WILKES-BARRE, Pa. – Following Wilkes University’s initial decision to temporarily suspend all face-to-face classes as a result of COVID-19, interim president Dr. Paul S. Adams has announced the extension of remote learning through the remainder of the spring semester.
“It’s a decision that’s been building, and we knew that we needed to make it today,” said Adams. “I would describe the decision as heartbreaking for all of us, but especially for our students, and particularly our graduating students. As difficult as it was, we wanted students and faculty to know what the next month is going to be like – we just needed to get everybody on the same page to plan accordingly.”
The March 25 announcement from the President’s Office comes 13 days after the University first took action against the unprecedented circumstances. With over 5,000 students and 600 employees to account for, Adams’ goal was to offer some predictability in a time of uncertainty.
Adams shared that the decision wasn’t a difficult one to make based on the fact that the disease has yet to hit its peak as well as the University’s proximity to a current hotspot of New York.
“We really are only 120 miles away from the hottest spot in the country. We have students who are living and coming to us from all over that tri-state area, and realizing that really there are 16 days after April 5 that we would be meeting on campus face-to-face, it just didn’t seem realistic that we could expect to come back to campus and have everybody be safe,” said Adams.
Health and safety of all those apart of the Wilkes community were the key components of the rationale behind the decision to extend remote learning and limit the number of individuals on campus. Increased cleaning protocols, the potential purchasing of new equipment and shutting down buildings and swipe card access have been proactive measures established by the University.
Additionally, the transition to remote learning platforms for an extended period of time, that being five weeks of classes and final examinations, is another point of emphasis.
“We’re trying to make as many efforts as possible to ensure all of our students have the appropriate resources,” shared interim provost Dr. Terese Wignot. “Computers if they don’t have one, hot spots if they don’t have Internet – we really want to be as equitable with all of our students, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to continue all of their classwork.”
IT Services has been working on combating issues regarding access to software from home to assist with the transition.
As for those who are embarking on the end of their time at Wilkes, there will be a commencement ceremony for 2020 graduates. The date currently stands for May 16. With the unpredictability of whether large gatherings will be acceptable to be held at that point, the University will make a final decision regarding commencement and if it will need to be postponed by April 15.
Adams stressed the importance of recognizing the current class of graduating seniors, wanting to assure students and their families that Wilkes intends to honor their experiences and celebrate with them.
With the lives of students, faculty, staff and all those connected to Wilkes University being affected in the past two weeks, Adams found the best way he could offer comfort was in the words of Grace Paley, an American short-story writer and poet known for her political activism.
“I’m a grad at Penn, and we got a message from the dean of the grad school, and she had a great quote at the top of the message,” said Adams. “It was from Grace Paley and it said, ‘The only recognizable feature of hope is action.’ Now, what everybody is demonstrating is that they aren’t being passive, that they’re trying to take as much control of their situation as they can and make decisions in their best interest and in the best interest of the community. That’s what’s been so inspiring.”
Adams holds on to three prominent characteristics present in the Wilkes community: Resolve, resilience and creativity. He attributes these characteristics to the community’s success in a time of great stress and need.
Not only are these traits paramount in navigating an extended period away from campus, but Wignot emphasized the inspiration and opportunities that have developed as a result of this unparalleled situation.
“I am so proud of our students and our faculty – how quickly everyone has responded to this in a positive, in a collaborate and in a real sense of wanting to maintain the community that is so special at Wilkes,” said Wignot. “I also see this as potentially an opportunity that I think students will hopefully be open to learning in a way that they may not have been exposed to before and our faculty now being opened up to different avenues to help them and to help students learn that they may not have had the opportunity to do.”
The sentiments of Adams and Wignot can be summed up into one central phrase the two both used: We are going to get through this.
Updates will continue to be sent out through the Wilkes University email system. For those interested in additional information, www.wilkes.edu/coronavirus can be visited.