Message from President Poskanzer on the Latest Decisions Concerning Carleton’s Response to COVID-19

10 April 2020

Dear Members of the Carleton Community,

I want to share with all of you the latest set of decisions we have made concerning Carleton’s response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.  Most important, after extensive discussion and consultation among College leadership, we are continuing with remote instruction for all of Spring Term.

The last few weeks have been an unprecedented and anxious time.  We’re navigating our way through much that is unknown, but no one can doubt the necessity of prioritizing the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors.  We’ve had to change our ordinary and preferred ways of teaching, learning, and working to protect ourselves and our loved ones.

But as hard as it has been to surmount these challenges—and despite the newly-required distances between us—our community has been coming together in inspiring ways that are true to the mission and character of this College.  Faculty have creatively developed online courses with all the hallmarks of Carleton quality.  Students have reached out to one another to offer support and affirm their bonds of friendship.  Parents and devoted alumni have sent countless encouraging emails and have participated in webinars and phone calls to offer advice, pose questions, and raise concerns.  As always, College staff have stepped up enthusiastically to meet faculty and student needs, stretching far beyond their usual responsibilities.  And we’ve all spent more time on Zoom than we ever thought possible!

Our task is to protect community health while steadfastly pursuing the academic goals of the College.  It is clear that COVID-19 continues to spread and the need for social distancing persists.  Here is what we believe is our best and wisest path forward:

  • Remote classes will continue for the entire Spring 2020 Term.  While this decision may not come as a major surprise, I know its consequences will bring disappointment.  We had hoped to bring students back to finish the term on campus.  But with most states under lockdown, international air travel limited, and so many other aspects of the pandemic still beyond control, it is clear it will not be prudent to return to Northfield in May.  Fortunately, the faculty crafted their courses with this prospect in mind, and our Information Technology Services staff is also poised to support the delivery of online courses for the remaining weeks. We managed the run-up to and launch of remote learning exceptionally well; we can continue in this same vein.
  • We will not hold Commencement in June.  This will be an especially difficult blow for the Class of 2020 and their families.  Seniors, it’s heartbreaking not to have the formal ceremony, and all that surrounds it, that was to be the capstone of your Carleton experience.  It is equally painful for your faculty and staff, and for me personally.  For many of us, graduation day is the best and most meaningful day of the year.  So, let me make a promise to you now:  We will still officially confer your degrees in June and will work with your Class leadership to bring you together in the future to honor your academic achievements—and now also to salute the exceptional character and perseverance you are demonstrating during a wrenching moment.

These two principal decisions of course generate further questions and a need for additional answers.  While there will be more details to share in the coming weeks—for which the fastest and most reliable source of information will continue to be the College’s Coronavirus FAQ website—we can also give guidance now on a number of key points.

Students and families, please know that:

  • Students authorized to live on campus can remain through the end of the academic year, through Tuesday June 9.  No one needs to leave because of this extension of remote instruction.  Just as you are taking your studies seriously, Carleton will continue to take your health and safety seriously with residential and dining facilities that meet your needs and help you flourish.
  • We will refund all remaining room and board charges and student activity fees for students who are not on campus.  Spring Term room and board charges and activity fees will be reversed in full for all students who are not living on campus.  The first half of these charges has already been credited to your student account, and the second half will be credited soon.
  • We will not decrease any student’s financial aid award.  Even though there will be further reductions in room and board charges and activity fees for the remainder of the term, financial aid awards will not be decreased.  We made this decision because we know that families still incur costs when a student is at home and that many students may not be able to earn their full student employment award this term.
  • We will keep taking care of all Carleton students, whether on campus or off.  All the various departments and programs that support you and that you make use of during a conventional term are still ready and eager to serve you now.  So, for example, your access to library materials and research librarians, the Academic Support Center, Disability Services, TRIO/SSS, Student Health and Counseling, OIIL, the GSC, and more, will continue. We are also hatching plans for virtual events and student activities, in addition to the fun and connections we know you will make for yourselves!

Faculty and staff, you are the essential glue that holds this community together, and we recognize the profound disruption that you are experiencing, too.  Beyond having to shift to remote learning at breakneck speed, many of you have seen your jobs change drastically—and many of you still need to come to campus to complete your work.  Just like Carleton parents who have welcomed home their returning students, many of you have loved ones you must give extra care to at your homes now.  Accordingly, we want to offer reassurance to you as well.

  • We will continue to pay all regular Carleton employees, in accordance with their work schedules, through the end of the fiscal year on June 30.  We are not making layoffs.  We are not instituting furloughs.  Those who are able to complete their work remotely should continue to do so until it is safe to return to campus.  Essential employees will continue to work on campus as needed, and those who are unable to carry out their regular jobs remotely may be asked to help out in a different way.
  • We have been working with Bon Appetit and Barnes & Noble to help take care of their Carleton-based employees.  It is our understanding that their employees will retain health coverage as well as income while they are placed on temporary, unpaid leave during Spring Term.  Carleton has also chosen to provide additional College funds that will enable both companies to pay returning workers a supplement to assist them with deferred healthcare premiums or other expenses.
  • Carleton work-related travel is prohibited through the rest of the fiscal year.  Likewise, any public events will be canceled.  As we will not be holding Reunion in June as planned, details about alternative events will be forthcoming from the Alumni Relations office.   

I expect everyone reading this latest news is feeling a sense of loss.  I certainly do.  We all would have loved to be together for the end of the Spring Term, when we would ordinarily revel in the return of warmth after a Minnesota winter and thoughtfully mark the close of the academic year.  In such moments, we experience Carleton in its fullest self and most joyful best.  

But just as the seasons cycle and return, face-to-face Carleton will also return in due course.  We’ll embrace that moment when it comes.  In the meantime, we can still celebrate and honor our bonds to each other and our shared commitment to teaching and learning, to the development of new ideas, and to the growth and success of our students and graduates.  This is Carleton at its core best, too.


Steven Poskanzer