Dear Oakwood Students, Employees, Alumni, and Friends,
I trust that you are keeping well and taking care of yourselves. Since my last update, I, like all of you, have been intently following reports of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and considering the many ways in which its future course might alter all of our lives. Thankfully, in our campus community we know that our God is in control and our faith and reliance on Him will always be our strong shelter (Psalm 91:1-16). These past four weeks have been a powerful reminder of just how connected we are to one another—and how our choices today determine our options tomorrow.
Fortunately, we are blessed to have a group of extremely dedicated Oakwood University leaders who have been working literally around the clock to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19. They are the Oakwood University Responsiveness Task Force, and are considering every contingency as quickly as possible. Today’s update includes major near-term changes that will limit exposure to the disease among members of our community:
- Tuesday, March 17, we transitioned to gatherings of no more than 10 people in the on-campus environment.
- Wednesday, March 18, we felt the urgency of forming an OU TeleWork Group dedicated exclusively to fast-tracking a telecommuting capability for our organization. They are working as a subcommittee of the Responsiveness TaskForce. Next to the implementation of virtual instruction, enabling our employees to work remotely is the most important work we can do during this crisis.
- Thursday, March 19, Alabama Governor Kay Ivey closed all Alabama schools, both public and private, by end of business day, March 19.
- As previously announced, we have transitioned to virtual instruction for all classes as of Monday, March 23.
- Students who need to remain on campus are also receiving instruction remotely and must prepare for severely limited on-campus activities and interactions. Deans are communicating more specific guidance and information to the students who are on campus. We encourage everyone to review previous guidance about both international and domestic travel.
The decision to move to virtual instruction was not made lightly. The goal of these changes was to minimize the need to gather in large groups and spend prolonged time in close proximity with others in spaces such as classrooms, dining halls, and residential buildings. Our actions are consistent with the recommendations of leading health officials on how to limit the spread of COVID-19 and are also consistent with similar decisions made by a number of our peer institutions.
The campus will remain open and operations will continue with appropriate measures to protect the health of the community, until further notice. However, if at any point we deem it necessary to close on-campus operations, we intend to be ready. We invested in technology to facilitate our need to practice “social distancing” while maintaining our institution’s mission. This technology will support our delivery of both chapel and prayer meetings to our campus community, as well as our students.
For regular updates and additional information, please visit www.oakwood.edu. I will continue to send updates as needed to keep our community informed. As always students will continue to receive specific information from our deans, faculty and residence hall leaders. If you are a student or faculty member and have specific questions or concerns, I encourage you to be in touch with the contacts identified by your dean. If you are an employee, I encourage you to be in touch with your immediate manager.
Despite our best efforts to bring the University's resources to bear on COVID-19, we are still faced with uncertainty - and the considerable unease brought on by this uncertainty. It will take time for researchers to understand enough about this disease to mount a reliable defense against it. Now, more than ever, we must do our utmost to protect those among us who are most vulnerable, whether physically or emotionally, and to treat one another with generosity and respect. Oakwood University Counseling and Mental Health Services (for individuals living in Alabama), and the Chaplains in the Office of Spiritual Life & Missions, are available to help you manage anxiety and stress. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.
- To our students, I know it has been difficult to leave your classmates and friends. We are doing this not only to protect you, but also to protect other members of our community who may be more vulnerable to this disease than you. We thank you for your dedication.
- To our faculty, I recognize that we are asking you midway through the semester to completely rethink how you teach. We do this because we know that you want to avoid putting your students at risk and being at risk yourselves. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
- To our staff, I understand that we are expecting you to go above and beyond in your efforts to support our important mission of teaching and scholarship. We do this because we know we can rely on your creativity, flexibility, and judgment through these challenging times. We thank you for all that you do.
I am proud to be a member of a community where people put the greater good above their own self-interest, and the Lord above us all. Thank you for your patience and your resilience as we all learn to temper increased distance with deeper care for one another. I will update you again very shortly.
Leslie N. Pollard, Ph.D., D.Min, MBA