Carroll's Pandemic Response

Author: Malcolm McDowell Woods

Published Date: 6/4/2020

Categories: Faculty and Staff Pioneers Persevere Students University News

Pioneering Through a Pandemic

How Carroll Adapted When COVID-19 Changed the World

When students returned to Carroll this January for the start of the spring semester, researchers with the World Health Organization (WHO) were traveling to Wuhan, China, investigating reports of a new coronavirus that had been discovered. 

Within mere months, the entire world would be upended, and Carroll staff, faculty and students called upon to utilize Pioneer ingenuity, innovation, flexibility and resilience in navigating an unfamiliar and stormy sea.

Back in January, as students settled back into their dorms, ventured to the Campus Center for meals, socialized in the PIT, attended the semester’s first classes and began practices for spring athletics, the WHO experts met to determine whether this new virus constituted an international public health emergency. They could not yet reach a consensus and decided to meet again at the end of the month.

A Far-off Emergency

On January 30, as students were completing the second week of classes, WHO, noting that cases of human to human transmission had been observed in China, declared the coronavirus, now known as COVID-19, an international public health emergency. It’s unlikely the news caused much of a stir on campus. News reports were focused on a region in China, on the other side of the world. By January 31, there were only seven confirmed cases in the U.S.

Six weeks later, when WHO labeled the outbreak a pandemic, the world had taken notice. Across the world, life itself transformed and lives changed.

At Carroll, discussion about COVID-19 had begun several weeks earlier, in late February. An update, the first of many, was sent to students, faculty and staff at the end of the month. It contained useful information about hand washing and good hygiene practices and suggested anyone planning travel for spring break check out new travel guidelines posted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The pandemic still seemed distant. Out of sight.

Behind the scenes, though, discussions were already taking place about study abroad participants and the upcoming slate of Cross-Cultural Experiences that would take students across the world. Days before the official declaration of the pandemic, the university detailed new policies that would allow study abroad students to end their travel and return to campus promptly. Students returning early would get assistance with travel arrangements, financial assistance for travel and on-campus housing for the remainder of the semester. 

The Pandemic Hits Home

WHO’s declaration of the pandemic occurred in the middle of the first week of Spring Break at Carroll. Residence Halls were mostly empty. Student athletes in several sports were busy. The women’s softball and men’s baseball teams were in Florida, participating in early season tournaments. And Waukesha County recorded its first case of COVID-19. It wasn't associated with the university, but it underscored the rapid spread of the contagion. Contingency planning was already underway at Carroll. On March 11, the university announced an extended spring break, through March 20. 

Those plans were to allow students to move back into residence halls on Sunday, March 22, and resume classes the following day. Behind the scenes, however, systems were already being moved into place to allow for a transition to remote learning, if needed. Training was developed and provided to faculty and technology needs assessed. Things were moving quickly, and the threat of the pandemic was escalating daily. 

On March 13, the CCIW, along with the NCAA, canceled the remainder of the spring athletics season. The National Basketball Association suspended its season. The spread of the virus, and its seriousness, were becoming more obvious. That same day, Carroll’s leadership team announced updated plans. Classes were moving online for several weeks, there would be no return to campus until April 5, at the earliest.

Moving Online

The shift to remote learning was daunting. Across programs, lesson plans were rewritten, new methods of delivery were devised, and surveys were conducted to ensure that faculty and students had the resources they’d need to continue learning. All spring CCEs were canceled, as were all on-campus events through April 4. Again, behind the scenes, contingency planning raced to keep up with the pace of developments. On the 13th, there were a total of 2,163 confirmed cases in the U.S., and 49 deaths. 

By the following week, the campus began closing, as non-essential employees moved to work from home. The decision was made—the remainder of the semester would be online.

But setting up remote learning was just one part of a complex and ever-changing puzzle. The campus hosts a continual lineup of events during the semester. Performances, exhibits, student presentations, conferences all needed to be reconfigured, postponed or moved online. Residence halls needed to be emptied of students’ belongings. And a few, mostly international, students needed to remain on campus. Large decisions were made by an emergency response team; other work groups formed as needed to tackle other issues and to keep the school year running.

Managing the Costs and Helping Students and Staff

Financial implications of the move to remote learning also needed to be considered and remedied. The university developed a plan to refund parents and families for housing and meal plans. Refunds were implemented for students impacted by the canceled CCE trips. A special Student Emergency Fund was established, to help students deal with unanticipated expenses related to the closing of campus, such as travel expenses or technology needs.

Support the Student Emergency Fund today

Amid mounting costs of the pandemic, the university moved to avoid layoffs, seeking voluntary furloughs and creating a “Has Work, Needs Work” program, whereby staff with reduced job responsibilities could help out in other departments. 

Finally, plans were drawn up for a virtual commencement ceremony, held as planned on May 9. It capped a wild, unprecedented semester, as students and their families tuned in from their homes across the country to hear their names called and to listen to the bagpiper one final time. The move to fully online programming had happened in mere weeks. It impacted each person on campus, and it took the hard work and dedication of all to make it work. 

The price of adaptation has been high and of serious consequence to some institutions. In May, Carroll announced an articulation agreement with Holy Family College in Manitowoc, one of several colleges across the country to close because of financial hardships imposed by COVID-19. In spite of the considerable costs associated with the pandemic, Carroll will finish the fiscal year financially sound, a measure of judicious financial planning, the hard work of all involved and the continued benevolence of our alumni and other contributors, whose financial support is always appreciated and thoughtfully spent.

Summertime and Planning for the Fall

While the semester ended, the COVID-19 pandemic continues, amid uncertainty about its future course. Planning for the upcoming school year is ongoing, and subject to change, depending on the course of the pandemic. At present, plans call for an earlier start to the semester, with classes wrapping up before Thanksgiving. Students will be housed singly in residential halls. Social distancing measures will be in place across campus. The fate of fall athletics awaits decisions by the NCAA and CCIW. 

Undoubtedly, next fall will look different at Carroll. But the same thoughtful planning and hard work that allowed Carroll to pivot and adapt to the changes mid-semester this spring are occurring now, as the university’s administration, board, faculty and staff work to ensure that the value of a Carroll education is undiminished, indeed enhanced. As President Cindy Gnadinger has said, this isn’t just about how Carroll handles this pandemic, it’s about how the university does better moving forward. It’s about flexibility, adaptability, planning and innovation.

That’s the path of a Pioneer.


In Difficult Times, PIONEERS Persevere

Panoramic View of campus