Lehigh officials have begun developing contingency plans for fall 2020, in the event that the coronavirus still presents itself a danger.
Officials are trying to strike a balance between achieving teaching and research missions, while keeping the health and safety of the community paramount, said Doug Mahony, a management professor and member of the Faculty Senate executive committee.
“I think it’s prudent to look at the fall semester with the assumption that we won’t be back to normal,” Mahony said. “We need to be flexible with the idea that residential learning may or may not resume at the beginning of the fall, or at some point in the fall. We just don’t know.”
Mary Kathryn Iovine, a biochemistry professor and member of the Faculty Senate executive committee, said no decisions regarding fall 2020 have been made yet.
Iovine said she predicts the fall semester could follow a “hybrid model,” with smaller classes meeting on campus and larger classes being broken up into smaller sections or remaining remote. She said there could be a fully remote option for students who are unable to come to campus.
“As far as what happens in the fall, it’s all on the table right now,” Iovine said.
Mahony said he is concerned about whether or not the Health and Wellness Center would be equipped to handle an outbreak of COVID-19 amongst students on campus.
He said the center is well-equipped for regular health-related issues in a given year, but it doesn’t have the capacity to properly deal with a large number of students who are ill at the same time.
Mahony said even if campus was safe, there is potential that not every student would be able to arrive in August.
“There will be students in home locations that are under travel restrictions or locations that are experiencing peaks of COVID-19 at the beginning of the fall, so we need to be careful that whatever plan is put in place is able to accommodate both students who are able to come to campus, and those who are unable to come to campus,” Mahony said.
Mahony said he hopes the administration won’t rush into any decisions, but he thinks something positive, but drastic, would have to happen for all students and faculty to return to campus in August.
Officials are trying to think outside the box to maintain the integrity of the Lehigh experience, no matter what the circumstances are in the fall, said Jennifer Jensen, deputy provost for Academic Affairs.
“I will say, something we really want to prioritize to any extent possible is the residential experience, which we think is very, very important to the Lehigh experience,” Jensen said. “If there is a way to safely bring our students and faculty together on campus and have a fall that is what people are expecting the residential experience to be, that absolutely will be our first priority.”
Jensen said many scenarios are out of the university’s control, like access to reliable testing and governmental restrictions in the coming months. She said officials are hoping to be able to provide an update for the community in June.
Despite the circumstances, Jensen said she has been impressed with the community’s ability to “rise to a difficult occasion” so far, and she said she is optimistic that the students and faculty will adapt.
“Whatever (the fall) looks like, it’s gonna remind us how much we value each other and how much we value Lehigh,”Jensen said.
President John Simon said in an email to the campus community on April 17 that everyone needs to be prepared for the possibility of not returning to campus in the fall.
The email said Lehigh plans to update the community in June regarding plans for the upcoming semester.
In the email, Simon said Lehigh is working with health professionals as well as government officials to understand how the guidelines for Opening Up America Again will impact the campus in the fall.
“I am confident we will weather and overcome them together,” Simon said in the email. “We are all in this together.”