The Journal Gazette
 
 
Sunday, May 17, 2020 1:00 am

Private schools, public mission

Universities caring for their communities as well as students

David Wantz

A great deal is happening at Indiana's independent colleges and universities during this COVID-19 crisis. Even though campuses are deserted, classrooms are empty, recital halls are silent and there are no shouts of “play ball” on the baseball diamonds, there is plenty going on.

Private colleges and universities are working harder than ever to deliver on their promises to students in extraordinarily creative and innovative ways.

Social distancing, it turns out, cannot stop learning. Accepting the challenge, these institutions and their faculty and staff are adapting; and that is exactly what those at liberal arts colleges do best.

We teach problem-solving, creativity, and teamwork. Our students learn that their education equips them to be flexible and adjust to unexpected situations.

Our colleges have done incredible work creating alternatives to further their students' academic pursuits. Students and professors moved quickly to learn and teach remotely. Virtual counseling supports students, whether across town or across state lines. Chapel services moved online. Finals week even went on–if not as planned, then as originally scheduled–and some colleges have even managed to send their students care packages to help them get through the challenge.

Commencement, one of the most significant milestones in a student's career–indeed, in a person's life–has been uprooted. Our campuses are creatively reimagining the event, working to give the Class of 2020 the recognition it deserves. One arranged a ceremony before students dispersed. Some are planning celebrations during this fall's homecoming activities. Others are moving the event to December.

Not one has lost sight of commencement's importance.

Meanwhile, Indiana's private colleges are doing their best to give back to their communities, helping them navigate the challenges of the pandemic. Some have been asked to serve as overflow sites for medical facilities. Others have made generous donations of materials to local hospital networks. Some, using 3D printers, have created personal protective equipment for health care workers (many of whom, of course, are alumni of Indiana's colleges and universities).

Yet the focus now is on the massive undertaking of eventually reopening our campuses. Our colleges and universities must plan for shifting scenarios, new arrangements for classrooms, the revamping of medical services, and changes to food service, facilities management and residential life.

We're grateful that technology has helped us step up to the challenges forced by the pandemic.

Yet we know our students are disappointed at missing the campus experience with their friends, their instructors and mentors, and their extracurricular activities. We are, too.

In the meantime, we're working to make life and learning better for our students while they social-distance at home and to make all the necessary preparations for our campuses to reopen, safely, as soon as possible.

When our students come back to campus, we will be ready. We are in this together!

David Wantz is president and CEO of Independent Colleges of Indiana, representing the state's 30 private, nonprofit colleges and universities. 


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