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By Dana Cadey
In his first Town Hall meeting as the permanent president of Principia College, John Williams presided over a detailed discussion on plans to pull off in-person instruction amidst the ever-changing public health situation and announced new graduation plans for the class of 2020.
For 2020 and 2021 graduates, Williams had an important update: the original plan for graduation, which would have the ceremony take place during Homecoming Weekend this fall, has been changed. Graduation for the 2020 seniors will now tentatively be held in Spring 2021, during the same weekend as as Commencement for all 2021 seniors. Williams explained that it would most likely be one ceremony separated by graduating class, and that there will be “intermediate activities for both groups” in the time leading up to the ceremony.
After being officially introduced as president by Interim Chief Executive Dennis Marunde, Williams connected some of Principia’s history, such as how the college housed the children of an important Japanese family during World War II, to modern-day events. Williams drew a parallel to the Trump administration’s recent decision to revoke the F-1 visa status of international students enrolled in exclusively remote classes (and the subsequent withdrawal of the decision after significant backlash).
“We cared for them,” said Williams. “And that reminds me that we should care for everyone that’s part of Principia.”
Williams also spoke briefly on the measles outbreak of 1985, during which the campus was shut down for both winter and spring terms. He pointed out that the college ran the largest Christian Science care facility in the world at the time – and abided by state guidelines – while still operating as a functioning higher learning institution.
“All I can do is reflect on the history I know to have a glimpse of the possibilities of Christian Science, of this community, and the concept of Principia,” said Williams.
Williams described the administration’s commitment to moving forward in a “good faith effort” as the college tries to maintain a sense of community under challenging, unprecedented circumstances. The plan in place now stipulates that one-third of all courses will be conducted remotely and all face-to-face instruction will end at the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, after which classes will transition completely online for the last two weeks of the semester.
For the first two weeks of the semester, the college will require all students to remain on campus in order to fulfill the 14-day quarantine recommendations from health officials.
“We have 14 days…to keep everything locked down, and if we have no outbreak or cases then we start easing those restrictions,” said Dean of Students Maya Dietz.
Dietz said that it is her understanding that everyone returning to campus will have to undergo an initial health screening upon their arrival; this will involve questions about recent behavior and travel history. In terms of temperature tests, however, Williams said that the only way that Principia will conduct them is if they are mandated by the state. The college will match its safety and health procedures to the Principia School in St. Louis, so the administration is actively monitoring any updates from St. Louis County.
Williams, Dietz, and Dean of Academics Meggan Madden clarified that the “no mask, no class” rule will be strictly enforced, and will be expanded to include other social situations such as dining. During the first week of on-campus quarantine, masks must be worn inside students’ own houses, with the exception being their own individual dorm rooms. During the second week, students can go visit other houses to meet with friends, but masks must stay on.
“We’re gonna get a lot more serious about masks,” said Madden after these mandates were spelled out.
The college is planning on allowing each student to bring “two people” with them to help unload supplies and set up rooms, said Dietz. Parents of new students will be receiving a letter from Williams next week that will answer questions about housing in more depth.
A survey will be distributed to students soon that will help the administration gauge the amount of people planning to live on campus. The number of students who want to return will determine how rooming will look.
Students who are members of their house board will most likely still be asked to return to campus early, said Dietz, though she mentioned that there would be some flexibility with this depending on individual situations. Dietz also announced that the college is half-way done with its installation of locks on doors.
Williams explained that NCAA contact sports, such as soccer, will now have their seasons next spring instead of this fall. Almost every school in the SLIAC conference is adjusting their sports schedules to fit this structure, said Williams.
Sharing some “good news,” Madden announced that the College Swimming and Diving Coaches Association of America selected Principia’s Men and Women Swimming and Diving team to their scholar all-American team based on the team’s performances last semester. And, research conducted by economics professor Matthew Cocks relating to Alton’s social media image was featured on the front page of the Alton Telegraph last week.
Featured photo at top is a screenshot of President John Williams, Dean of Academics Meggan Madden, and Dean of Students Maya Dietz (clockwise from top left) speaking during the July 24, 2020 Town Hall.