GREAT FALLS, MONTANA – After extensive consideration, the University of Providence leadership has determined that an online start for the Fall 2020 semester is in the best interest of student, staff, faculty, and community safety. This decision was not made lightly and took into consideration students’ experience, health, safety, and our founding Sisters’ legacy.
Following their arrival in Great Falls in 1892, the Sisters of Providence opened the first hospital in the city, supported by the leading citizens. During the next four decades, Great Falls experienced outbreaks of deadly diseases, especially typhoid, scarlet fever, smallpox, and the flu pandemic of 1918. The Providence community was not immune from the ravages of these epidemics. Sister Souligny, perished in the first typhoid wave of 1894, contracting the disease from a patient. While in 1910, Helen Cyr, a recently graduated nurse, working with the sisters, died just before Christmas from complications following infection from typhoid.
Given this rich and inspiring legacy of service, the leadership of the University of Providence worked from the outbreak of coronavirus to ensure that students, faculty, staff, and the members of the local community were safe. In March, during the first wave of COVID-19, we were the first of the state’s private colleges to move the delivery of student education online, to help prevent the spread of the virus within the local community and on the campus.
In early June, we announced our intention to open campus in late August with modifications to the school calendar so that students could return home for Thanksgiving and conclude the semester online. Since then, the University leadership has worked to realize this intention, preparing a detailed plan that would help diminish the risks. The Cascade City-County Health Department has reviewed and approved our plan.
However, we also stated in June that we would continue to monitor the situation. Now, given the increased spread of the virus in Montana, civic leaders’ concern about Cascade County becoming a hot-spot, concerns expressed by healthcare experts over a second wave of the epidemic, and advice from our Risk and Compliance, we have decided not to resume on-campus education for our students in the fall. Instead, we will transfer to our virtual platform to begin the school year.
This decision saddens us. We were looking forward to reassembling as a campus community. We know many students will be disappointed and parents frustrated by the decision and the timing of the announcement.
We assure all that this decision was not lightly taken. While concern for the health of staff and faculty was a priority, we were also very conscious that the parents of our residential students trust us to keep their children safe. Given all the changes with the COVID-19 circumstances over the last two weeks, we decided that opening our physical campus would not allow us to honor this trust in a way that would faithfully express the Providence legacy and mission to keep all, including the local community, safe.
In the coming weeks, we will be rolling out plans to enhance the online delivery of education and inclusive experience to our students. We are implementing programs so that our academic support staff with faculty members, can ease the stress for all our students. Likewise, we plan to provide more online community-building events for all members of our community.
In addition to modifying academic plans, we recognize that extracurricular activities will also be impacted. Nearly sixty percent of our student community are athletes. The postponement of games and championships until the Spring semester, without doubt, adds further to their stress. However, all members of the University’s athletic leadership are ready to counsel and coach our athletes and prepare them, remotely, for the Spring semester competitions.
We are mindful that the decision to offer online delivery of education may negatively impact student enrollment and retention, add financial stress, and reduce faculty, staff, and student morale. Yet, we hope that it will be viewed as a sincere response to the changes in higher education caused by the pandemic and an expression of our commitment to help reduce the spread of the virus in our community.
As we move into uncertain times, we have the example of the Sisters to guide us. When confronted by difficult situations, their hope and trust in God never wavered. Instead, they responded in innovative and creative ways, and ministries, renewed, flourished. May we learn from their experiences to be creative in our day to the challenges now confronting us.
Finally, as we struggle through these challenging days, may we remember to be grateful for the small things in our lives and treat each other with kindness and care.
The University of Providence is a private Catholic university located in Great Falls, Montana. Founded in 1932, the University includes both a School of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a School of Health Professions.