By Sophie Hills

Face-to-face learning will not happen again this semester and students will finish their courses remotely, announced Interim President John Williams announced this afternoon in an email to the Principia community.

The decision was made, he said, after he and his team considered stay-at-home orders in Illinois that lasts at least through April 7, Williams and his team decided to hold remote classes on the regular semester schedule. Additionally, the 2020 Summer Session is canceled and the 2020 Alumni Reunion was postponed until summer of 2021. 

In a virtual town hall meeting with College employees this afternoon, Williams, Meggan Madden, dean of academics, and Maya Dietz, dean of students, discussed an array of issues and took questions covering everything from extra financial support for students, to paid leave, to students remaining on campus, to the state of the Pilot Admissions program, to the search for a new president, to recruiting new students.

Because of uncertainty as to when the Covid-19 pandemic will slow down and when stay-at-home orders will be lifted, Williams and the deans were unable to answer every question definitely. But the session was – in Williams’ transparent and bluntly honest style – a window on how the administration is handling an array of challenges.

With many students, particularly seniors, only just hearing the news that the campus will not reopen for classes this semester, the meeting struck a reassuring tone – steady and thoughtful but with room for humor, too.  

Here is a summary of what was discussed:

Student belongings left behind: The administration has not yet decided when and how students will be able to return to campus to pick up their belongings. “We are aware it’s something we’ve got to think about,” said Dietz, adding,”I anticipate that one of the ways that we might be able to do this is have students identify local people that they trust and are willing to allow [to] go into their room and pack things.”

Graduation: The status of commencement has not yet been determined, but a decision will be reached by the end of next week, explained Williams’ email. However, Williams wrote in a Watercooler announcement today that: “I expect that the face-to-face commencement will not occur in May.”  

The administration is reaching out to seniors and their families to consider various options, including a virtual graduation in May, a postponed live graduation, or joining next year’s graduation. 

 Employee pay: Principia is currently a closed campus, under shelter-in-place with only essential personnel still working on campus. One question submitted to Williams in advance asked: “If the virus goes on for a month or more, will everyone be working…. If not, will they get paid for their time off?”

Principia has an emergency paid leave provision, said Williams, that provides for continuous pay, whether an employee is working or not. It extends until April 7, the same day that the state of Illinois is hoping to end the shelter-in-place order.

Employee benefits will continue, Williams said, adding that there is no expectation of staffing changes. “We expect to continue full employment after this crisis is over.”

“It’s not just a matter of the virus going on, but the other circumstances around it,” explained Williams.

Donations in many forms: An array of generosity in this difficult time was described by Williams and Madden. A donor has offered to pay for airfare for any international students unable to return home for financial reasons. Alumni have been donating money through Alumni and Field Relations to support students. A group of essential on-campus employees is busy sewing masks, as Principia has been unable to purchase any. 

Best source of information: Several questions raised concerns about the many sources of information disseminating information about Covid-19. “Right now, the college follows the law,” said Williams. Principia looks to both the website of the Illinois governor and the Jersey County Health Department for the latest information on protocol. 

Williams humor: In response to a lighter request to repeat the call for submissions of lip syncing videos to “We’re All in this Together” by the evening of April 29, Williams waved his hands saying, “Here’s my dance. You’re not gonna hear me sing.”

Student town hall: The town hall video demonstrated another way the community is finding to come together when members are scattered around the world. The employee town hall meeting will be a recurring opportunity every Friday to ask questions of senior leadership.

Beginning this Tuesday there will be a weekly student-centric town hall as well, at 4:30 p.m CDT.

“It will be sponsored by me and the student body president and vice president, and the topic will be driven by what students are interested in,” said Dietz.

Madden and several tech professionals will be available at the first town hall to answer questions and address issues that may arise after the first two days of remote classes.