With Erie County declaring a disaster emergency and closing down all non-essential businesses, Gannon University has followed suit, closing its campus beginning Wednesday.
Gannon made the decision Friday to suspend face-to-face classes for the rest of the semester due to the spread of the coronavirus. Classes will resume Monday using an alternative delivery method.
“We felt compelled with the transitions that are going on around us to move in that direction as well and to minimize the interaction among students, students and faculty, and others on campus,” university President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., said.
Students and staff are now preparing for the transition to online classes, facing concerns of isolation and quarantine as they work from home.
Faculty and instructors remained on campus Monday and Tuesday this week to meet with students and will continue to be available to address concerns that students may have. Students who live on campus are expected to return to their permanent residences beginning Wednesday.
“We wanted to make sure that next week we’re not in a big hurry to rush everyone off campus,” Taylor said. “We have a healthy environment here, so we’re going to take our time patiently and intentionally to purposefully go through a process to help students transition.”
Taylor said the university tried to be respectful of people’s time and commitments when trying to figure out what needs to get done and make that transition.
The buildings that will remain open after campus closes are the residence halls, Waldron Student Center, the Recreation and Wellness Center, Nash Library, Palumbo Academic Building and the Center for Business Ingenuity.
Taylor said that every expectation is that students will have the ability to meet learning outcomes and remain on track academically.
Rachel Dameron, a sophomore occupational therapy major, said Friday’s decision has brought a good deal of stress to her life.
“I have a lot of labs, and I am worried about studying and completing practicals from home,” Dameron said. “A lot of nurses are already super stressed about clinicals.”
While the university is largely going online, faculty will be working with students to provide access to specialized settings that require labs or equipment. Nash Library and the Recreation and Wellness Center will remain open for students who require internet access and a place to get away.
If students need the use of technology, ITS will be available to meet the needs of those who require devices with cameras and high-speed internet access.
Taylor said it has been impressive to see the collaboration between faculty members to find those resources that allow teaching objectives to continue to be met. Exploring new technology allows instructors to expand upon their current courses and implement tools that students were not aware of previously.
Instructors have been and will continue to work closely with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) to become familiar with the various programs and create a learning experience that is approved by the chair and dean of those departments. Changes and expectations of students will be updated on the class syllabus, available on Blackboard.
Decisions have not been made regarding commencement ceremonies, but the Erie and Ruskin campuses plan to honor the accomplishments of their graduates in some fashion, Taylor said in an email to the Gannon community.
Although unsure of what the future holds, Anne O’Neill, an associate teaching professor in the School of Communication and the Arts, said she has faith in Gannon’s decisions.
“I think Gannon has thought this out very carefully,” O’Neill said. “This is an organized way for students to get the product they paid for and accommodate the current situation with the coronavirus.”
Although most students are expected to move off-campus, the residence halls will remain available to those who have personal circumstances preventing them from going home.
“We are closing the residence halls on March 22 for the remainder of the semester, but if students have a need for whatever reason they are welcome to stay on campus,” Taylor said.
This applies to any student who feels Gannon is a safer environment than the place they would be going home to, including international students and anyone with reservations about the safety of their homes, or students who have no alternative.
If students are planning to remain on campus, they are asked to declare that intention by Friday to Residence Life via the emergency information page sent out through email.
Students may request a room and dining plan credit for the time not spent in university-owned residences as well as dining plans. For seniors and master’s/doctoral students graduating in May, students living in university-owned residences are eligible for a pro-rated refund for time not spent on campus or using their dining plan.
The university is currently developing a plan with Metz Dining to determine what dining services will be accessible during the closure.
Employees are expected to work from home beginning Wednesday. This announcement followed Gov. Wolf’s decision to close all non-essential businesses for the next two weeks.
Students working on campus or near campus are permitted to continue their employment on campus if they choose to. Essential services for Gannon students and employees who will continue to work once campus closes include police and safety, residence life, food service, mailroom and pressroom, health center and counseling services, the library, information and technology services, recreation and wellness center workers and maintenance staff.
The university has expanded cleaning methods and will continue to follow the recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
All athletic competitions have been canceled for the remainder of the spring semester, following the NCAA’s announcement Thursday that called for the cancellation of all winter and spring championships effective immediately. The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference announced Friday that all athletic competition for the remainder of the spring semester is suspended, effective immediately.
To support the decision of social distancing, Gannon has also canceled events and activities to prevent the spread of the virus. All mid- to large-scale events are canceled until further notice, and all club and student organization activities are canceled. Certain administrative events will continue on a limited scale, including enrollment activities such as tours of the campus.
Lori Steadman, director of the Schuster Gallery, canceled the Women in Art show in the Schuster Gallery upon hearing the announcement.
Steadman said she understands the university’s decision in light of what’s happening. “I don’t blame the school,” she said. “They’re just falling in line with what everyone else is doing. We live in a crazy time.”
Mercyhurst University on Monday announced it would transition from in-person classroom instruction to remote instruction for the rest of the semester.
Since then, Edinboro University, Penn State Behrend and other surrounding schools have extended their suspension of face-to-face classes to include the remainder of the semester as well.
For Gannon staff and students, all travel abroad and learning trips for the spring and summer terms are suspended for the time being and are under review.
Professional travel for staff and faculty will not be permitted without prior approval of a divisional vice president, and anyone returning from a Level 3 warning country is required to report via the International Travel Report form and self-quarantine for 14 days.
Faculty will be available to students to reach out to if there are any concerns or fear about the decision.
“We want to make this seamless,” Taylor said. “I’m sure there will some glitches, and I’m sure there will be some challenges … but it will continue to be a quality experience and students will get what they need out of it.”
Gannon has also announced it has established a student emergency fund, which is tasked with raising funds from alumni and Gannon employees to assist students with travel expenses such as airline tickets and gas cards, as well as assisting with supplies needed for students staying on campus.
As the events continue to evolve, Gannon will stay in touch with students via email and an established web page that provides all updates: https://update.gannon.edu.