‘Let’s Stand Together’: Town Hall on Dartmouth’s COVID-19 Response

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President Hanlon and Provost Helble answered community questions on Wednesday.

President Philip J. Hanlon '77, right, and Provost Joseph Helble prepare to speak to the community at the March 18 virtual town hall meeting.
President Philip J. Hanlon ’77, right, and Provost Joseph Helble prepare to speak to the community at the March 18 virtual town hall meeting. (Photo by Eli Burakian ’00)

Read the full transcript of the March 18 town hall meeting.

At a live-streamed virtual town hall meeting hosted by President Philip J. Hanlon ’77 and Provost Joseph Helble on Wednesday, members of the Dartmouth community had an opportunity to hear directly from senior leaders about Dartmouth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

By evening, almost 5,000 people had viewed the session, which is available on Dartmouth’s YouTube channel.

The president and provost outlined efforts Dartmouth has made to date to keep community members safe and curtail the spread of the virus—including, among other actions, shifting spring term classes to a remote learning model, asking staff members whose jobs enable them to work from home to do so, and canceling or postponing in-person events of 10 people or more. (Detailed, up-to-date information about Dartmouth’s response can be found at the COVID-19 website.)

“To say that we find ourselves in uncharted territory doesn’t begin to do justice to the turmoil the COVID-19 pandemic is causing in our lives, for our global community, our nation, and our campus, including all of you,” Hanlon said, welcoming viewers to “what I expect will be several virtual town halls in the coming weeks and months.”

Hanlon acknowledged that Dartmouth “may not have all the answers at this moment. But please know that we will do our best to address all of your concerns, if not now then as quickly as we possibly can hereafter. For now, I simply want to issue a call for unity and compassion. Let’s stand together and help those among us who are most in need. Let’s recognize how difficult this is and lift up those among us who are struggling. The Dartmouth family has always been creative, resilient, and determined, and has always found ways to come together in the face of severe challenges. And I know we’ll do that again this time.”

Helble spoke about the scope of the challenge the pandemic poses and explained the work of the task force charged with planning for and managing disruptions related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“I’d like to stress at the outset that we have had our decisions informed by two overriding principles throughout this process,” Helble said. “First and foremost is to focus on the health and safety of the community—and by that I mean the full community: students, faculty, staff, and our local neighbors and members of the Upper Valley community. And second, to focus on the continuity of our students’ education, on the teaching, learning, and scholarship that constitute our core mission.”

Members of the community had submitted questions on topics ranging from the prospects for holding commencement in June to what Dartmouth is doing to ensure that remote-learning options are as accessible as possible.

Regarding commencement, Hanlon noted that “there is a dedicated group looking at the feasibility of going forward, and at alternatives should we not be able to go forward with both commencement and reunion activities.” He said a decision would be made by April 10.

“Commencement and reunions are sacred events for our community—the most important convening of the Dartmouth fellowship, including parents and families and alums each year,” Hanlon said. “As such, we will do everything we can to recognize these gatherings and all that they mean if we are unable to go forward with the traditional commencement and reunion.”

In response to several questions about spring-term tuition, Hanlon acknowledged that he has heard many concerns on this issue from students and families. “We will strengthen financial aid to meet the increased need that we know many students and their families are feeling as a result of this disruption from the pandemic. And obviously, we will not charge room and board for spring term,” he said.

At the same time, he emphasized that Dartmouth’s “commitment to excellent instruction will be no different even if the mode of delivery will be.”

“I am pleased and proud of how quickly and enthusiastically our faculty has embraced the challenge and opportunity of planning for virtual instruction in the spring term,” he said. “There will be office hours for every class, arranged by the faculty as with any class. Courses will have group projects as appropriate as they would in any class. It’s just that the mode of office hours and group projects will be online or virtual. This may not be perfect, but it will be the differentiated Dartmouth experience.”

Helble said that all regular, non-temporary staff, including union staff, will continued to be paid through spring term.

Members of the Student Assembly asked whether the available spring courses would fulfill distributive requirements, particularly for seniors in need of a lab or studio-based class. Helble said that course offerings would be finalized by March 26, and that the College would work with all seniors to ensure that they have access to the courses—or reasonable alternatives—they need to graduate.

Among other topics Hanlon and Helble addressed at the session:

  • How Dartmouth is safeguarding staff and students still on campus
  • How and when undergraduates may recover personal belongings left behind the residence halls
  • Accommodations for students who rely on work study income
  • Whether the College will shift to a pass/fail grading system for the spring
  • How postdoctoral students and graduate students will be paid and complete research

“I am extremely proud of the way that our community has already come together to try to chart a way forward,” Hanlon said. “I know that we will continue to do so, and we will do the best we possibly can as a Dartmouth family under these uncertain circumstances. So thank you all.”

For the latest information on Dartmouth’s response to the pandemic, visit the COVID-19 website.

Hannah Silverstein can be reached at hannah.silverstein@dartmouth.edu.

Hannah Silverstein