June 2, 2020 | COVID-19 Update |
What a year this has been! On March 12, I wrote a letter informing Harding students that they needed to remain at home or return home after spring break because of COVID-19. It was a tough experience for just about everyone, but I was incredibly impressed by the resilience demonstrated by everyone in the Harding family – students, faculty and staff – in doing what it took to successfully complete the spring semester. Congratulations on a job well done!
Even before the end of the spring semester, we were asking if and how we could return to campus for the fall semester. In April, I formed a Task Force to ask, “What do we need to know and what do we need to do in order to open campus safely this fall?” This group, which includes physicians, connections with both the state and national government, and on-campus leaders, meets weekly to track the status of COVID-19 in Arkansas, developments in testing and treatment, CDC guidelines, directives by state and national government, and input from the Harding community. This past Saturday, I was able to present the current state of our thinking and planning to the Harding University Board of Trustees. Today, I am prepared to announce our plans for the fall.
We are convinced at this point that we will be able to open safely this fall if we work together to take care of one another, Harding, the local community, and ourselves. This fall will not be normal, but it can be phenomenal! After the isolation we experienced this spring, I am confident that we are all willing to do whatever we need to do to bring students back to the Searcy campus this fall. There is much that we do not know as of today. My personal metaphor for this experience is driving in the fog. If you have ever driven in fog, you know that there is a distinct limit to how far you can see down the road. However, when you drive farther down the road, you can see a greater distance than you could at first. We can see further today than we could one month ago, but we hope to see much more clearly by July 1 and early August. Here is what we can see and what we are planning as of June 1:
1. We plan to begin the fall semester on the scheduled date with classes starting on the main campus in Searcy on August 24.
2. We will continue in on-campus classes until Thanksgiving break but will not return to campus for the remainder of the fall semester. The final two weeks of classes will be delivered online after Thanksgiving, and final exams will be taken remotely. In a year of pandemic, it does not seem wise to disperse all over the world and then possibly bring illnesses back to one another. Finishing our on-campus time by Thanksgiving will help us take care of each other and ourselves. (Some of you have probably already thought about missing the Christmas lights that we turn on the day after Thanksgiving break. We have decided that this year, Monday, November 2, is the date we will light the campus.)
3. At this point in time, guidance from the Arkansas Governor’s Office and the State Health Department is indicating that the following four practices will be the pillars of having a healthy fall semester:
- Enhanced hygiene measures: Frequent hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer. Hand-sanitizer dispensers are being installed at the entrances to every building on campus. Sanitization of frequently touched surfaces through enhanced cleaning frequency and procedures is being coordinated with Aramark Facilities.
- Screening: In the past, it was common for both employees and students to “push through” a cold or the flu and continue coming to work or to class. COVID-19 makes such behavior dangerous for you and for everyone else. We must all be extra considerate and thoughtful in order to take care of one another, Harding, the local community and ourselves.
- Physical distancing: Few things could run more counter to “the Harding experience” than physical distancing. “Together” is our favorite place to be, and we will have to do many things differently this fall to make our campus safe during this time. What this will mean for chapel, classes, dorms, cafeteria and dozens of other places is not yet clear
- Face coverings: This is probably the measure that many of us dislike the most. They are hot, uncomfortable, hide smiles, and have even become politically controversial. However, they may prove to be essential, and we may have no choice in the matter. If it takes wearing a face covering to safely be together this fall and to avoid the closure of campus again, I am convinced that we will all be willing to wear one.
4. This fall, we will not be bringing large groups to campus, and we will ask students to limit their own travel as much as possible. Events such as Family Weekend, Lectureship and Fall Break have already been cancelled, and Homecoming will become a virtual event this year. Because of this, plans are underway for more on-campus, safely-delivered entertainment this fall.
5. Each day, we are taking steps toward starting on-campus classes on August 24 but, as you can see, there are so many details that we have not worked out yet. For instance, the fall sports schedule has been released, and we do plan to have fall sports in some form. However, we do not yet know if there will be “fans in the stands.”
6. July 1 is our target date for releasing far more details about the specifics of our response to the challenges we face. Until that time, we will keep praying for wisdom, meeting with experts, waiting for direction from Little Rock and Washington, D.C., monitoring and adjusting, and making plans that will allow all of us to be together for an incredible fall semester.
We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to campus. I have every confidence that, working together, we will be able to take care of one another, Harding, the local community, and ourselves this fall.
May the Lord bless you and keep you!
Bruce D. McLarty