March 13, 2020 — COVID-19 Update

To students, faculty, and staff,

This has been an extraordinary week, one—as I said in my note on Wednesday—that has brought us great sadness and uncertainty and significant challenge. Over the last few days, I have witnessed so many acts of kindness and selflessness. This altruism is at the core of the decision to finish the semester through a remote learning model—to protect those in our community who are most vulnerable, as well as the broader community. Thank you for all the work you are doing, for the disruption you are contending with, and for the emotional toll you are enduring.

This is the first of what will be regular updates from me as we work together to limit the impact of COVID-19 in our community, to pivot to a remote model of teaching and learning, and to safely have our students move off campus. My plan is to reach out to you twice a week (on Tuesdays and Fridays) for the foreseeable future, or at other times as necessary, and I hope you will find these messages useful. I will also be holding another virtual town hall next Friday, March 21. Details will follow in the coming days.

The crisis—Let me start by repeating some of what I wrote to you on Wednesday. There is a public health emergency in our country and around the world, as we face a highly contagious virus where people may be infected yet asymptomatic, where the practice of “social distancing” to avoid infection is not possible here, and where neither we nor local medical providers have the capacity to handle more than a few people who become ill and/or who need to be isolated.

The severity of this situation was underscored earlier this afternoon when the president declared a “national emergency.” It was also underscored in the last twenty-four hours at Tufts, where a single student tested positive for COVID-19 and where university officials are now trying to swiftly construct a detailed list of those in contact with this student (including at a campus party), all of whom will need to be quarantined for two full weeks.

And, just today, the Maine CDC reported that three people here have now tested positive for COVID-19, with every expectation that this number will grow as more testing becomes available.

I don’t write all of this to cause greater concern or panic, nor do I see any value in overreacting. I simply want to emphasize that the steps we are taking are prudent, necessary, and the best way to protect those among us who are most at risk.

That said, I know our decision to move to remote learning has created real challenges and caused a great deal of distress and disappointment. I’m deeply sorry that we don’t have a better way to manage this crisis, but as we work through the details together and respond to the many questions that remain, I am incredibly grateful for your patience and thoughtfulness, and for the ideas and solutions so many have offered. There is still much to do to get our students home or settled elsewhere and to make sure our faculty have the tools and resources they need to resume teaching and learning on March 25. We will do everything we can to make this work go as well as it can. We will learn as we go and, in some cases, we will not get it right the first time. Please help us to get better at this work, and continue to have patience with the members of the community who are devoting themselves to this effort.

To our students—As Dean Lohmann urged in her note this morning, you should leave as soon as you are able. I have no idea what the declaration of a “national emergency” will bring, but it certainly raises the possibility that travel will be restricted.

Town halls—The questions we received during yesterday’s three virtual “town hall” meetings were all very thoughtful. If you missed any of the sessions or want to refer to them again, all three are now available here. We have also heard from many of you with offers of help for students who are trying to pack their belongings or who may need help with storage or other tasks. Mike Ranen has agreed to be the point person for these generous offers, so please email Mike if you have a way to help. Student affairs is also staffing a telephone “help line” (207-725-3149) from 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. through tomorrow night, and there are several FAQ pages on the Bowdoin website, all accessible from the main FAQ page here.

Our seniors—For the Class of 2020, I am sorry beyond words that your final weeks at Bowdoin will not be what any of us hoped or expected they would be. While Commencement may not be on the Quad on May 23, Bowdoin will find a way to celebrate all that you have accomplished and to award the degrees you will have earned when this crisis has passed.

Room and board—Any students who have been living on campus and are now leaving will receive a refund for unused room and board for the remainder of the semester. The payment to any student, including students on financial aid, will be a minimum of $2,500. Eligible students will receive an email early next week from the bursar’s office describing the timing and process. The small number of students who will be remaining on campus will be living in College housing and using dining services, and will therefore not be eligible for a refund.

CEMT—In the days ahead, our Campus Emergency Management Team will continue to meet (as it did this morning), and we will move together to take up the continuing and emerging challenges all of this presents. The days and weeks ahead will undoubtedly be filled with uncertainty and with more hardship, but we will continue to support one another—even remotely. Whatever it brings, we will come through this moment and, when it has passed, we will return to the life and experience at Bowdoin that we treasure.

Thank you again for everything you are doing to work through this unprecedented situation, and for the compassion so very evident at Bowdoin these last few days.