Responding to increasing efforts of government authorities to limit the spread of COVID-19, the Board of Governors, pursuant to the unanimous recommendation of the College’s Instruction Committee, has authorized me to take the steps necessary to return students to the safety of their homes and families. Their education this academic year will not stop, however. They will be given guidance from the Dean’s Office to help them prepare for the commencement of online instruction, which will begin next week and continue until the semester’s work is complete.
Our commitment to in-person discussion and analysis of great texts, and our love of personal engagement with exceptional young people like your children, makes this a very difficult decision for us to make. But these are extraordinary times which call for extraordinary sacrifice. In times like these, we are reminded that we are part of a larger political community and that we must always be mindful of our duty to attend to the common good of that community and to the well-being of our fellow citizens.
All of us on the faculty and staff of the College particularly regret the hardship and disappointment this decision occasions for our seniors. It is no small thing to suddenly transition to a simulation of the education they have shared in for nearly four years and to give up or postpone the celebration of great achievement with friends and family, celebration which has enjoyed a long history at the College and which marks a fitting conclusion to four years of Catholic liberal education.
I am deeply moved by, and grateful for, a letter I received last night from the Senior Class asking if its members can remain on campus until graduation. Graham Crawley’s cover letter was eloquent and heartfelt as well. The argumentation of the letter is articulate and powerful, just what I would expect from graduates of Thomas Aquinas College.
The scope and power of this virus is unknown and mysterious at this point, however, and the College cannot risk the safety of its students and faculty, nor the long-term damage to its reputation, should, God forbid, the virus reach our campuses. I recognize that this is a prudential judgment, but it is a judgment that I, the faculty, and the Board of the College are obliged to make.
That being said, on behalf of the Board of Governors and the faculty, I promise that we will do our very best to organize a suitable celebration and Commencement ceremony sometime in the summer once the virus threat has subsided. We will expend every effort to schedule these events so that as many as possible of our seniors and families will be able to attend.
Now, to turn to some of the details regarding these events:
Students may begin departing immediately, but they will have a maximum of 10 days to make travel arrangements and pack up their belongings. During this time the College will continue to offer meal service in the dining commons.
Student Services is preparing to provide boxes which can be used either to store items on campus until next fall or to ship them back home. Students are urged to carry with them all class books that they will need before the Easter Recess, as shipped boxes are not likely to arrive in time for the start of online classes.
Online classes will commence on Wednesday, March 25, using the Zoom platform, which allows for video-based seminar discussions and mathematical demonstrations on a virtual whiteboard. Although online discussions are obviously not ideal, anecdotal evidence suggests that they can be effective among participants who already know each other, which gives us hope that this solution will be sufficient for the time being.
In order to use Zoom for online classes, students will need an internet connection (broadband wired/WiFi or wireless 3G or 4G/LTE) and a computer or mobile device equipped with a microphone and webcam (standard on most laptops, tablet computers, and smartphones). Students will receive further instructions via email.
Senior Thesis Defenses
Senior Thesis Defenses will be conducted via Zoom (schedule forthcoming). Parents and invited friends may log in to watch but cannot participate in any way. As usual, audio and/or video recording of Senior Thesis Defenses is strictly prohibited
High School Summer Program & Summer Events
Conditions permitting, the College has every intention of hosting the two High School Summer Programs, as well as any other previously scheduled summer events.
Thomas Aquinas College is making plans for all employees over the age of 65 to work from home for an indefinite period of time. All other employees are to continue coming to work as usual. So as to avoid group gatherings, the College will no longer offer meal service for employees.
The previously announced campus-visit restrictions remain in effect. The College asks all guests, friends, prospective students, contractors, etc. to postpone any unnecessary visits until further notice.
As I close this letter, let me say again how sorry I am about this turn of events. In difficult times we must trust in God’s providence and in His abiding love for us. I ask for your prayers for me and for the College just as we will pray for you and your families. Finally, let me say that I am confident that our students will bring a high level of devotion and dedication to what will be, for most of us, a new mode of instruction; the same high level of devotion and dedication that they bring every day to their work on our campuses.
Thank you for your patience and cooperation. Please continue to join us as we pray for the safety of Thomas Aquinas College, the nation, and the world. May God bless us in this time of trial and may this be an occasion for growth in our faith, hope, and charity.
Michael F. McLean, Ph.D.
PS — For up-to-date information on the College’s response to the coronavirus, see thomasaquinas.edu/coronavirus.