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March 17, 2020 — Message from President Wippman

Dear Members of the Hamilton Community,

I know many of you have been wondering whether we will be able to resume in-person classes at some point this spring. As much as we all wish this were possible, it appears increasingly likely that the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to escalate in ways that make resumption of classes on campus untenable. Therefore, I have made the heartbreaking decision that Hamilton will continue remote instruction for the remainder of the spring semester.

I know full well how enormously disappointing this must be for our students, and especially our seniors. I have heard from so many of you, urging the College to preserve even the slightest possibility of finishing the academic year here on campus. I have heard from students in the performing arts, whose year-long senior thesis efforts cannot be fully realized. I have heard from athletes, whose final season of competition ended so abruptly. I have heard from parents, desperate to see their student have a chance at all the culminating events of the senior year, the capstone of so many years of study. I have heard from students who feel lost and adrift, who have come to depend on the community they have found on the Hill, and who want more than anything to spend even a few more weeks with their friends and the teachers and mentors they have found here.

Moving to Remote Instruction
For all these reasons and more, I have been reluctant to move the College to remote instruction for the rest of the semester. But I have also been tracking the guidance from public officials and infectious disease experts.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has urged event organizers to cancel large gatherings for the next eight weeks, which would take us close to the end of the academic term. The White House last night also released new guidelines, urging all Americans to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people. New York State, in concert with Connecticut and New Jersey, has adopted its own guidelines, banning crowds over 50, limiting restaurants to take out and delivery only, and mandating that campus dining halls and gyms shut down. Although most of these guidelines are open-ended — they are to remain in effect “for as long as necessary to protect public health” — they reflect the depth of the challenge we all face.

There is still no known case of COVID-19 on campus, but earlier today, the county executive reported the first confirmed case in Oneida County.

Even if instances of infection begin to abate as the weather warms, it seems unlikely that we can safely resume normal operations any time soon. Even a single case on campus would force us to isolate not just the individual affected, but all those with whom that individual was in close contact. That would overtax our limited quarantine capacity and put other members of our community at risk.

Packing up
I know most of our students still have many of their belongings on campus, and that the timing of this decision, coming so soon after most students departed for spring break, will significantly inconvenience many. For that I apologize.

For those who wish to return to campus to collect their things, we will try to work out an opportunity to do so, consistent with public health guidelines. For everyone else, we will make arrangements with you to have your belongings stored or shipped home. We will also work out soon the best way to process prorated adjustments for the unused portion of students’ room and board charges. Please give us some time to sort out the specifics. As soon as we have, we will share that information with you.

Few decisions have been more heartbreaking for me to make, precisely because I know how painful this decision will be for our students and their families. I wish there were another way.

Commencement 2020
We have not made a final decision about Commencement. Whatever happens, we will find a way to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of the Class of 2020. Seniors, I would love nothing more than to welcome you and your families back to campus and to present your diplomas in person. Please bear with us as we continue to think this through.

Facing the future together
COVID-19 presents a challenge unlike any I have seen in my nearly 30 years in higher education. But it is a challenge we will surmount together. Hamilton is defined not by its beautiful campus nor its extraordinary facilities, but by the people who make up our community. Let’s have faith in each other to meet whatever comes next.

David

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