With the campus closed and in-person classes suspended for the remainder of the semester, Hillsdale College officials are working on plans for commencement and when students may return to gather their things.
Due to the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as state-specific travel restrictions, the college decided to continue online-only instruction, Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn announced in an email on April 7. Classes were previously set to resume on April 20. In addition to current courses, Arnn also said summer sessions will not be held on campus. The Student Affairs Office will be contacting students about how to handle belongings left behind on campus and other details. Commencement is still scheduled for May 9, but may be pushed to August if necessary.
Arnn cited the ongoing stay-at-home orders in Michigan and other states as part of the reason for his decision. He also said the college will not have “the knowledge and the tools” for dealing with the virus “for some weeks.”
The Michigan legislature voted on April 7 to expand Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s state of emergency through April 30. Arnn noted in his email that April 30 is also the first day of final exams.
“You do not want to be traveling, if you can travel, on the eve of those exams,” he said. “Moreover, many states have already extended their lockdowns beyond April 30, which means that many students would not be able to come.”
Arnn said the plan to hold commencement on May 9 depends on what happens with the pandemic. The school has reserved Aug. 15 as a possible backup date for the ceremony. In that case, returning seniors will be provided with space in the residence halls, as well as food service.
“We intend to have four days to celebrate our common achievement and to do all the normal rituals plus some others,” he said.
Philipp said in an email that 10 students remain on campus.
“These 10 have been on campus since spring break and are likely to remain for the duration of the term,” she said.
Philipp added that Bon Appetit has continued to feed these students, as well as “a few who come from off campus.”
Regarding when students can return to retrieve their belongings, Philipp said the college is waiting for updates to Whitmer’s orders that would allow the school “to welcome students back and to effectively manage their return.” She said plans for graduation also depend on the state orders and any updates that come in over the next few days.
Carolyn Milligan, executive secretary to the dean of women, emailed on behalf of Health Services to say that the college’s Health Center would remain open to faculty, staff, and students, including those still in Hillsdale.
Doctors are available for two hours every day: Monday, Tuesday, and Friday from 8 – 10 a.m. and Wednesday and Thursday from 1 – 3 p.m. These doctors are also on call at Hillsdale Hospital, Milligan said, and may not always be available during these hours.
Milligan also noted that Michigan now allows “a broader scope of COVID-19 testing.”
“Patients who are in need of testing will now be able to have their doctors order testing,” she said.
When deliberating about bringing students back, Arnn said one concern is that there are likely cases of COVID-19 among staff and their families. Those exhibiting mild symptoms, he said, haven’t been able to be tested.
In regards to student safety, Arnn said no one yet knows why the disease is deadly to some young people.
“It is known that the virus attacks the lungs in some cases with particular intensity, and those who have problems with their respiratory systems are vulnerable,” he said. “Maybe that explains why some young people get into the peril of their lives. That is only maybe. If we knew, we could isolate people with those problems.”
Arnn pointed out that countries like South Korea and Taiwan were prepared for the pandemic, but the U.S. was not. This is why things in the nation have to stop, he said.
“We have been resisting this disruption with all our might, and we will continue to do so. We cannot make our resistance successful in time to resume classes this term,” he said.
The college, he said, has faced many crises in its 175-year history, including wars, pandemics, and financial troubles.
“As the college rose from those worse crises, so it will rise and promptly recover from this one,” he said.
Arnn said members of the campus community should focus on the friendships built in the work that goes on at Hillsdale. He encouraged students to make the most of online coursework and to keep up communication.