March 10, 2020 8:45 PM
Carmen Twillie Ambar, President

Dear Oberlin College Community,

Our mission of educating students for lives of meaning is deeply important to all of us, but we cannot ensure this mission without a safe and healthy campus environment. The rapidly evolving circumstances of COVID-19 have moved us to change our usual practices in order to fulfill our mission. Expect that you will be hearing from us frequently as this situation changes by the day. While this email will not provide all of the answers to your questions, it provides the framework for our collective thinking on how to proceed.

Today, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine strongly encouraged colleges and universities to be prepared to provide their core mission by educating students remotely. He made the announcement one day after declaring a state of emergency when health officials confirmed three cases of COVID-19 in Cuyahoga County, our neighboring county to the east. Health officials have indicated that although no cases have been confirmed in the city of Oberlin or in Lorain County, it is likely that COVID-19 will more broadly impact our community in the coming days.

Public health authorities recommend that we practice “social distancing” as the best way to prevent the spread of the virus. Because it is very difficult to practice social distancing on a residential college campus and it would be particularly challenging for our institution to provide care for many people infected at one time, Oberlin is taking a number of proactive steps.

Spring Recess

  • Date change: Classes will end on March 18, two days earlier than originally scheduled. We are asking students to spend Thursday, March 19 and Friday, March 20, preparing for the possibility of remote online courses after Spring Recess. During this time, students should pack their non-essential items into college provided boxes so that we can clean the residence halls during Spring Recess. When students depart for Spring Recess they will be advised to take all materials necessary for remote education. This would include items such as laptops, textbooks, notebooks, essential papers and other equipment. Students will also be asked to take with them valuables and indispensable items. We will be sending an additional email to students with details regarding this process.
  • Remote Classes: Should we need to continue classes after Spring Recess remotely, students should be prepared to remain at home for an extended period. We will make a determination about whether we will conduct classes remotely by Wednesday, March 25.
  • Students Who Must Stay on Campus: While we strongly encourage students to depart for Spring Recess, we realize that a few students will need to remain on campus. For those students, residence halls will be open and there will be limited access to revised dining hall options.
  • Registry: We are asking our entire campus community to complete our Spring Recess registry so that we know whether you are on campus, traveling home, or traveling in general. We will be providing a link to the registry in the next few days.

Remote Instruction

  • Zoom Technology: Should it become necessary, the College will be prepared to use Zoom technology to provide academic coursework remotely. Faculty will be receiving an additional email about our efforts to prepare for this potentiality. Training is currently underway to support Zoom technology and will continue through March 20.

Travel

  • No College-Sponsored Travel: College sponsored international travel is not permitted during Spring Recess. Additionally, we are discouraging all personal international travel.
  • Non-Essential Travel: All non-essential work-related domestic travel for faculty and staff is not permitted. We will re-evaluate this matter on March 30.
  • Personal Travel: Individuals who travel internationally may be required to be quarantined off-campus for 14 days before returning.

Athletics/Large Gatherings

  • Athletic Events: On campus athletics events will continue as scheduled, however a “no spectators” policy will be in effect. Competitions will be held only with required staff.
  • Large Gatherings: Large-scale public and co-curricular events that attract more than 50 people may be cancelled or may be held with either a no-audience policy or live-streamed. 

Faculty and Staff

Work Schedule: Should we make a determination to continue a portion of our academic year using remote instruction, faculty and staff will still return to Oberlin after Spring Recess and continue their regular work schedule. 

Conclusion

I know that this is a significant change and there are many issues to digest. I also realize that this is deeply impacting our entire community and I am committed to finding a way through this together. Our top priority, however, must be the welfare of the entire Oberlin community. We are taking these actions now, as disruptive as they may be, to lessen the risk of facing greater challenges and consequences in the future. I am confident that this is our best course of action going forward to support our faculty, staff, students and our mission.

We will continue to provide regular updates on how we are responding to COVID-19. Given how much this situation is changing, be prepared for adjustments. We, like the rest of our higher education colleagues, are making decisions in real time as the situation is evolving. 

I want to thank all of you for your incredible work on behalf of our institution. This will require all of us to be collaborative, to use our creative energy, and to work hard. My experience at Oberlin is that we are at our best during a challenge. While there will no doubt be issues along the way, I believe that like any challenge, we will meet it successfully.

Carmen Twillie Ambar, President