Carleton’s Spring Term Response to COVID-19

12 March 2020

Dear Members of the Carleton Community,

I write with challenging but necessary news and decisions about Carleton’s response to the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) world health crisis. This is not an easy letter to write, as the wisest path forward will involve considerable disruption. Such unexpected change is hard and in this instance will require sacrifices and accommodations by every member of the Carleton community. I am sad about and deeply sorry for this. 

As a result of extensive conversations among College leadership—including faculty governance, the College Council, and the Board of Trustees—we are moving to limit the number of people on campus and to teach at least the first half of Spring Term 2020 courses remotely, helped by a one-week extension of spring break. We believe—based on the most current information available—that this is the best way to protect our students, faculty, staff, and neighbors, and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

With yesterday’s declaration of a COVID-19 pandemic by the World Health Organization and the number of known COVID-19 cases in the United States steadily growing, it has become clear that we need to take serious measures quickly to protect our community’s well-being.  

As many students are imminently departing for homes and other destinations for spring break, we want to give everyone timely guidance on what lies ahead. And I also want to acknowledge directly some of the varied impacts of this move to online classes.

Students, I know the greatest burden of this decision falls on you. This is especially the case for the Class of 2020, which has been excitedly looking forward to a final term on campus full of special milestones and memories. Even though—as I’ll explain below—we still hope to minimize the duration and extent of this change, I understand that this tears at the fabric of the Carleton student experience.

Parents and families, I know this move will disrupt your plans and expectations. The College is grateful for the confidence you bestowed on us when your student initially joined our community, and for your continued trust as we navigate this unexpected endeavor. We will keep you apprised as our partners as events unfold. 

Faculty, I know we are asking you to do something extremely difficult on singularly short notice. I am profoundly grateful for what I know will be your steadfast commitment to students and your collaborative spirit that will enable us to rise to this occasion. Indeed, I am humbled by the expressions I have already heard from many of you about your willingness to try to do right by your students, even under these challenging circumstances. We will support you in every possible domain with necessary resources and ideas, solving problems creatively for our students’ benefit.

Staff, you are vitally important to this campus and our students, often in immeasurable ways. I know this affects your work and lives, as well. You have offered thoughtful suggestions to assist the Carleton community. Rest assured that we will work with you and provide clear guidance and jointly crafted solutions to coming challenges.

Alumni, I know you also care greatly about Carleton, its students, and its culture. As key College ambassadors, we want you to be informed of the steps we’re taking, and why. 

This move to online instruction is complicated. There are still many details to work through, and there will be more communications shared by email and on our COVID-19 website. But most critically, everyone should know the following things:


Carleton will not “close.” There will be a Spring Term. Classes will be delivered completely online for at least the first four weeks of the term. As explained in more detail below, all students should plan to depart at the end of Winter Term for an extended spring break and prepare to begin their Spring Term coursework remotely. Faculty will need to design their courses to stand alone as online courses for the entirety of the term. If possible, we hope that students can return to campus and that we can resume face-to-face classes after midterm break on Tuesday, May 5. We still expect Spring Term to conclude on June 8, including the final exam period.

We will extend spring break by one week and start Spring Term on Monday, April 6. This will give faculty as much additional time as possible to prepare new course delivery methods and necessary course redesign.

Faculty will need to adapt their courses for online delivery. Beginning today, March 12, the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching and Academic Technologists will host workshops and drop-in sessions for faculty to redesign their courses for online instruction. Online resources for remote instruction are compiled on the LTC website. Even as courses move to a new format, they will stay within previously scheduled time-period blocks, which will allow courses to include real-time student-student and student-faculty interactions (a.k.a. synchronous remote learning).  

Hosting all of Carleton’s courses online at the same time is uncharted territory. Information Technology Services’ ability to support a good learning environment will be greatest when faculty are teaching with common and tested classroom technologies. But at the same time, faculty will need—and will have—all possible latitude in designing and delivering courses that allow them to meet their learning goals for students. Some courses may need to be cancelled and replaced with alternatives more suitable to online delivery; such decisions should be made in conversation with departments and the Dean of the College Office. Faculty with further questions can reach out to the Dean of the College Office.  

We do not expect this change to disrupt any senior’s ability to graduate in June. We will also need to think flexibly about how the availability and delivery of courses this spring might affect students’ satisfaction of degree requirements in subsequent years.


Students should plan to leave campus by Wednesday, March 18. This is essential if we are to limit the number of people on campus, and thus limit the likely spread of COVID-19. For students who return home, room and board fees for Spring Term will be proportionately reduced to reflect the time they are off campus. Further guidance will be forthcoming to students about the logistics of leaving campus.

We realize that returning home is not possible for some of our students. Accordingly, any student whose financial or other circumstances prevent them from traveling home (or to another safe, non-campus location) can petition to stay on campus by contacting no later than Sunday, March 15. Students who are authorized to remain on campus in this way will still take their classes remotely. Students residing on campus will pay their regular room and board fees, and essential services such as Student Health and campus dining facilities will continue to be available to them. If you have questions, please reach out to the Dean of Students Office


Faculty and staff will be expected to report to work in support of the College’s academic mission. However, some offices—depending on their responsibilities and consistent with College policies—may ask or allow employees to work from home, even temporarily extending what is permissible under our Remote Work policy, in light of current circumstances. If you have questions, please reach out to Human Resources.


Because we seek to prevent transmission of the virus, all Carleton work-related travel—both domestic and international—is prohibited at least through April 30. Likewise, any planned speakers or large campus events scheduled to take place in the first half of the Spring Term will be canceled.

Since the bulk of Carleton students will not be in residence and because travel to various sporting venues might spread illness, all Carleton-sponsored spring sports seasons will also need to be suspended until further notice. We recognize that this will be a particularly painful disappointment to our student-athletes. However, it seems likely that actions by other schools and/or our athletic conference will confirm the necessity of this step. If you have questions, please reach out to the Dean of the College Office or the Student Activities Office.

In addition, all student organization travel is suspended until further notice.


All of us should continue to do what we can to prevent the spread of germs and closely monitor our health. These efforts are for the benefit of the entire campus community. Employees who experience symptoms of COVID-19 or another illness should stay home, report your illness to your supervisor, and contact your healthcare clinic. If you have questions, please reach out to Human Resources.  

As a novel virus, no one has immunity to COVID-19, and medical experts have advised that the situation in the United States is expected to worsen over the next several weeks. Carleton’s ability to handle an outbreak situation on campus is very limited, and would risk overwhelming the Northfield healthcare system. We believe that the decision to limit the number of people on campus will reduce the risk of contagion, protect those who are most vulnerable, limit the chances of more disruptive actions later, and enable students to get home while travel options still exist. We will continue to follow guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in future decision-making. We will share additional details in the coming days and do our best to answer your questions as they arise. 


We deeply value the personal academic and residential community experience, and our aspiration remains to bring everyone back to campus and finish out the academic year in a more traditional fashion.  But, Carleton is not just a physical place centered on the Bald Spot; it is also a culture and spirit that transcends campus boundaries and physical proximity. We will get through this situation together, for the ties that bind us are stronger than these current challenges. Thank you for your patience and sacrifices as we continue our commitment to the education of our students and the health of our community.


Steven Poskanzer

Posted In