Gannon Intends to Resume Face-to-Face Classes in August

Posted: May 1, 2020

These are normally busy days across our campuses in Erie and Ruskin with finals and the approach of commencement. But these are not normal times. Instead, our beautiful campuses are largely empty and all of those exams and projects are being done remotely. Commencements for both campuses have been delayed until later in the year, when we hope the environment is more conducive to gather in larger numbers.

The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has disrupted life across the world as well as the natural rhythms of Gannon University. Many have been asking and eagerly awaiting the University’s plans for opening our homes away from home. The emerging signs of transition and the intensive planning and preparations being done here at Gannon have led to this message of our intent to resume face-to-face classes in August.  

There are hopeful signs of positive change locally and globally. Infection rates are declining even as testing is becoming more prevalent. And Pennsylvania and Florida have begun the phased reopening process with loosening stay-at-home restrictions and other measures imposed to stem the outbreak. The health statistics in northwestern Pennsylvania has led to this being one of the initial regions of the state to begin this process. With the recent approval by the Governor, regional hospitals are reopening full services and selected businesses, including construction on our own Erie campus, are resuming following sound safety policy and procedures.

We understand that a lot can and will happen between now and August, and our plans to reopen our campuses by their customary August start are predicated on the establishment of a healthy environment and government authorities in Pennsylvania and Florida permitting the reopening as scheduled on Aug. 26.

We have created three separate teams to prepare our University. There is an operations team, which includes all of those from the coronavirus task force that helped us successfully close our campuses in early March. This group will be working through the complex tasks necessary to prepare the campus environment for our safe and efficient return. There is also an academic affairs team that continues to monitor the current alternative learning experience and is developing flexible plans for returning to face-to-face delivery. Finally, a financial team that earlier this week rolled out the distribution of both government (CARES Act relief) and university aid to our students who are most in need is modeling scenarios to support the operational and academic plans that will be rolled out.

The road ahead will not be a straight and easy one and the journey will require continued flexibility and persistence. There are many unknowns at the moment – from likely gathering restrictions to procedures and policies needed to ensure we stay in alignment with government health directives to what the NCAA might rule for its fall seasons.

But our journey must begin somewhere, and we believe it starts by planning for an August resumption of instruction on our campuses. Such a start will require the return of the faculty and staff in advance of the students’ return. For the faculty and staff, the lifting of stay-at-home restrictions does not mean an immediate return to campus. Instead, under Pennsylvania’s guidance, work-from-home practices should remain in effect while the state is still in its yellow phase.

These preparations and measured return of our colleagues will need to occur during the second half of the summer. With that, we would like to take this opportunity to also announce that Summer Session C in Erie, like the two sessions before it, will be taught using alternative delivery. While we are working toward an August restart, we want to maintain the guidance of social distancing and give our faculty and staff the time and safe access to campus to regroup and complete essential tasks such as deep cleaning and set up.   

We expect the campuses we all return to later this year will look and operate much differently from the ones we left in a hurry in mid-March.

These are just a few of the expected changes we are establishing to ensure the healthiest possible opportunities for each of us:

We are working closely with medical experts and regional health care partners to design screening, testing and isolation protocols for the return and ongoing care of our students and employees. Campus policies and protocols are also being informed by government guidance, the emerging work of the Governor’s Paths Forward in Education reopening task force, and the Deputy Secretary of Education’s committee to support residential campus efforts to manage the challenges this contagion continues to pose.

In times of change and uncertainty, we must continue to stick together, stay flexible and be open to more change and uncertainty.  Our intention to restart campus-based instruction in August and beyond runs parallel with the likely expectation that COVID-19 will remain a part of our lives at least for the foreseeable future. That’s why we will continue to follow the guidance of the leadership in Pennsylvania and Florida and work with our health care partners to develop the best possible health and wellness protocols.

An August restart is our plan, but if external factors, science and common sense leads us to a different conclusion we will make adjustments and provide an exceptional learning experience nonetheless. We can assure you that safety will always supersede expedience.  

We look forward to seeing you back on campus soon and hope you enjoy the remainder of this semester and your summer. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have questions or need assistance of any kind.

Keith Taylor, Ph.D.