UPDATE: As of Friday the 13th, all courses in the colleges of Arts & Sciences, Business, and Education have been cancelled from March 16th to 31st. Courses will resume on April 1st online only. Students are free to stay on campus through the end of their residence contracts. Those who wish to leave campus may do so and complete the rest of the year’s coursework remotely. For more information, go to pacificu.edu/coronavirus
Amid the growing pandemic of coronavirus across the U.S., Pacific University faculty are urgently preparing to teach their courses online in the event the university must cancel in-person courses. Pacific has canceled all short term travel courses, affecting about 80 students.
Pacific University faculty have been asked to inform the university by Thursday if they have a particular course or program that can’t be run online, such as physics labs or theatre performances. One Pacific University student with a rare auto-immune disease packed her bags Wednesday and has headed home to rural Oregon.
University of Oregon and Oregon State announced Wednesday they are closing in-person classes, but holding online courses. Thirteen colleges in Washington state, including University of Washington, have closed as of writing. In addition, late Wednesday night, Oregon Governor Kate Brown issued a ban on all public gatherings exceeding 250 people or more.
According to Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Sarah Phillips, it is unlikely that Pacific will fully shut down. A COVID-19 Task Force on campus has been meeting daily to make decisions regarding the possibility the university moves coursework online or limits group events, she said in an interview late Wednesday.
“These things are not the same as closing,” Phillips said. “We are committed to our teaching and to our students’ learning. Any decisions like these will be discussed and thought through carefully so that we understand all the possible consequences of any action that we choose.”
Though many students worry universities may be at an increased risk of spreading the virus, Matthew Town, an epidemiologist and professor of public health at Pacific, says the risk is just the same as anywhere else in the Washington County area: fairly low.
“My concerns around coronavirus are for those who are older whose health is compromised, and for a number of conditions where the consequences of contracting and experiencing coronavirus would be of a higher consequence than younger healthy people,” said Town.
Some students believe the steps the University has taken to combat the threat of the virus are adequate. “There are no confirmed cases on campus,” said student Michaela Kirkmire. “I think they are taking the necessary steps for where we are at right now.”
Other students disagreed. “I’m sick, my friends are sick, and one of my hall neighbors has been sick for 3 weeks now and is taking steroids from the hospital, because he doesn’t want to miss school,” said student Logan Kwak. “Surrounding states and their schools have all already taken the measures [sic] for their student’s safety, and here we are still going to class?”
Student Grace Perrine, age 19, was advised Wednesday by OHSU to return home immediately. Perrine has a rare autoimmune condition, Maple Syrup Urine Disease (MSUD), that could make coronavirus lethal for her.
“I was freaking out this morning,” Perrine said Wednesday. “I do not want to go home. I do not want to figure out all this stuff. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.” Perrine will take classes online from her family’s home in Stayton, Oregon, she said.
The suddenness of her departure left her rushing to inform professors, the dean, and the Office of Accessibility and Accommodation.“I’ve emailed so many people, and it’s kind of just a big mess, because I can’t show up to class,” Her professors have been accommodating, she said. “They want me to be safe and healthy, and they’re trying to make things work.”
University of Oregon and Oregon State University have both shut down large on-campus gatherings and are moving to courses taught online, according to their respective websites. In addition, at the time of this writing, an additional 24 universities in California and 13 in Washington have chosen to close or move to online coursework.
According to Phillips, Pacific University faculty have been asked to not insist on doctor’s notes in cases of absences due to illness, and faculty have also been asked to make plans to adjust their attendance and grading systems in the event that students begin to get sick.
In the event that students feel sick, Phillips advises to call, not visit, the Student Health Center.
“Most people who have contracted coronavirus thus far have had mild or moderate symptoms, and not every cough or sniffle is coronavirus,” said Phillips. “Doctors’ offices, including our student health center, would prefer that you call ahead so that they can determine if your symptoms are similar to coronavirus. This is so that they can keep the virus from spreading to other folks in the office, whether they are patients or health care providers.”
About 80 Pacific University students studying abroad have been affected by Study Abroad policy changes, according to Director of International Programs Stephen Prag. Seven students attending or planning to attend courses in Japan have been asked to return or cancel plans to leave the U.S, Prag wrote in an email. Four students attending Kansai Gaidai University (K.G.U.) in Hirakata City have been asked to return home after their university temporarily closed. Three others scheduled to study at the Nagoya University of Foreign Studies (N.U.F.S.) in Nissin will not leave for their intended March departure date.
“It’s so heartbreaking,” said International Programs Coordinator Atsuko Rothberg. “Students have planned everything for so long, and who could’ve predicted [this]?”
According to Prag, Pacific students at K.G.U. will be able to complete their spring semester academic program online. Students intending to depart for N.U.F.S. will work in accelerated coursework at Pacific so as to stay on track to receive their degree on time, Prag wrote.
After President Trump banned travel from European foreign nationals March 11, Pacific’s study abroad department is reviewing the situation and considering next steps. There are currently nine students abroad in the UK, three in Ireland and three in Spain. Ireland closed schools March 12 nationwide until March 31, as detailed in a Thursday press conference. Trump’s ban does not apply to American citizens, according to CNN.
“It was a banner semester for travel courses,” said Prag. “We had students going to some really interesting places, with about 80 students slated to go abroad.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated that President Trump banned travel March 11 to European countries for 30 days. He banned travel from European countries to the United States, not from the United States to European countries. The ban also does not include American citizens. The correction has been made. We apologize for the error.