LYNDON CENTER — College students will not be be returning this semester, and graduating seniors will need to wait a year for their celebration.
The decision was made Tuesday to continue remote learning at Northern Vermont University-Lyndon through the end of the semester.
The Chancellor’s Office and the Vermont State College System presidents announced the definitive plan based on the COVID-19 pandemic. Institutions impacted by the decision are NVU (both Lyndon and Johnson campuses), Castleton University and Vermont Technical College.
“The VSCS’s first commitment will be to the health and safety of the entire VSCS community — students, staff, and faculty — and our neighboring towns and regions,” noted a statement from Chancellor Jeb Spaulding.
The decision puts to rest any notion that there would be a return to normalcy on campus this semester. When the decision was made earlier this month to suspend on-campus learning, the hope was that on-campus learning would return in April.
In addition to the continuation of remote learning processes, residence halls will also close.
“This decision will aid in preserving the health of our communities and decrease the potential impact on the healthcare systems in our communities,” Spaulding wrote.
Some residence hall rooms were still being occupied despite the stoppage of classroom education. That can no longer continue. Currently there are 60 students still utilizing on-campus housing.
“It is clear that the responsible course of action, in light of how the COVID-19 virus is spreading in our communities, is to have our students leave campus,” wrote the chancellor. He said the university will work with any student who has no place to go to locate an emergency housing option.
Students who still have belongings on campus will be given a time slot in which they need to get their stuff on March 30. NVU marketing director Sylvia Plumb noted that NVU is communicating directly with students about the plan. Residence hall students will also receive billing adjustments to reflect the lost use of on-campus housing.
The chancellor noted that available bed space within the residence halls could provide emergency shelter if the coronavirus spread surges beyond established capacity. NVU-Lyndon has 694 beds.
“The Vermont Department of Public Safety and Vermont Emergency Management have made a request that we prepare for the possibility of using one or more of our residence halls and other facilities at each of our residential campuses to accommodate overflow or surge relating to COVID-19,” he stated. “To the extent we are not using our residential facilities, they can be of critical use to our neighboring communities during this crisis. They need us to help our neighboring communities see the pandemic through.”
Plumb wrote that the possibility of gym space and residence halls could be used in an emergency at NVU-Lyndon.
“NVU stands ready to assist our communities and the State of Vermont,” noted Plumb.
Graduation and Commencement Plans
There will be no graduation ceremony for senior students this year, but NVU President Elaine Collins wrote to students on Tuesday that the university intends to “honor your graduation.”
“Degrees will be conferred. You will graduate,” she wrote.
The plan is to have a graduation ceremony for 2020 grads in May 2021 that is separate from the ceremony for 2021 grads.
“We will honor the hard work and commitment you have made to earn your degree with a commencement ceremony for May 2020 graduates in May 2021,” President Collins wrote.
One local NVU senior learned about the decision while at work on Tuesday. Megan Gibson, of St. Johnsbury, said she understands why officials decided to cancel the May ceremony, but is upset that it happened.
“I was really upset,” she said. “I came home and I’ve been crying for the last hour. I just feel like it’s being taken away from me.”
At 34, Gibson is a non-traditional student who will be earning a diploma in an Exercise Science major. She intends to continue her education in graduate school and become a Physician’s Assistant.
The off-campus learning has been especially difficult for her, she said, because in addition to her at-home learning, her children, ages 12, 10 and 4, are also being educated at home.
Gibson said her children were excited at the thought of their mother graduating.
“I’ve been attending the graduations over the last three years to see friends, and I’ve been waiting for my turn to have that moment,” she said. “It’s just upsetting to not have that moment where you walk across the stage and have [your hard work] solidified.”
She said the university’s consolation of a ceremony next year is a poor substitute.
“I understand why it needs to be done, I just don’t know why it needs to be a year away,” she said. “We don’t know where we are going to be next year.”
Gibson said she expects 2020 grads will be in the shadow of the new 2021 grads.
“We’re like an afterthought,” she said.