It is a rather sparse view of campus that I have as I walk around the exterior of the buildings and around the grounds this afternoon. Like much of world around us, MTSO looks and feels a lot different than usual.
We are functioning remotely save for the most vital of functions to support online teaching and learning, which begins Monday following an extended spring break for the last two weeks. Many of you have seen how we’re moving forward amidst this new reality via social media and campus announcements. We are sending this special issue of Campus View to make sure all of our friends and stakeholders are in the loop.
In recent years as many schools have shifted to online modalities of education, MTSO has recommitted itself to robust residential education. In a very real way, we’ve doubled down on promoting a sense of place and gathered community in the educational enterprise. While some students choose online degree programs and UM Course of Study programs with other schools, we have continued to find value in being face-to-face for most of our course offerings and student experiences.
That does not mean we are unprepared to teach and learn online. It’s been a quick ramp-up, and I’m grateful for a lot of work done in a short period of time. But while we choose residential education as our default format, we have technological resources and faculty strength honed through many years of hybrid education through our Connections program. Students are embracing this dramatic change but are clear that they look forward to returning to being with one another for a good share of classes in the future. It is rewarding to know that we are blessed with a great residential campus life and capable of adapting quickly and effectively to a social-distancing paradigm.
I’ve included the messages to students, staff and faculty over the past 10 days below so you can get a sense of what’s happening here and how we’re moving ahead. I think it’s interesting to see the sequence of our decisions and how quickly things are changing. That is surely the case for all of you and your communities as well.
This is an extraordinarily challenging time for many around the world as health concerns arise and economic security is threatened. Those of us at MTSO will be praying for all of you and are grateful for your prayers and support as well. Difficult new realities remind us of why we’re here, resourcing people to serve and lead in world that needs exactly what they are preparing to offer.
With care and appreciation,
I trust everyone is aware of the increasing concern about COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Like many other schools, we are considering what the spread of the virus means as we balance concerns for health and safety with our commitment to a vibrant learning community. We are fortunate to be neighbors of Ohio State University, which is responding to COVID-19 in consultation with epidemiology and infectious-disease specialists at its top-flight medical school. While we understand MTSO’s uniqueness, Ohio State’s actions will be instructive to us.
In confronting this evolving situation, we are taking the measures outlined below.
Classes move from in-person to online
All class sessions will be taught online through at least April 12, which is Easter – the last day of our Holy Week Break. No classes will meet face-to-face during this period. Our faculty and educational-technology staff are working to facilitate this transition. Students will receive communication regarding online instruction in coming days.
Field education and clinical pastoral education will be handled contextually. The field education office will be in contact with students and their supervisors to discuss individual situations.
Campus services are affected
The dining hall will not serve meals while classes are being taught entirely online. While the library will remain open, we encourage email and phone contact with library staff rather than in-person visits. Dewire Residence Hall will not be open to overnight guests.
Events are postponed
Mindful of the need for social distancing, we are choosing to host no events or gatherings on campus at least through April 12. We will explore options for offering events at different dates or virtually when possible.
Some staff and faculty may telecommute
We are preparing to offer telecommuting options for faculty and staff where appropriate. Employees and their supervisors are expected to discuss individual situations and, for those who need to work on campus, options for appropriate social distancing.
Travel is restricted
All school-sponsored international travel is suspended, effective immediately. This includes new travel as well as any currently booked trips between now and April 13. That date could change as new information becomes available. School-sponsored air travel in the United States before April 13 must be approved by the president.
We join health experts in discouraging personal travel. If you or a member of your household has traveled internationally since Feb. 25, please consult the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention list of countries where sustained transmission of the virus has been known to occur. If you or a member of your household have visited any of the countries on the CDC list, I ask that you do two things:
Responsible personal hygiene and behavior are needed
All of us owe it to each other to follow basic guidelines for slowing the spread of germs. Here are specific recommendations from the CDC.
Communication will continue
As conditions evolve, we will continue to evaluate our situation and pursue the best options for fulfilling our educational mission in new and different ways. It is vital that members of the MTSO community monitor their mtso.edu email accounts for updates. We also will post updated information on the website at www.mtso.edu/covid-19.
During these challenging days, all of us – students, faculty and staff – will be called upon to adapt to a new reality. Students and faculty will work through new ways of teaching and learning. Staff members will do their work in new ways in support of our mission.
Place and community are important at MTSO. While face-to-face contact is one of the ways we show care for one another, I’m confident that care can transcend these restrictions. I thank you in advance for your flexibility, vigilance and understanding in the weeks to come.
In the six days since I wrote to you regarding MTSO’s COVID-19 response and action plan, the health crisis and our understanding of its implications have expanded. While some of what I shared in my March 10 email still stands, we are updating our action plan in significant ways.
Online classes will continue through the end of the semester
No classes will meet face-to-face between now and the end of the Spring Semester. Our faculty and educational-technology staff have been working diligently to facilitate this transition. Students can expect to receive necessary details regarding the online resumption of each class in coming days.
Spring Break is extended through March 22
Given the complexities of teaching and learning effectively online, we are extending Spring Break one additional week to give students, faculty and staff adequate time to adjust and prepare. Classes will resume online the week of March 23.
The library facility is closed
Dickhaut Library will not be available for on-site research or checking out books for the remainder of the semester.
Commencement plans are under review
We are evaluating our options for the scheduled May 23 commencement ceremony and related end-of-year events. The members of the class of 2020 have earned recognition, and we look forward to honoring them for their work in preparation for lives of ministry and service. In days to come, we will assess whether that can take the form of our traditional May celebrations or will require an alternative approach.
Event postponements are extended
MTSO is hosting no events or gatherings on campus through the end of the Spring Semester. We will explore options for offering events at different dates or virtually when possible.
Staff members are working remotely
All staff members will work from home to the extent that is possible, effective immediately. Those who need to be on campus will coordinate with others to avoid contact.
Social distancing is a must
During any time you need to spend in campus facilities, you should stay at least 6 feet away from any other person – or, preferably, in a different room altogether. Each of us has a responsibility to practice social distancing.
As I mentioned last week, it is vital that members of the MTSO community monitor their mtso.edu email accounts for updates. We also are updating information on the website at www.mtso.edu/covid-19.
We have weighed each action above carefully and made our decisions with heavy hearts. But for the good of our MTSO community and the broader world we serve, we feel called to err on the side of caution. I thank you again for your flexibility, vigilance and prayerful understanding.
Dear MTSO Class of 2020,
I hope you are all well in the midst of challenging times. I appreciate all you are doing to help us adapt quickly to online teaching and learning. I am also grateful for all you are doing in your own ministry and service settings to lead through a crucial time. I know this isn’t how any of you wanted to spend your last semester at MTSO.
It was good to be with many of you on the Zoom call this morning. For those of you who couldn’t be with us, I am writing to share the following:
After considering the health risks and likely trajectory of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have decided to postpone MTSO’s commencement ceremony, which had been scheduled for May 23. Please note that this is a postponement, not a cancellation. We were and are enthusiastically anticipating a celebration of your work here toward vocations of lasting significance.
Because we’re unable to predict the nature of social-distancing guidelines as the summer progresses, we have not yet chosen a new commencement date. While we’re eager to mark our calendars and look forward to that time together, we don’t want to risk choosing a date today only to reschedule again down the road.
Closing convocation and senior awards will take place as scheduled but via an online format.
We will share information with you as soon as further decisions are made. As we seek the most appropriate ways to honor your time here and observe MTSO’s cherished traditions, I thank you for your understanding, patience and leadership.
I am hearing frequently of ways big and small that members of the MTSO community are pulling together, even while physically apart. It’s inspiring but not surprising. Thank you. Stay well.