In a pre-COVID world, Pacific students knew what to expect from campus life: always a bustling University Center during lunch, study group sessions in the Tran library, crowded basketball games, and maybe even a house party on the weekend. Now, the social interactions that wove together everyone’s campus life no longer appear certain. In the context of the Coronavirus pandemic, both administration and students are grappling with what to expect from Fall semester 2020.
Currently, Pacific is planning to hold in-person classes in the fall, but it could change depending on restrictions imposed by federal and state governments. As of May 7, governor Kate Brown announced Oregon would begin reopening May 15 in slow phases, starting with rural counties.With Oregon’s 3 Phase plan to reopen the state, Pacific administration anticipates Oregon to be in Phase 2 by the fall semester. Under Phase 2, social gatherings can increase to 50 people, non-essential traveling can resume, and schools and gyms can open with physical distancing. At the time this article was written, Oregon has not entered any phases of reopening and the stay-at-home executive order remains in place.
While uncertainty abounds in the era of face masks and social distancing, it’s certain that campus life at Pacific will not be the same as previous semesters. Like many returning Pacfic students, sophomore Kouichi Saito wonders how Pacific’s culture will change. Saito is one out of the 110 students who remained on campus after classes transitioned online.
“Will next semester be Pacific as I know it?” he asks, “Is it worth taking a gap year? Should I wait this pandemic out? I think a bunch of students are considering taking a gap year.” Saito is “80 percent sure” that he’ll return this fall, but his decision also depends on whether or not Pacific is having in-person classes. If he takes a gap year, Saito plans on working, studying for the MCAT, and finding internships.
Over a conference call Zoom meeting, Pacific administration also described the frustration and uncertainty of planning for the fall. Mark Ankeny, Vice President of Enrollment and Student Affairs, explains that “there’s lots of layers to it when figuring out what life will be like for students. We don’t control everything at this point. The big unknown is that we can’t control the future either. ”
Sarah Phillips, Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, leads the Forest Grove Undergraduate Task Force. The task force has different groups focused on in various areas. “For example, even under the best case scenario, it seems unlikely we’ll have big groups together in small spaces,” she says. “We have to move classes around and figure alternate ways of handling big classes. We can’t have everyone in the dining hall and we have to figure out how everybody can be fed in a way that is as low risk as possible.”
The challenge is figuring out how to give students a college experience while following protocol and protecting public health. Phillips believes that the university will need to adjust as the semester progresses, figuring out what works and what doesn’t work for students.
Changes to next semester will not affect what students pay in tuition. Unless the university is entirely online with no campus activity, Phillips says she doesn’t expect tuition to be affected. Ankeny adds that there’s a common misconception that it’s cheaper to offer courses online rather than face-to-face. The university still has “to pay for the infrastructure whether students are there or not.”
Pacific is also taking financial measures in the wake of COVID-19. According to Jim Langstraat, Vice President of Finance & Administration, the university has “ implemented a freeze on filling vacant positions with limited exceptions. The university has also delayed equipment purchases and other capital expenditures totaling over $3.3 million, and are suspending salary increases for the next fiscal year.” He adds that top administrations are also taking a voluntary salary reduction for the next fiscal year.
According to Ankeny, President Lesley Hallick is taking a voluntary pay cut to her salary that will be approved by Pacific’s Board of Trustees. “She hasn’t announced her percentage yet, but it’s significant,” he says.
Despite the uncertainties of next semester, Phillips believes students and staff will return to Pacific stronger and better than before. “There has been something about all this that has been very humanizing. I think that faculty have a much better understanding of their students’ circumstances in terms of what their lives are like, and I think students see their faculty as more human,” she says. “This [pandemic] has knocked down some of those barriers that are there, and my hope is that we carry some of that into the fall because that makes for better learning.”