March 11, 2020 — COVID-19 Important Update

To the Bowdoin community,

The resilience, kindness, and selflessness of our community have allowed us to rally through many difficult moments. This is another such moment—for Bowdoin, for the country, and for the world—one where we will again rely on these great strengths of character.

The COVID-19 outbreak represents an unprecedented health crisis and is creating challenges for every aspect of our society. While there are no known cases of COVID-19 in Maine or among Bowdoin students, faculty, or staff, there is significant risk that, due to the highly contagious nature of this virus and the susceptibility of communal campus life, it is only a matter of time before it finds its way here.

Our top priority is to protect those on our campus who are most at risk from COVID-19—those with underlying health conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness from the virus—as well as the health of the general Bowdoin community. It is also essential that we ensure the continuity of learning and teaching so that all students can complete the semester for academic credit. As we contemplated the return of students, faculty, and staff to campus after spring break, we realized that we do not have the ability to facilitate the recommended “social distancing” for all in-person interactions or to manage the required isolation of the number of students who are very likely to have been exposed to the virus while away. There is a distinct possibility that if we were to have to isolate a large number of students (and faculty and staff), it could create a level of strain on our capabilities that could require us to close before the end of the academic year and put at risk the ability of students to successfully complete their coursework.

In light of this, we will need to complete the spring semester through remote learning, and students will not be permitted to return to campus from spring break. I know this is a distressing decision for everyone and will present substantial challenges for faculty, staff, and students. While it is quite unlikely given all we know, if the crisis resolves itself in the near term, we will reevaluate whether students might return to campus.

I am particularly pained for our seniors. These last few weeks on campus were to be a remarkable, wonderful, and fun capstone to your four years at Bowdoin. This extraordinary circumstance and necessary decision preclude the opportunity to finish out your time as students at Bowdoin in the best possible way. I am sorry that there was not another way to manage this crisis.

We are a community that thrives on the personal interaction that is at the center of a Bowdoin education, and I have no illusions that switching to a remote-learning environment will replicate the experience of being on campus together. It is, however, the only way we can both confidently protect the health and safety of our community and allow our students to complete the semester with the least disruption possible in what is an extraordinary, very complicated, and uncertain situation.

While many details are still in development, the following is an overview of key decisions and changes:

General Information

  • The College is not closed. We remain open and focused on our central mission of teaching, learning, and creative and scholarly work.
  • Staff will continue to work their full scheduled hours and receive regular pay.
  • For the time being, we are requesting that faculty and staff refrain from College- sponsored international or domestic travel.
  • Admissions tours and information sessions are cancelled for the remainder of the semester.

Continuity of Instruction

  • Classes will not be held on Monday, March 23, or Tuesday, March 24, so that faculty and staff will have sufficient time to enable the best possible remote-learning experience under these challenging circumstances. Classes will resume, remotely, on Wednesday, March 25. Faculty will be in touch with their students before classes resume.
  • The offices for academic affairs and information technology have been at work creating a plan and organizing resources and support to help faculty adapt their courses to a distance learning format.

Student Life

  • All students who are currently on campus for spring break will be expected to vacate their rooms by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday, March 18. For students who are currently off campus, there will be opportunities to return to campus to collect your belongings or make other arrangements to get essential items necessary to complete the remainder of the semester.
  • An email will be sent directly to students, no later than 12:00 p.m. today, with additional information and a link to a detailed FAQ. Student affairs personnel will operate a help line beginning this afternoon to answer questions.
  • We are ending spring athletics, both practices and competition, beginning Saturday, March 14. The NESCAC presidents met and concluded unanimously that conference competition, including championships, will be cancelled for the 2020 spring season. Winter sport athletes competing in national championships will be permitted to participate, although, as previously announced, spectators will not be permitted in Morrell Gym for the women’s basketball NCAA sectional round this weekend.

Operations

  • Until further notice, we will restrict any gatherings on campus to fewer than one hundred (100) people.
  • Because of our concerns around COVID-19, and in order to ensure that our essential work can continue, as of Monday, March 16, we will—for now—restrict access to College facilities to students permitted to remain on campus, and to faculty and staff, including those with emeritus status.
  • One of the two dining halls, Jack Magee’s Grill, the Smith Union Café, and the Buck fitness center will remain open on their regular schedules.

We will be sending more information and developing detailed FAQs in the days to come. We appreciate your patience and support as we work through all of the implications of this shift to a remote teaching and learning environment.

I will hold three live-streamed virtual “town hall meetings” on Thursday, March 12—one for students, one for faculty, and one for staff—to provide you with an opportunity to ask your questions. You will receive an email tomorrow with further details about how to participate in the town halls, when they will occur, and how to email any questions that you would like addressed.

We are all saddened by the need for this drastic measure and for the impact it will have on our entire campus community. I know that this decision poses significant challenges for everyone, and I am committed to providing the support and tools necessary to deliver the best learning experience possible under these unprecedented circumstances.

Thank you for your patience and the work you will do as we manage this extraordinary and evolving situation. Our community is strong, caring, and resilient. Working together, as we always do, will allow us to meet this challenge and ensure the health and safety of our community and a successful completion of the semester.

Sincerely,

Clayton