Verbum Ultimum: Roadmap for a Successful 22W
The Editorial Board lays out the right path for the College to follow this term: Keep up the clear communication while investing in class flexibility and outdoor social options.
Thus far, winter term has been characterized by unprecedented levels of COVID-19 transmission — with 993 new cases in just the last seven days — as well as a return to some social restrictions and a commitment to in-person instruction. While in-person classes resumed in a limited capacity in the summer and fully resumed in the fall, their continuation despite the spread of the omicron variant is a notable and welcome deviation from previous policy. This Editorial Board commends both the College’s commitment to in-person instruction as well as their clear and continuous communication of any and all changes that are made to COVID-19 policy, but firmly recommends additional investment in hybrid class models for those in isolation.
Interim provost David Kotz and executive vice president Rick Mills announced various COVID-19 mitigation policies in multiple campus-wide emails throughout winterim and early in the term, including to-go dining for the first two weeks of the term, arrival testing, booster shot clinics and limits on social gatherings. In these emails, Kotz and Mills explicitly acknowledged the College’s commitment to creating an environment that prioritized student mental and physical health and emphasized the College’s intent to maintain in-person instruction if at all possible. This high quality communication has been maintained as the term has progressed, with helpful updates from the COVID-19 Response Team regularly arriving in students’ inboxes.
Overall, these messages have been clear and concise, answered obvious questions, followed up on previous commitments to inform students of changes under consideration and have been refreshingly short on the poetic musings, insensitivity and PR mush that characterized last year. As members of the Dartmouth community, it is comforting to at long last feel as though we are being informed of the changes that directly affect us. This Editorial Board is often critical of the administration, but we must give credit where it is due. Keeping up these communication patterns will go a long way toward restoring flagging student trust and faith.
We are also pleased by the implementation of infrastructure for various outdoor activities, such as the return of the ice skating rink on the Green, sledding on the golf course and fire pits near Collis. Such additions demonstrate the College’s understanding that social interactions, and even just going outside, are necessary for students’ mental wellbeing. All the same, more investment by the College in amenities like heat lamps, fire pits and heated tents could only be a net positive.
As welcome as the College’s push for winter activities has been, there is enormous room for improvement in hybrid learning. The administration’s insistence that hybrid learning is not possible is simply out of touch with the impact that COVID-19 transmission is currently having on instruction. Every person on this Editorial Board has a class, if not several, that is currently being taught with a Zoom and in-person option. With COVID-19 cases in the hundreds, the idea that courses cannot be taught in a hybrid manner is simply false. What will make a difference, then, is whether the College will acknowledge reality and support professors in making hybrid learning successful and productive. Helping professors set up technology that will bring remote students more fully into the classroom is vastly better than a hastily set up, muted laptop pointed at two-thirds of a chalkboard.
Moreover, the administration’s dismissal of hybrid learning as not feasible or reasonable fails to acknowledge the value that well-implemented hybrid learning could have for students and faculty. During pre-pandemic times, it was the norm for students who felt sick to attend class in-person, thereby risking the health and safety of everyone they came into contact with. Even if COVID-19 were not sweeping across campus like wildfire, other illnesses still exist that can get people sick. Creating a strong hybrid option — available for those who are sick, no matter what illness they may have — has value in both a pandemic and post-pandemic world.
As the College acknowledged in an interview on Jan. 5, “we need to start to move forward on a path toward being able to operate with COVID being endemic rather than pandemic” — a sentiment we largely agree with. As we begin to come to terms with the fact that COVID-19 is likely here to stay, we as a community must determine how to handle transmission of the virus, all the while maintaining some semblance of the Dartmouth we knew pre-pandemic. Part of this process involves deciding as a community what reasonable and scientifically sound policies look like. We hope that this roadmap for the winter term will mitigate the spread of COVID-19, help maintain in-person and productive classes to the extent possible and maximize student well-being.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.