Classes are over. Temperatures are rising. The sun is shining, and, most days, there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The year’s most anticipated season is here, but this go-around, it hardly feels like summer at all.
It is safe to say a majority of Lehigh students’ plans for the summer have altered significantly. Internships have moved online, abroad programs have been canceled, and, while finals may be over, many students have taken the option to continue with online courses just to stay busy this term. As we all know, Lehigh students are go-getters, and, despite the various efforts to stay afloat this summer, there is one cloud that looms overhead between now and June 15.
On May 5, President John Simon announced in an email to the Lehigh community that on June 15, the administration will share its plan for the fall semester. Since then, there have been updates regarding the various task forces in place to address potential re-opening, academics, finances and university operations post-pandemic.
Since these communications, various institutions across the country have announced how they plan to continue in-person education for the following term.
The University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana, plans to reopen its doors two weeks before its original first day of classes and end on-campus activity right before Thanksgiving. This plan allows for students to continue to have an on-campus and in-person experience with the goal of minimizing student travel throughout the semester.
We have seen other schools such as the University of South Carolina and Syracuse University emulate these plans. However, what is interesting to note is that while Syracuse prepares for an in-person semester beginning in August, Ithaca College — a mere 56 miles from Syracuse—is planning to begin the fall semester in early October to allow for more time to analyze the coronavirus’ behavior. On the other side of the spectrum, all public higher-education institutions throughout California will be holding classes online for the entirety of the fall semester.
Without any overhead guidance from federal organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, individual university administrations are forced to make these near impossible decisions on their own. As a result, each school’s decision can seem somewhat arbitrary by comparison.
While we understand that this decision effectively asks these task forces to predict the future, we cannot help but anxiously await an answer on what our fall semester will look like.
For many, the idea of returning back to Bethlehem in the fall has been a glimmer of hope. After having lost one-eighth of one’s overall college experience — for some of which had been their last, or part of an international experience — the notion that normal is just around the corner has served as a source of comfort.
Beginning in early April, the University of Virginia sent out a Google Form with four possible contingency plans for the fall. These included a completely remote semester, a delayed start and intensive 7-week course modules. By allowing students and their families to give input, not only was the university able to gauge enrollment interest, but the greater UVA community was able to have peace of mind on the possibilities that lay ahead and contribute their voice in the matter.
Lehigh has yet to inform students and families on the various possible ideas for how next semester could play out. While we understand that there are many factors at play, having a sense of what could come to fruition in the coming months may help to ease the anxiety and uncertainty that so many of us are feeling as we wait.
“The notion that normal is just around the corner has served as a source of comfort.”
In some ways we are lucky to have the technology to allow us to learn in a virtual format. But learning virtually does not enhance our education the way in-person instruction does. Holding Greek-house chapter and extracurricular club meetings via Zoom does not replace the shared experiences and efforts that it would have in person. Completing a shared workout plan from home is not the same as running drills with teammates and coaches on the field.
We applaud every single organization and department at Lehigh for adjusting to maintain activities as best as we can despite not being on campus, but there is an undeniable piece of one’s collegiate experience that comes from communal living and in-person interactions. That being said, we realize the risks that come with reopening on-campus operations. Not only is there the possibility for students to get sick, but also the risks faculty and staff face who commute each day and go home to their families.
Point is, we could get robbed of one of the most exciting times of our lives even more than we already have. And yet, nobody wants to get sick or put others at risk. It’s an impossible situation.
It is important to remember that Lehigh’s decision does not only impact its students. When considering the future university faculty, dining hall and residence life staff, club advisers and office administrators will need to be taken into account. It is crucial that the administration is both lenient and supportive regarding how these contingency plans affect the Lehigh University community at large.
We understand that the decision Lehigh must make is somewhat of an unfathomable one, with many elements tugging from every direction. But for now we sit, waiting for this next cloud to pass, after having already weathered a remarkable storm.