March 12, 2020
Dear Members of the Knox Community,
The novel coronavirus has caused disruption around the world and in our own country. Yesterday, the World Health Organization declared this a global pandemic. While, as of this writing, there are no known COVID-19 cases at Knox or in Galesburg, there are cases across the United States, and their number is increasing hourly.
We must play our part to keep our community healthy, to limit the transmission of the virus, and to avoid stress on the public health resources of our region. I write this afternoon to share our plans to achieve these goals. We know that students are leaving in the coming days for spring break, so we worked in recent days to reach a decision on the path forward for spring term.
After consultation with many members of the Knox community, including our Board of Trustees and faculty leadership, we have made the decision to extend spring break by one week and then to teach online for at least the first half of spring term. We hope that we can resume in-person classes and activities for the second half, but will make that decision later as we assess the risks to our community health. Details on this decision can be found below.
My deepest regret is that our students will not experience the full vitality of the Knox experience for the nine weeks of spring term. I can’t imagine how hard this will be for many of you, and most especially for the Class of 2020. I promise that all of us at Knox will be working hard to bring you back to campus as soon as it is safe to resume our face-to-face interactions. I know that neither you nor your families and friends expected this when you started your Knox journey, and I promise that we will keep you up-to-date on this evolving situation.
In the past few days, I have been moved by the dedication of our faculty to finding an entirely new way to teach and to maintain their personal connections to students in their classes and to their advisees. Many have told me that they are committed to building virtual classrooms that are as participatory and rigorous as the in-person classrooms they will leave behind for a time. I promise you that we will support you with workshops, equipment, and technology resources as you navigate this new online world. I know also that many of our staff members find their greatest joy in the interactions they have with our students, and for them, this will be a lonely time. We will work to support you through this disruption and to find creative ways for you to support the online educational project and help the College return to normalcy as soon as possible. I am especially eager to work with the Staff Council to hear their ideas and implement solutions.
As we work on campus, I know that thousands of Knox alumni are also following the impact of the pandemic on their alma mater. Events like these remind me that the world needs liberal arts college graduates more than ever before. The pandemic is a complex, interdisciplinary event; addressing it will require insights from the sciences, the humanities, the social sciences and the arts—all hallmarks of a Knox education. And in these challenging times, Knox College needs the support of our alumni more than ever before. I will keep you informed as we meet these challenges and am grateful for your support.
Here are the outlines of our plan. More details will be shared in the days to come.
Spring break will be extended by one week, beginning Monday, March 16, and continuing through Tuesday, March 31 . This additional time will give faculty extended opportunity to prepare new online instruction materials, redesign and reconceptualize courses, and work collaboratively with the many colleagues here and elsewhere responding to this new educational challenge.
Knox College will have a spring term. Courses will begin in an online environment beginning April 1. The end dates for the term will remain the same. Therefore, spring term will be one week shorter than originally scheduled. Faculty will design their courses to be delivered in their entirety in a remote teaching format. As explained in more detail below, all students should plan to depart at the end of winter term for an extended spring break and prepare to begin their scheduled spring term courses remotely. If conditions allow us to return to campus, we will resume face-to-face instruction for all students on campus beginning Monday, May 4. Spring term final exams will still be held May 31-June 2.
Faculty will need to adapt their courses for remote online delivery. Information Technology Services and Faculty Development will offer a series of workshops and tutorials (including remote options) to support faculty in both the technical and pedagogical dimensions of online teaching. We know that many faculty have already begun embracing this challenge, as resources and conversations around these issues are emerging everywhere. We will soon circulate a “how-to” guide to direct faculty to the College’s specific resources and help tame the surplus of advice and materials in circulation.
The days and times of spring term class meetings will remain the same as our established schedule. Sticking with the existing course schedule will allow all instructors to use real-time “virtual classroom” instruction options (so-called “synchronous learning”). Instructors will also be supported in developing “asynchronous” teaching materials that extend and enhance the synchronous environment.
Embracing the online challenge. Despite the faculty’s deep engagement with online learning through conversations, workshops, and experimentation in recent years, I know that this shift will be a dramatic one. Disruptions and stumbles are inevitable. But I also know that the faculty’s creativity and boundless commitment to education will inspire and sustain many more exceptional cases of excellent teaching and innovation. We will work collaboratively with institutions similar to ours to create communities of practitioners to share insights and resources.
Ensuring our seniors’ ability to graduate in June will be a top priority . Departments and programs should be in conversation about the viability of currently scheduled spring term courses. The Dean of the College will communicate with department and program chairs to consider whether some courses need to be cancelled and replaced with alternatives more suitable to an online environment.
Academic advisors should review degree audits for their graduating seniors in case the changing availability of courses disrupts existing plans to complete graduation requirements.
All students must plan to leave campus by Thursday, March 19 at 4:00 p.m. This is essential if we are to limit the number of people on campus, and thus limit the likely spread of COVID-19. For students who return home, room and board fees for spring term will be proportionately reduced to reflect the time they are off campus. Students do not need to take all of their belongings with them. Further guidance about the logistics of leaving campus will be sent from the Campus Life Office tomorrow.
We realize that returning home is not possible for some of our students. Accordingly, international students or others whose circumstances prevent them from traveling home (or to another safe, non-campus location) can petition to stay on campus by completing this form no later than Sunday, March 15 at 10:00 p.m . Students who are authorized to remain on campus will still take their classes remotely. Students residing on campus will pay their regular room and board fees, and essential services such as health, counseling, and campus dining facilities will continue to be available to them.
Faculty and staff will be expected to keep their normal hours in support of the mission of Knox College and we will work with departments and offices to define expectations and offer creative solutions. However, some offices—depending on their responsibilities and consistent with College policies—may experience adjustments in work schedules and/or schedule reductions commensurate with the timing of the anticipated return of students. We are currently reviewing options, seeking to minimize disruptions to Knox employees.
So that we can play our part in limiting the spread of COVID-19, all Knox work-related nonessential travel is cancelled until further notice. Trips, excursions, and student organization travel are also cancelled for the time being.
One of the hardest decisions we have had to make concerns the spring athletic season. We understand how much each season means to every student-athlete, to your families and to our fans, and are very saddened to make the decision to suspend spring play until further notice. However, it is clear that many sacrifices will need to be made if we are to control transmission of the virus, especially to vulnerable populations like the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. We note that the NCAA has just cancelled all winter and spring championships, including women’s and men’s basketball, and are aware that some of our Midwest Conference schools are also cancelling athletic activity for the foreseeable future.
As a novel virus, no one has immunity to COVID-19, which is why slowing the course of transmission is so essential. The fewer people we have on campus, the less likely we are to come into contact with an infected person. We are fortunate to have two hospitals in Galesburg, but, in the event of a rapid outbreak, local health facilities could become overwhelmed. We have been guided by advice from the Illinois Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in making the decisions we shared above, and will continue to do so as we move forward, sharing additional details in the coming days and seeking ways to answer any questions as they arise.
All of us should continue to do what we can to prevent the spread of germs and closely monitor our health. These efforts are for the benefit of the entire campus community, and most especially those who are vulnerable, including older adults and those with chronic health conditions. Employees who are feeling ill with fever, cough, and/or shortness of breath should stay home and contact a healthcare provider immediately. Students with these symptoms who wish to be seen by Health Services are asked to first call Health Services at (309) 341-7559 prior to visiting the clinic. Health Services staff will triage risk based on symptoms and possible exposure over the phone and discuss the next steps for treatment.
We are a highly interdependent community, and the bonds between our faculty, staff and students are strong and meaningful. It is painful to see our campus community dispersed by the need to safeguard each and every one of us. Our educational program is at its core, human-powered -- people, face to face, caring about each other, learning from one another. In the weeks to come, we will work to recreate our community in the virtual space, sharing thoughts, ideas, images, and sounds as though we were all together on this special campus. I am so grateful to all of you for sharing in these sacrifices and I hope that you will reach out to me with your suggestions for how we can keep our Knox community strong.
I know there will be many questions about these arrangements. We are working through the details in real time and welcome your questions and suggestions. Please use this online form to submit your questions and suggestions.
Teresa L. Amott