In November 2019, I was appointed the fifteenth president of Northland College, after having served as the College’s chief operating officer for a little more than a year. Among my many duties as president, the most vital have been sustaining the College’s academic, financial and facilities infrastructures; reaffirming our vibrant mission around environmental responsibility and community sustainability; and strengthening the enrollment in our academically rigorous degree programs.
The first six months of my presidency saw the world transformed by COVID-19 and the College community adapted quickly. I have partnered with our deeply committed faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and students, in tandem with Ashland community leaders, not only to endure the COVID-19 crisis but also to ensure that the College can thrive.
In light of unprecedented health restrictions, faculty pivoted quickly and responded valiantly to the challenges of vacating the campus and continuing classroom instruction in a virtual learning environment. During our most recent May term, fifteen of our faculty colleagues taught or facilitated a nationally recognized pandemic course, which was made available to the broader Ashland community as a shared learning opportunity. Also, this past weekend, we honored our graduating seniors with an online recognition celebration, and we are presently envisioning an in-person commencement, once it has become safe for us to reassemble.
As we close the 2019-20 academic year, my leadership team and I are already planning the future of Northland College.
In the wake of social distancing and increased health vigilance, our small community and rural setting have served us well. Given our remote location, the College appears better positioned to resume operations than larger institutions situated in more densely populated areas of the nation. Our preference is to opt for three terms of on-campus instruction in the 2020-21 school year, which adheres to our traditional academic calendar. However, we recognize that the return of 600 students, 60 faculty, and 85 staff to campus will require flexibility, and we are exploring viable scenarios to bolster the safety of the entire region.
At this time, multiple planning teams are studying critical aspects of College operations, including residential living options, student orientation scenarios, and the specifics of campus and athletic events. Moreover, we are contemplating restrictions on large gatherings, the implementation of face coverings and monitoring travel to and from campus, once our residents have settled into their quarters. As is the rest of the world, so are we learning daily, probing, and assessing what is amenable to in-person and virtual learning environments and what might become necessary to deliver our programs effectively.
Unfortunately, we have become all too aware that the virus will have significant implications on College operations in the coming year.
Dedicated to the health and well-being of our community, we are also exploring options for a testing system during the school year; anyone exhibiting symptoms of the virus should be afforded access to prompt testing, and we will plan for sequestered spaces to facilitate quarantine and rehabilitation. We will also join forces with county officials to track potential infections and adhere to quarantine advisements tendered by national and local health authorities.