An Update from President Schall

Dear Oglethorpe Community:

Greetings from the President’s Office. As this pandemic brought our semester on campus to a halt, I have been amazed at how our faculty and staff have come together to deliver the Oglethorpe academic experience remotely. Not only have our students and faculty adapted the classroom experience to a virtual environment with little time to prepare, we’ve seen our community take extraordinary measures to deliver the best of our academic traditions remotely, including the Liberal Arts and Sciences Symposium, Posters of Research in Science and Mathematics (PRISM), Hammack School of Business internship presentations, the Oglethorpe Idea Incubator’s first ever “Shark Tank” business proposal competition, and many amazing musical performances.

While everyone is doing their best to adapt to these unusual circumstances, I understand that it hasn’t been an easy transition for all. Your homes have been turned upside down, serving as remote offices, homeschool classrooms and study spaces. You may have found yourself competing with family members for limited bandwidth, sharing devices between parents and siblings, and probably suffering from a bit of Zoom fatigue. But you all have persisted and as I write this, classes at Oglethorpe have ended and final exams are concluding. Congratulations on making it through.

Our work is not done, however. We will be analyzing and sharing the results of our student survey on the transition to remote learning. Faculty will be looking at student feedback and lessons learned during these past weeks to prepare their fall classes for the possibility of at least partial remote delivery. We are also offering a robust summer class schedule (online, of course), in which we have seen record enrollments. I will also add that despite the news you hear about expected declines in the size of the first-year classes at colleges and universities across the country, Oglethorpe is on track to bring in the largest first-year class in its history. We cannot be more excited to welcome our new class in the fall!

That brings me to our planning for fall 2020 and a safe return to campus.  I want to stress that the driving force behind every decision we make about the fall semester is the safety of each individual member of our community, including students, staff and faculty. We have expanded our COVID-19 Task Force and are actively developing detailed plans for reopening in accordance with guidance from the CDC and state and local health authorities.

Our current planning is to open the campus for residential students and face-to-face classes this fall. To allow for additional preparation on campus, we are delaying our start by two weeks. September 8 will be the first day of class with first year-students scheduled to arrive Friday, September 4 . The Task Force is currently evaluating the effects of a delayed start on our academic calendar, including university holiday breaks. We expect to finalize our fall calendar within the next two weeks.

The COVID-19 Task Force has been divided into three subcommittees that are working on recommendations for all aspects of our operation. These groups are:

  • Academic subcommittee: Tasked with planning for in-person and remote course delivery and the necessary changes needed to ensure classroom safety, access and equity. We are committed to offering options for all students and faculty who are at high risk of infection or otherwise do not feel safe resuming face-to-face meetings.  This group along with the facilities subcommittee will be exploring additional technologies needed to support flexibility in academics.
  • Facilities subcommittee: Tasked with rethinking existing facility use to ensure proper social distancing, including classroom use; housing and dining operations; staff and office operations; cleaning, safety and personal protective equipment availability for those who need it.
  • Programming subcommittee: Tasked with addressing the health and safety of the OU community in all out-of-class activities, including athletics, events, and community well-being policies; testing, monitoring and isolation of infections; and ongoing education and prevention measures.

While it is our expectation that campus will be open for residential students and for face-to-face classes, the campus experience is likely to be a bit different. Many strategies will focus on limiting the number of people in any space at any given time. Fortunately, as a small university, we are uniquely equipped to be adaptable and creative in how we serve our community while ensuring the health and safety of all.

As we share plans with you in the coming weeks and months, we know such plans must remain flexible as public health recommendations change.  As all of you know and have experienced, conditions are changing virtually every day. It’s just now early May and the start of school in the fall is four months away. That’s a very long time given that this pandemic has been with us for less time than that. The subcommittees of the COVID-19 Task Force will come together on May 14th to share their work and we expect to share the next update with you shortly thereafter.  President-elect Ladany and I are in touch daily so there will be no gap in planning or actions when the formal transition happens July 1.

Please be well and be safe. My best to all of you.

President Schall