Spring Semester Update from President Harring

Monday, March 23, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

Over the course of the last two weeks, each of our lives has been upended. We have all dealt with disruptions in our work, our learning and our personal lives. There has barely been a moment to step back and reflect. Recently, College Chaplain Kristen Glass Perez shared a small story that I hope resonates with you as much as it has with me. While unpacking donations to the M.U.L.E. (Muhlenberg Useful Living Essentials) Cabinet from students leaving campus, she came across more than 20 packages of Ramen noodles with a message written on the front of each, “You are not alone.”

With the current health crisis having literally forced us apart, this simple message of empathy and kindness is incredibly important today. Muhlenberg is, by nature, a close-knit community. As we have begun to settle into a new, virtual Muhlenberg experience, this message has reminded me of the need to assure that we tend to our collaborative and supportive spirit, while doing all we can to safeguard the health and safety of our community.

When we initially moved our classes to remote learning platforms, we allowed a considerable timeline with the hope we could return to campus. In the wake of two community members testing positive for COVID-19, and knowing that this is only the beginning of the virus’s impact on the country and our community, the possibility of a return can no longer be considered realistic. After considerable discussion among our leadership team, we have made the difficult decision that Muhlenberg will complete the spring semester with remote instruction only.

I know from the many messages I have received that this decision brings much angst and sorrow, not only for students but also for the faculty and staff who have been side-by-side with them throughout their time at the College. A recent note I received from the parents of a senior expressed these feelings well: “Knowing that [our daughter] has potentially walked away from her last on-campus class, her last shift at Java’s and her last meal at GQ with her friends is heartbreaking. She understands it and respects it, just crushed.” I share your sadness and grief.

The richness of the Muhlenberg experience exists in large part because of our residential campus. Through moments, both big and small, and the exchange of ideas and perspectives, we share our lives with each other. The thought of losing that, even for a short time, compels us to make sure we tend to the needs of our community. To that end, teams at the College have been engaged in planning that will now carry us through the remainder of the school year. Detailed information will follow, but for now here are some important updates:

  • We are working individually with the students who remain on campus to see if they are able to return home. For those who need to remain, we will continue to provide essential services.

  • Students who have returned home should remain off-campus. We will send instructions tomorrow regarding an orderly and safe process for the return of any belongings you left on campus.

  • The faculty are working on a policy for students to select a Pass/Fail option for individual classes. Students will receive information as soon as the plan is finalized.

  • The College plans to provide refunds for room and board charges but will only be able to calculate the amount that will be credited to a student’s account at the end of the semester. At that time, we will prioritize processing billing and financial aid adjustments.

  • All academic support services, including support from learning assistants and tutors, will remain available remotely to Muhlenberg students regardless of where they are.

  • Counseling and Health Center support remains available. Please see the Student Resources link on the College’s COVID-19 Information page for contact information.

Given the change in our campus status and the continuing recommendations from the CDC and the Governor of Pennsylvania to limit large gatherings, it is necessary to postpone commencement activities for the Class of 2020. We are committed to bringing our community together and celebrating your achievements on campus and will choose a time for a special graduation fitting of an incredible senior class.

Professional staff should expect to continue working remotely. Essential staff will continue in their campus roles. We are discussing plans moving forward for those who cannot work from their homes.

The strength of our Digital Learning and Information Technology teams has helped us successfully make the switch to remote platforms for our learning and operations programs. All of us, students, faculty and staff, have a learning curve, but in true Muhlenberg fashion, I have seen us pull together—despite being apart—to help one another in making this transition. Our faculty are committed to student learning no matter what the platform. Our student life teams are working on providing virtual programming that will bring us together. And all of the services that support student success remain available.

As we face this new reality together, I am confident that we will rise to the challenge. That the strength, resilience and innovative character of the Muhlenberg community will carry the day. I’ve already seen this in the tremendous amount of support our faculty, staff, students, alumni and Muhlenberg families have shown to the College and one another.

In the coming weeks, above all, please be kind to those around you and to yourself. And remember, you are not alone.

I am so proud to be part of this amazing community.

Kathleen E. Harring
Interim President