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Facing the Challenge

West Virginia’s colleges and universities were among the first to take drastic measures to protect our communities in response to COVID-19. The eight non-profit institutions that make up the West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities were no different — ending in-seat instruction, sending students home, adopting virtual learning platforms, and transitioning most employees to remote work.

We will have students back to our campuses for the fall semester. This is not a decision that has been made overnight. In fact, since the beginning of the COVID outbreak, we have been studying and planning for all possible scenarios for the fall semester. Our reopening plans align with the types of institutions we are and the vital roles that we play.

First, not all places are the same. The private institutions are smaller campuses, and most are in rural and contained communities. The logistics for bringing back thousands of students to campus are very different than welcoming back a few hundred residential students.

Second, our plans give us more control of COVID-19 threats. How? All institutions have altered academic calendars, so that in-seat instruction ends before Thanksgiving Break. We have canceled long weekend breaks and are encouraging students, once on campus, to remain. We are making available masks and other appropriate personal protection equipment and adhering to social distancing guidelines in public areas and classrooms.

Third, our planning was not conducted in a vacuum. Each private institution has collaborated with their local health departments and healthcare professionals in developing their plans. Each campus location is different, so plans are specific to the institution’s community. We have addressed testing, health monitoring, isolation of COVID-19 positive individuals, communications, and much more.

Finally, our communities have played a vital role in our considerations. All our institutions are economic drivers for their community. Many are the largest employer, largest producer of the workforce, the families that make up the community, and the heartbeat of the town. Feedback provided to me from many of the presidents is that while discussing their institution’s plans, town leaders understand the risk of students potentially bringing COVID-19 to the town — but the risks of losing the economic vitality and social fabric of the town are far greater.

The challenge we have is not whether COVID-19 will come to our campus, it is whether we have the appropriate plans in place to mitigate its spread. Our students will play a vital role in our efforts. This is their time to shine, to pick up the mantra of loving one’s neighbor, being mindful of our community, and doing the best we can to minimize COVID-19. A hallmark of private universities is the strong sense of community, that all of its members care for and look out for each other. We recognize the changing nature of COVID-19 and will remain vigilant as we move forward. The semester will start as it has for decades — but our mission and purpose this year has never been greater.

The West Virginia Independent Colleges and Universities is made up of: Alderson Broaddus University, Appalachian Bible College, Bethany College, Davis & Elkins College, Ohio Valley University, University of Charleston, West Virginia Wesleyan College, and Wheeling University.

Ben Beakes, executive director

West Virginia Independent

Colleges & Universities

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