Several weeks ago, most would have found unfathomable the realities now facing American higher education from an unprecedented generational threat referred to as the novel coronavirus, a term previously unknown to all but a limited number of research scientists and clinicians. Beginning in the province of Wuhan, China, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19, the disease that results from the virus, a pandemic on March 11.
In response, U.S. higher education institutions have transitioned to an almost-universal distance learning model, shifted to remote work for most employees and cancelled collegiate athletics events. Other remarkable developments include the suspension of clinical rotations, the transition to “pass/fail” grading, the waiver of standardized testing for admission requirements, the systematic closure of residence halls (including the repurposing of some for COVID-19 convalescents), the euthanasia of animals due to halted research, quickly emerging liquidity crises for universities and financial uncertainty for students. And many seniors and their families find themselves shocked at the postponement or cancellation of one of the primary rites of spring: annual commencement ceremonies.