July 31. 2020 at 4:19 p.m.
To St. Olaf College studentsFrom David Anderson, President
I hope this message finds you and those you love well. I’m writing to give you a heads up that, in response to the changing conditions nationally and in Minnesota, we are considering some modifications to our plan to open fully in person this fall. Don’t be alarmed: I think the changes we are contemplating will be welcome news to many of you.
Throughout our planning during the pandemic we have prioritized the health and safety of our students, staff and faculty. Our next priority has been to deliver on our mission as best we can under the circumstances imposed by the pandemic, so that you receive the quality education you both want and deserve. Our third priority has been to acknowledge that there are many aspects of our environment that we cannot control, so we need to be flexible, nimble, and resourceful while reacting to changes in the behavior of the virus.
We are mindful of the surge of infections in various parts of the US. While Minnesota is not a hot spot, there has been an increase here as well, particularly among younger adults. We have heard from some of you that while you would love to return to campus this fall, for a variety of reasons you are not comfortable doing that, and you would like more robust options for remote online learning so that you can continue to progress towards your degree. We are hearing from some faculty similar concerns that, despite their desire to be in-person, they have personal or family circumstances that make them uncomfortable returning to teach in-person under the current conditions.
During the last week we polled both students and faculty on this topic. With a 61% response rate, 53% of faculty would prefer to teach online this fall and 35% would prefer in-person/hybrid teaching. Others didn’t have a preference, or wanted more information. When asked the same question, with an 80% response rate, 66% of returning students prefer in-person/hybrid learning this fall while 22% would prefer remote online learning. Again, some respondents didn’t have a preference or wanted more information.
While there is somewhat of a mismatch between what students and faculty would prefer, we are considering turning that mismatch into an opportunity. Because we had planned for an in-person opening, our online offerings for this fall are limited. Clearly, there is capacity to offer more online courses, given the desire of more than half of the faculty to teach online. But we also remain eager, ready and able to open campus this August to in-person/hybrid learning. So we are currently modeling a fall semester where there are additional online courses available so that students who wish to learn remotely can, while at the same time retaining the option for students to return to campus for in-person/hybrid learning. In this scenario, some of our on campus students would likely need to have some component of their courses on-line, but they would still have all of the advantages of campus life versus remaining at home for another semester.
I want to be careful not to oversell this scenario we are considering. It does not envision a full on-line version of the fall course schedule. Nor does it promise an entirely in-person learning experience for those who want it. We still need to figure out whether we can provide the right mix of courses in all of the formats so that students can reasonably progress towards their degree. But it does have the advantage of giving students and faculty more choice in their learning environment while also keeping the campus open and vibrant.
We are considering some other modifications to our plan to open that will provide even more protection for health and safety in addition to what is already in place. These include additional consideration around our COVID-19 testing/quarantining/contact tracing protocols.
I know that you are anxious for certainty about the fall. So are we. Our goal is to be back in touch by the end of the first week of August with updates on the next steps.