Hanlon, Helble hold virtual town hall to address COVID-19 concerns

by Pierce Wilson | 3/19/20 3:11pm

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by Naina Bhalla / The Dartmouth

College President Phil Hanlon and provost Joseph Helble held a virtual town hall on Wednesday afternoon to answer questions about the College’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pair reiterated many of the College’s recent decisions and clarified a few new details, including that students, though paying full tuition, will not be required to pay room and board and that financial aid will be increased.

During the event, which was live-streamed on YouTube, Hanlon and Helble said that a decision on grading schemes for the spring term will be announced by March 20. The decision will determine if courses will implement adjusted grading policies, such as a credit or no credit system or an expanded non-recording option.

Additionally, they stated that students will not be allowed to retrieve belongings left in residence halls until further notice, echoing guidelines outlined by Dean of the College Kathryn Lively in an email Wednesday morning.

Hanlon and Helble began the event by summarizing decisions that had already been made related to the outbreak. These included the initial cancellation of spring off-campus programs, the subsequent switch to remote instruction for the first part of the spring term and the eventual cancellation of all in-person classes for the term, which Helble announced along with facility closures and event restrictions in an email to campus on Tuesday.

They then began answering prepared questions that had been submitted by community members via email.

Responding to concerns over tuition, Hanlon stressed that the College intends to charge full tuition because it primarily covers the cost of paying faculty and staff, not “the full cost of the student learning experience.” He noted that academic interactions such as office hours will still be held, albeit virtually.

A student-generated petition demanding tuition be discounted for spring term, which cited concerns that students will lose some benefits of an in-person education, such as regular office hours and peer-to-peer interaction, has garnered nearly 2,500 signatures as of Thursday morning. 

Hanlon added that the College will strengthen financial aid to meet the increased need that many students and families are facing as a result of the pandemic.

“It’s similar to commitments we’ve made in the past when there have been changes in financial circumstances nationally,” Helbe said in an interview with The Dartmouth after the event. “It’s a commitment to support the full need of our students.”

He said that the Financial Aid office is already in contact with individual students who have reached out regarding additional accommodations, adding that the expansion of financial aid in response to the pandemic will be handled on a case-by-case basis. 

Sophie Williams ’23, who tuned in to the livestream, said that she appreciated the effort to increase financial aid for students in need.

“I wasn’t super satisfied with the answer for tuition remaining the same, but if they’re going to adjust financial aid, then that’s a good fix,” Williams said.

After the town hall, Helble told The Dartmouth that the full list of remote courses will not be confirmed until the end of next week due to the “enormous complexity” of offering remote classes to the entire student body. An email sent by Lively to students on Thursday morning notes that the list of spring course offerings will be posted on March 27 — four days after the deadline to pay tuition.

Hanlon added that the College will continue to pay all staff at the regularly scheduled hourly and base rate of pay, even as their work schedules are altered so that fewer staff are on campus at any given time.  

In light of the College’s move to begin clearing out and converting the Channing Cox and Maxwell apartments into self-quarantine sites, Helble said that students whose belongings remain in on-campus housing will receive a direct notice from Residential Operations if their assigned room will be impacted by further changes on campus. All other residence halls have been locked with students’ belongings left in place. 

Helble noted that anyone who left essential items in residence halls should contact the office of the Dean of the College. Other students will be contacted in the coming weeks about how to retrieve their belongings. 

Helble also explained that the administration is considering expanding summer term course offerings to better cater to first year students and juniors who may wish to take classes over the summer.

He added that no decision has been made about commencement and reunions at this time. The COVID-19 task force has dedicated a group to look at commencement and reunion options and will make a decision by April 10.

Many community members submitted questions on the YouTube livestream interface throughout the town hall, though none of these questions were directly addressed. Helble said that the moderator of the comment section felt that the emerging themes in the comment section were similar to the questions already mentioned in the town hall and thus did not need to be addressed. 

Katie Goldstein ’20, who also watched the town hall, said that she was dissatisfied with the handling of the live chat and felt that Hanlon and Helble could have responded to some of the questions posed there.

“It seems like they were just collecting questions, but there was no timeline on when those urgent questions were going to be answered,” Goldstein said. She added that she thought Hanlon and Helble could have made the event longer or opened it up for live questions at the end. 

Likewise, Williams felt that the administrators could have been more clear in the answers they gave to the questions that were submitted.

“They weren’t very specific with answers,” she said. “They just kept mentioning that they were considering possibilities but not sharing possibilities they were considering.”