by Tim Miller
Cedarville University President Dr. Thomas White tearfully announced Friday morning in an online chapel session that students will not return to campus for the remainder of the semester because of the COVID-19 outbreak. Though the grim reality seemed inevitable, the decision wasn’t official until the president’s cabinet met Thursday afternoon.
“My heart wants us to be back on campus. I long to sing praises to God alongside you, celebrate with you at Elliv and graduation, and shed a few tears with our seniors as they experience the joy and heartache of knowing their next chapter begins as their 1,000 days at Cedarville ends,” White said in his announcement. “But we know that our ultimate hope and joy lie not in temporal events but in an eternal Savior. In times like these, we must lean on and live out our theology.”
All spring activities, including sporting events and ELLIV, have been cancelled, while commencement has been postponed to an undetermined time. White said diplomas will be mailed to students in May, after requirements have been confirmed for each graduating student.
Summer missions trips have also been canceled or postponed to a future year, according to White. Summer classes will remain as scheduled as of now, but may be moved to online learning.
Additionally, White said any university-sponsored scholarships cannot be lost based on poor grades during the spring semester. The university has also extended the deadline to withdraw from a class through April 3. White has also asked the academic division to develop a pass/fail (credit/no credit) option because some students may have trouble adjusting to online classes or face other challenges. Students may still accept a standard grade for a class.
Prospective students deadline to enroll at Cedarville has been moved from May 1 to June 1.
Dr. Janice Supplee, vice president for Marketing and Communications and Dean of Graduate Studies, said in an interview Wednesday morning, that the university has been following the leadership of the state and federal government from the beginning of the crisis. This latest decision, although not one any school wants to make, is fashioned in accordance with what the federal government has communicated.
“There is now guidance at all levels, from the president and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to the governor and our state health department, to limit gatherings,” Supplee said. “They’re advising us that this will likely not peak before early May.”
Supplee said that a group of leaders has been meeting every day at 8 a.m. in an attempt to stay on top of developments. She said she’s appreciated how White has led the university well during these circumstances with a balanced mindset.
“He’s bold and he’s willing to make tough decisions, but at the same time he is really sensitive to people and understanding of the impact this has on students, families, faculty and staff,” Supplee said.
Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the university’s first announcement made on March 11, declaring residential students had to leave campus by 5 p.m. on March 13. Additionally, all education was moved online for the next two full weeks. Students were expected to return on March 27.
Dr. Jon Wood, vice president for Student Life and Christian Ministries at Cedarville, said in an interview on Thursday night that, as of now, students will be able to return and retrieve their belongings beginning today through May 2. The university will send out registration links to students to parcel out times they can return to minimize group exposure to possible sickness.
“We’re going to have to do this in a way that isn’t a festive party, which is the way we like to do things at Cedarville,” Wood said. “We have to make sure no one is introducing any health risk to the community at Cedarville University.”
Wood said extensive communication will be provided to students starting today to coordinate move-out functions. Further, Wood said the university will ask students to move out sooner rather than later, as additional, more strict guidelines continue to be publicized by the CDC.
He also explained that the university will use its resources to help international students as much as possible.
“We’ll work with families that are at long distance to take care of them,” Wood said. “Some very likely may not be able to re-enter their own countries, in which case we’re committed to taking care of them. We don’t know exactly what that statement means until we get there, but we’re committed to it.”
Wood said it’s been a sweet time to connect with international students who have stayed on campus during this hiatus. The university provided services to all students who stayed on campus during the break.
While the university has postponed its class of 2020 commencement ceremony, it expressed a desire to create some way to celebrate graduates.
“The CDC has a guidance that gatherings are not permitted at a certain size through May 10, which puts us beyond commencement,” Wood said. “We have interest in trying to find a way to honor the class of 2020 with an event that would be fitting for completing their education. We don’t know what that would look like, and we can’t even set a timeframe or an expectation at this point.”
The university will issue a refund for the unused portion of room and board and credit it to student accounts. This will be applied to any outstanding balance, or students may leave this credit on their account for next semester. For others who will end the semester with a credit balance, the university will deposit the balance to the student’s bank account upon request.
Wood said that while there’s a general sense of sadness in students he’s communicated with, they’ve expressed gratitude to the university.
“It blows me away,” Wood said. “Students have written notes to say thank you and all these different things that we don’t deserve. That’s not the way it is at most universities. It goes to show just how awesome our students are.”
While there is speculation globally and nationally that a deep recession could be in the United States’ future, Wood said high enrollment numbers and help from donors puts Cedarville in a position that can weather the storm.
“We’ve had lots of things to celebrate during a season of growth and flourishing,” Wood said. “We’ve taken seriously the principle that shows up in the Bible, that during those seasons, you prepare. Cedarville University is prepared to remain strong through trials, and that includes economic trials.”