Coronavirus: Plan for the rest of the semester


A message from President Veitch announcing Occidental’s plan to manage the growing COVID-19 pandemic, including moving all classes to an online format for the remainder of the semester. See the Important Updates page for additional real-time updates.

9:56 a.m.

To the Oxy Community:

As we are all aware, the COVID-19 coronavirus is a global phenomenon, one that the World Health Organization officially declared a pandemic Wednesday. Though we are not aware of any cases on the Oxy campus, the number of cases in Los Angeles County is on the rise, and public health officials have made clear that they expect that number to increase. The fact that we are currently in the midst of spring break, a time when many in our community have been travelling, also poses an increased risk. Because our top priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and with the latest guidance from local, state and federal authorities in mind, we have concluded that the best and most responsible path forward is to complete the spring semester remotely, using online methods and minimize the number of students living on campus. We don’t take this step lightly. We know this will be disruptive and disappointing to many of you. 

As you read through our plans for the remainder of the semester, I ask you to keep in mind that we are entering uncharted territory. Although we have labored mightily to anticipate likely problems and questions, we know there are still unanswered questions. Our operational plan will continue to evolve in the days ahead; we will be regularly updating our COVID-19 website through the coming days. Additionally, you can send your questions to cvinfo@oxy.edu. Thank you in advance for your patience and your constructive suggestions.

To summarize our actions today:

  • We will be moving classes online.

  • Spring break will be extended through March 20 to allow faculty and staff to prepare for the transition to digital platforms.

  • Online classes will begin Monday, March 23, likely for the duration of the semester.

  • Students now on campus are asked to leave campus by Friday, March 20.

  • Students who are not on campus can return from break as planned to pick up belongings before returning home;

  • A campus housing petition process has been set up for students with special circumstances who wish to remain on campus beyond March 20. The petition form is linked below.

  • These policies remain in effect until further notice. As conditions evolve, we will continually reassess them and update you accordingly. Please check the website regularly. 

I also want to make clear that Occidental College is not closing. Classes will continue to the fullest extent possible, albeit online, so that students can continue their coursework and make progress towards graduation requirements. All administrative and support functions will continue to operate.

Now more than ever, we rely on Oxy’s resourceful and dedicated faculty and staff to support the College in meeting the challenges presented by the COVID-19 epidemic. Staff will continue to work their regularly scheduled hours and be paid. In the coming weeks we will rely on their dedication to get us through. Their well-being and that of their families is one of our chief concerns, and we value their commitment to the College and its mission.

Here are the details of our plans going forward.

Academic Schedule and Classes

First, as noted earlier in this email, we are extending spring break through Friday, March 20. There will be no classes during that time. The College will use this extended break to prepare for the transition to online classes; beginning on Monday, March 23, all classes will be taught remotely using such tools as Moodle, Google Apps for Education and Oxy’s video conferencing solution. This applies to all enrolled students; students who are on campus after March 20 will not be permitted to attend classes in person. Teaching will continue through the last day of classes, April 28, as scheduled. Final exams will also occur remotely.

We are drawing on existing contingency plans as we prepare for an online platform to deliver the curriculum. However, I’m sure that we do not have all the answers to the many questions before us. From access to course materials to plans for lab, studio art and music classes, there is still a great deal to work through and decide—which is why we have extended spring break for an extra week to give us time to prepare.

We recognize that specific academic circumstances, including access to a computer, internet technology, equipment, or other resources, may present special challenges for some students. We will work with students on a case-by-case basis to ensure that they are able to complete their coursework. In addition, the Student Success Team will remain available throughout the semester to support students.

Faculty are aware of the numerous challenges ahead, and are already working on the solutions. In particular they will be focused on helping seniors graduate and all other students meet their academic requirements. Once they have determined next steps, faculty will reach out to students with information on individual courses. Over the course of my tenure at Oxy I have seen first hand the remarkable strength, dedication and expertise of our faculty, and I have every confidence that they will make digital teaching a success, regardless of the obstacles in our way. Trust them; they will see our students through this.

Campus Housing

Students who left for spring break will likely want to return to campus to retrieve personal belongings, as well as materials that they will need to complete their coursework. Let me be clear: Oxy remains open, and there is no prohibition regarding students making a brief trip back to campus to gather what they need. But with public health in mind, we want to minimize trips to and from campus. So please don’t come to campus solely to socialize with friends, however tempting that may be; we ask that students pick up what they need and then depart promptly. We encourage students to pick up belongings before 5 p.m. on Friday, March 20.  However, if you need to pick up belongings later in the semester, please contact the Dean of Students office to make arrangements to do so.

We understand that some students are unable to travel home for any number of reasons. With that in mind, we are requiring all students who feel that they need to live on campus after March 20 to complete a housing request form by 9 p.m. Sunday, March 15. Students will be asked to explain the reason(s) why they feel they must be on campus. You will be contacted by 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 17 via your Oxy email address to let you know if the College can accommodate your request. If you have general questions about registering for campus housing, please email cvinfo@oxy.edu as soon as possible.

We ask that students share with us if, in the previous 14 days, they have travelled internationally or to a region with a high concentration of COVID-19, or if they believe that they may have been exposed to an individual with COVID-19. While this information would not automatically deny your housing request, we need to act with caution and ensure that we house you appropriately. If this applies to you, please contact the Dean of Students office at deanofstudents@oxy.edu.

We will be especially attentive to the needs of our international students. They should check with the IPO before making any decisions on these issues. We want to make sure that you are fully aware of all the implications, including the impact on your visa and your ability to return to the United States. Specific instructions for you can be found on the International Programs website.

Faculty

Dean Sternberg, in consultation with the associate deans, the director of the Center for Teaching Excellence, and the Faculty Council president, has been working closely with James Uhrich, vice president for information technology, about plans to support faculty through this transition. During the coming week, the Office of the Dean of the College will be providing further information and will be engaging with department chairs and our faculty as a whole about decision-making regarding the academic program. Faculty should be aware that the remote teaching tools available to them will permit them to participate in their classes from either home or campus. 

Study Abroad

Our dedicated and caring staff in the International Programs Office (IPO) have done an outstanding job of tracking rapidly evolving developments in dozens of countries and working with our partners to ensure that our students are safe and aware of all the options available to them. Oxy’s policy allows students to remain enrolled abroad when there is solid evidence of on-site student support, reasonably safe conditions and academic continuity. IPO will inform our impacted students as soon as possible.

Financial Issues for Students 

We understand there are a host of financial questions of critical importance to students and their families, including those about financial aid, room & board, and work study. These issues are being discussed by senior leadership and we expect to have answers by early next week.

On Campus

Essential functions of the campus will continue while online instruction is underway.

Event Policy - To maintain social distancing, all campus gatherings or events with more than 25 people are cancelled until further notice. All varsity athletic competitions for Oxy teams are cancelled, effective Friday.

Campus Services - Dining Services will continue to offer food service in the Marketplace and in the Cooler for the remainder of the semester, exact hours to be determined.  The Green Bean will be closed until further notice, and Coffee Cart service will be discontinued. The Academic Commons and Bookstore also will remain open, although hours of operation for the rest of the semester are yet to be determined.

Emmons will remain open through March 20 for students wishing to get a medication refill, see a medical provider, or utilize counseling services. More details on Emmons services after March 20  will be sent to the community next week.  

Employee Policies

We know that our employees will have as many questions as our students do. As of today, employees should refer to HR’s previous message for the latest information. We understand these developments will warrant additional review of telecommuting and other employee policies. We expect HR to provide additional guidance to staff by Tuesday, March 17. If you have any questions prior to Tuesday, please contact HR at rglazer@oxy.edu. We continue to encourage all employees to follow public health guidance, including staying home if they are sick.

Travel

Effective immediately all new bookings for College-sponsored international travel are suspended until further notice. Essential domestic travel may be permitted with the approval of the respective departmental vice president. Faculty members with questions about these travel restrictions should contact The Dean’s Office. We urge everyone to be judicious in making your personal travel plans and avoid all nonessential personal travel to minimize the risk of becoming exposed to the virus.

This decision is one of the most difficult we have had to make during my 11-year tenure at Oxy. As a parent of two college graduates, I’m keenly aware of the disruption and disappointment this will create. This week I’ve heard from students and parents who have argued passionately about whether or not we should rely solely on digital teaching to complete the semester. But I’m convinced this is the right decision. Ultimately, the risks to the Oxy community--and to the larger community of which we are a part--are too great to ignore.

As we meet these unprecedented challenges, we will need your generosity and good will. It may take more than one attempt to come up with a good answer to all the questions we face. I ask for your patience as we do so. It is in times like these when the real strength of our community is tested. I have full confidence that with the help of our students, faculty, staff, parents, and alumni we will weather these challenges and provide a meaningful education to our students.

In the meantime, we know you will have many questions. We ask that you first check the website, which will be updated frequently. You may also email any questions to cvinfo@oxy.edu.

My very best to all of you.

President Jonathan Veitch