Message to Students, Faculty, and Staff—COVID-19 Update (April 3, 2020)

To Bowdoin students, faculty, and staff,

I had hoped to be able to write to you today about how we will manage the variety of activities that normally fill the summer months here on campus, including summer jobs, fellowships, research, camps, events, conferences, and other activities. Unfortunately, we’re just not there yet.
This week, we have been working to accurately determine our capacity to safely house and feed students—given the rules for social distancing and restrictions on the size of gatherings—while we also follow through on our commitment to assist the local community during this crisis. Key questions are whether we can safely do both, and if so, what are the limits?

For the community, we have set aside twelve apartment units to support first responders—fire and emergency services personnel who come into contact with infected individuals, or who may have at-risk family members at home. We are also making seventy-five housing units available to Mid Coast Hospital employees who are working multiday shifts. These facilities provide a place for those on the front lines here in Brunswick to clean up and rest before heading back out in service to the community. As you would imagine, this arrangement also places limits on our ability to increase the number of other people on campus.

Another complicating factor is the new stay-at-home order issued earlier this week by Maine Governor Janet Mills. Right now, the order is set to expire at the end of April but it could be extended, and while the College is exempt for purposes of facilitating distance learning, the order would not permit us to bring students back to campus for jobs, research, and fellowships. Given the governor’s order, it makes the most sense to delay any decision until the end of April. If the order is lifted, we may be able to move forward with bringing a limited number of students back to campus. Probably not, if it is extended.

I’m sorry that I don’t have an answer to these questions today, as I know many of you trying to make plans for the summer. 

Today we closed out the first full week of remote learning, with students and faculty hopefully settling into something of a rhythm that will take us through the next five weeks. While the courses appear to be going well, I am mindful that the challenges for everyone at this moment are new and significant. Our faculty are crafting and teaching their courses and working remotely while also contending with personal, family, and child care issues that result from the crisis—issues that are also confronting our staff. Our students are thoughtfully engaging in their classes while also coming to terms with the implications of the crisis and adapting to a new way of learning. And many are also fulfilling obligations at home. Please make sure you take care of and pace yourself given the added burdens of the moment, and keep an eye on one another.

I held my first set of virtual office hours this week, and while it wasn’t the same as meeting in person, it was great to have time with some of our students and to catch up on a variety of things. I will continue these in the weeks ahead. Have a look here for more information and to sign up.

On Tuesday, I wrote about an effort in Maine and across the country to support blood drives at a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled these critical efforts. This week, not surprisingly, students have taken up the charge, mixing in a little competition along the way. They’ve started a new contest to see which college in Maine will have the biggest impact, so if you’re a Polar Bear who’s able to donate, don’t forget to log in here.

Also this week, we got the great news that Josiah Oakley ’21 is one of only eighteen students in the country to be awarded a prestigious Beinecke Scholarship this year in support of graduate study. A hearty congratulations to Josiah!

Finally—and this is squarely in the category of creatively supporting the common good and refusing to take no for an answer—have a look at this initiative by Bowdoin faculty and staff to use the tools at hand to help protect those who are protecting the rest of us. It should inspire you and make you feel, like me, deeply proud.

I hope everyone can get a bit of a break over the weekend. Thank you for all that you are doing for one another.

Stay safe.