant underlying health issues.

Second, despite all our contingency planning, we face significant limitations in terms of our ability to manage an outbreak of COVID-19 on campus. Our quarantine space is limited and medical services in the region have inherent limitations.

Third, we want to maximize the chance that we can continue in-person classes at some later point in the semester. By taking steps to limit the possibility of COVID-19 appearing on our campus now, we may be better positioned to resume normal operations should the outbreak start to diminish with the arrival of warmer weather.

I know this decision will prove heartbreaking for many of our students, especially our seniors. Understandably, many are concerned about disrupted academic work, lost performance opportunities, missed campus activities, and most of all time with their friends. Believe me, I would not make this decision if I felt there was any other choice.

The rapidly changing situation and the imposition of travel restrictions from Europe pose extraordinary challenges for our students studying abroad. We will do everything possible to assist these students, to bring them safely home, and to ensure they can complete their academic work. We will send shortly a more detailed communication to our study abroad students. Because so many are enrolled in programs sponsored by a wide range of third-party providers, much of the guidance we provide may be specific to those individual programs.

For faculty, this decision will also impose significant burdens. We will do everything we can to assist you in preparing for online instruction. We recognize this is a profound change and we know our faculty will want to make the experience as positive as they can for our students. Our faculty are deeply committed to student learning, and I know they will rise to this challenge. We will provide more detailed guidance to faculty soon.

Staff will also face difficult challenges. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, as we support our students and faculty in the transition to online instruction after the break. We will do all we reasonably can to support staff throughout this period.

I know this email will leave many of you with lots of questions. We will be following up with additional information soon, so please bear with us. I felt it important to communicate the key decisions now, before having in hand all the answers to questions that will inevitably arise.

None of us wanted the semester to go this way. But I know our community, I know its strength and the resilience of our students, faculty, and staff, and I know that collectively we will make this work.

David

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