by GABRIELLA DEPINHO, Editor-in-Chief
President Brennan O’Donnell and Provost Bill Clyde held a virtual town hall on Thursday, March 12, to address community questions and concerns regarding Manhattan College’s shift to online classes as the threat of the coronavirus grows throughout the United States.
The two administrators addressed virtual attendees for 50 minutes, answering questions and further explaining decisions that have been made in the past few days. The town hall was moderated by Tamara Britt, Manhattan College’s general counsel and the co-chair of the newly formed emergency response team’s communication unit. The other co-chair is Lydia Gray, executive director for marketing and communication at Manhattan College.
“It’s pretty obvious that we’re in uncharted waters here,” O’Donnell said to begin the town hall. “The external realities are really unprecedented that we’re dealing with as an institution. We are a complex institution and we have many, many moving parts with regards to our operation, which require hard work and vigilance to make sure that we’re doing the best we can in order to make sure we’re serving our students, our faculty, our staff and administrators.”
The administrators affirmed that the college’s decision to move to online classes was not taken lightly and was made with students’ best interests in mind. They stated that the college does not have any confirmed or suspected cases of the coronavirus in the Manhattan College community and promised a commitment to continuing to deliver quality education to students. O’Donnell also announced that the college has made a new page on the website to answer frequently asked questions, post updated information and post general health information.
They also reminded listeners that though classes have moved online, the college is still open and operating, with resources such as the library and Information Technology Services (ITS) available for students.
O’Donnell commended the community’s response to the unprecedented circumstances.
“The other good news is that I think that we’re finding in the community, and we’re very grateful for this, a great deal of the can-do spirit,” O’Donnell said. “I’ve been seeing that in all sorts of ways.”
Clyde confirmed that administration had reached out to faculty at the end of February and encouraged them to start considering how they would move their courses online. Clyde was confident in the faculty’s ability to make this shift because of the number of courses Manhattan College already offers online throughout intercessions; however, he acknowledges the scale of this change is also unprecedented for the college.
“It absolutely was heavy-lift[ing] to get the courses put online and [be] able to deliver and get to students involved,” Clyde said.
Clyde recognized the challenge facing the community, but much like O’Donnell, he ultimately commended the Manhattan College community for adjusting to the change.
“The stories I’ve heard have all been about people pushing through it and showing the kind of grit that Manhattan College students and faculty are frankly known for,” Clyde said. “That’s not a surprise, but that’s great and important in this case.”
Moving courses online has been a challenge for everyone involved, but Clyde believes students can still get the quality education they paid for and are anticipating.
“It’s critical that we work to ensure that the students achieve the same learning outcomes as they would expect from them in the on-ground environment, the normal face-to-face,” Clyde said. “We believe that can happen. I think the faculty are working very hard to creatively figure out ways to make that happen, but it’s a collaboration. The students need to be dedicated to that, the students need to attend all sessions and use the resources available.”
Students are still required to attend classes and the absence policies set by the college remain in place. According to Clyde, faculty members are encouraged to report students who do not respond to or engage with the professor’s chosen methods of remote learning. Additionally, faculty members have access to a Moodle page with resources to help them in the transition to online learning.
Clyde shared an anecdote of lab professors filming themselves while completing the lab and sending data to the students for the students to do the lab report as normal. In the question and answer part of the town hall, Clyde also quelled rumors by stating students would continue to receive letter grades in their courses, rather than courses changing to pass/fail scales.
On Friday, March 13, a petition, “Make Spring 2020 a Pass/Fail Semester at Manhattan College,” went live on change.org. As of Friday night at 9:15 p.m., the petition had obtained 321 signatures.
While other schools have already made the decision to move to remote learning for the rest of the semester, Manhattan College has not made the same decision, but has not ruled it out entirely. The college also announced plans to evaluate during spring break, whether or not students will be returning on March 30, rather than during the week of March 23 as they originally stated.
“I would say that when we decided to go online, we recognized that with the uncertainty of this crisis, really not knowing what’s happening, with where we are with testing and how many cases we can anticipate being discovered over the course of the next couple of weeks, that we wouldn’t make the shift to online if we didn’t think we could sustain it through the remainder of the semester,” O’Donnell said.
There are no plans to end courses early or to shut down the residence halls, so for right now, the administrators said that students should not expect to receive a refund for either the semester or their room and board.
As of right now, commencement is expected to occur as planned, unless the state and city still have large gatherings banned in May. O’Donnell confirmed they “have not gotten that far” in their thinking about whether or not spring commencement will be canceled.
A question about the progress of spring sports was sent in prior to the announcement that went out earlier that afternoon that all spring sports competitions and practices would be canceled. O’Donnell shared that he spent most of the day on Thursday on the phone with presidents of other colleges in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) and that they unanimously voted to end the basketball tournament, shortly before the Lady Jaspers were set to take the court. The vote to cancel all spring sports immediately was also a unanimous decision.
The Office of Health Services is not equipped to test Manhattan College community members for the coronavirus. If a student, faculty or staff member suspects they may have coronavirus, they are encouraged to go to a hospital or facility that would be equipped to test them properly.
The emergency management team plans to continue communicating with the Manhattan College community as new developments arise and new issues need to be addressed.