March 13 COVID-19 Announcement

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

I write to share important news about Bates’ response to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 situation. As I wrote to you earlier this week, because of our unique academic calendar, with our winter semester well-advanced and February break travel three weeks behind us, I had hoped that we could complete the semester in our regular classes and in-person community.

For reasons that are increasingly apparent to all, I am very sorry to say that this course of action is no longer possible. Based on the best available information from the public health community, we are at a pivotal moment with respect to both the spread of the COVID-19 virus and our ability as a college to take proactive, rather than reactive, steps.

Although healthy populations below the age of 30—like most of our students—do not typically contract severe cases of COVID-19, young people are highly efficient transmitters of the disease, especially when they live and learn in close proximity on a college campus. This poses a danger to anyone with compromised health, and especially to the significant numbers of faculty and staff on our campus in higher risk categories because of age or underlying conditions. I am also mindful that many students, faculty, and staff have expressed concern and anxiety about remaining on campus and in close quarters.

Because we are not in a position to manage a serious outbreak on campus, we must ask that our students return home, and that our faculty prepare to teach remotely. This will ensure that our students are able to complete their winter semester, while also safeguarding the health and safety of the entire Bates community.

Calendar Adjustments

We will suspend classes at the end of the day today and resume classes, through remote learning, on Monday, March 23.

Students will be free to leave campus when their classes end today, and all students within driving distance to home should leave campus this weekend. Others who need to make flight arrangements, or who have complex travel plans, must leave campus by Tuesday, March 17 at 6:00 p.m.

During next week—Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 20—when classes will be suspended, the Dean of Faculty’s office and Information and Library Services will work with faculty seeking assistance in adapting their courses to accommodate remote learning. Information regarding training sessions and other assistance may be found here. Likewise, students will be able to use the week without classes to make preparations for remote learning. We will work with students who may need assistance with either hardware or connectivity issues.

Classes will resume on Monday, March 23, and continue through Friday, April 17 (originally exam week, now the last week of classes). Spring vacation will occur, as scheduled, from Saturday, April 18, through Sunday, April 26. Exams will be scheduled during the week of April 27 through May 2.

Because of the ongoing uncertainty regarding the duration and further progression of the COVID-19 virus, we do not plan to reconvene the college for an on-campus Short Term in May. We will work individually, through remote learning, with the small number of seniors needing to complete degree requirements during Short Term. Other students will have the opportunity to complete their required Short Terms in future years.

Information for Students and Families

I understand that this transition is abrupt for all students, and may pose particular logistical and other challenges for some students. A comprehensive website of practical information has been created here, and I encourage students and families to review it, as the answers to the most common questions should be covered.

Additionally, for students who receive financial aid and may qualify for travel assistance, we will have staff available in Chase Hall to assist with making arrangements, from noon to 6:00 p.m. today and during additional hours through March 17.

For students who are not able to leave campus by March 17, because of travel restrictions in home countries or significant extenuating personal, family, or other circumstances, we have established a petition process that will allow students to request the ability to stay on campus for the remainder of the winter semester.

A Difficult Situation

We find ourselves in a situation that is, quite literally, beyond our control. I understand that the solutions we are offering are necessarily imperfect and place extra demands on all members of our community.

I have heard from many students over the past week. Some have expressed their anxiety about staying on campus under current circumstances, and others have described to me how devastated they feel at the prospect of having to leave campus and their Bates world mid-semester. My heart goes out to all of our students, as these are genuinely stressful and difficult times. But this is an unprecedented situation, and we have no choice but to take this course of action.

Seniors, I know that it is particularly painful for you, as we enter a period meant to be marked by celebration, to learn that you will not be able to end your Bates experience in the ways that you expected and looked forward to. Please know that we are explicitly deferring any decisions regarding Commencement at this point. I very much hope that it will be possible by the end of May to welcome you and your families back to celebrate your accomplishments and receive your diplomas in person. We will keep you posted.

For faculty, adapting your teaching for these different circumstances poses unique challenges in the middle of the semester. I recognize the disruption to your teaching that this represents, and the transition will require significant work and flexibility from everyone. Your willingness to work to maintain high levels of student engagement under these circumstances speaks volumes about your professional values and your investment in Bates. The Dean of Faculty will be in touch this morning with more detailed follow-up information.

For staff, our work on behalf of the college will continue. Bates remains open, and we have much important work to accomplish over the course of the spring. Our daily rhythms will doubtless change, and I am grateful, as ever, for your flexibility and good will as we navigate this challenging chapter in the life of the college.

The members of this community share a seriousness of purpose, a generosity of spirit, and a commitment to educating students who will be ethical and effective actors in the world. This moment of challenge and uncertainty calls on all of these qualities and more. I appreciate your patience and solidarity as we work through the many complexities that lie ahead.

All my best, Clayton