Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s plan to rebalance its fall schedule to reduce the number of students in face-to-face classes is not coming as a surprise.
“It’s not unexpected,” said Mark Hilliard, president of the Indiana County Chamber of Commerce. “We were hopeful things would not go in that direction, (but) it was something we were preparing for.”
IUP President Dr. Michael Driscoll said the university “must move forward in a new direction that rebalances our commitment to protecting health and safety with our educational mission.”
That means “significantly fewer students, perhaps a third of IUP’s student body, will be on campus and in the community,” Driscoll wrote in a letter made public Monday.
Hilliard said the chamber supports the university.
“They know what is best for them,” the chamber president said. “We want what’s best for the county from a health and safety viewpoint.”
On the other hand, Indiana Borough Council Vice President Gerald Smith isn’t happy with IUP’s plan.
“IUP continues to disregard the safety of Indiana,” the councilman posted on Facebook Monday afternoon. “Under this new plan thousands of students will still be moving into town, to off-campus housing.”
Smith sponsored a series of actions taken by Indiana Borough council on July 21, including the advertising of an ordinance that would echo Gov. Tom Wolf’s executive orders regarding COVID-19 and public safety measures as part of the borough’s response to the return of students to IUP.
Action on an ordinance could come as early as tonight, when council meets at 7.
Calling the IUP situation a “speed bump,” Hilliard said the chamber continues to assist businesses across the county in different ways.
“I am confident we are going to continue rebounding, by overcoming hurdles over the next couple months,” Hilliard said.
At the 700 Shop, owner Josh Rosenberger had a similar viewpoint.
“IUP has an obligation to protect their student body from anything they see as a harmful thing,” Rosenberger said.
He conceded that it has an economic impact “and that is a difficult hurdle to overcome,” adding that “the business community is definitely going to take a hit from that.” Still, he said, “some business is better than no business, so some students would be better than no students.”
Driscoll wrote that each college or university must build its plan based on what it believes is best for its situation, and be prepared to change course as new information becomes known. He said IUP drew on guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control, state Department of Health and American College Health Association.
“Continuing students should look for further information throughout the week,” Driscoll added. “We know that this new information is stressful, and we are doing everything we can to provide you with details related to your course schedule as quickly as possible.”
IUP plans aren’t curtailing some on-campus programs such as the Army Reserve Officers Training Corps.
“If there are individual concerns in regards to this please feel free to contact any of the cadre to discuss your or your cadet’s challenges,” Lt. Col. Dennis W. Faulkner, IUP Military Science department chairman posted on Facebook. “We are committed to finding best outcomes for all cadets and to ensure we accomplish our mission of preparing the next generation of leaders for the Army; while of course finding the safest way possible to do so.”
Faulkner said the ROTC program is “fully prepared to execute our training and reception plans fully adhering to safety protocols established by state and university officials,” including the mandatory wearing of face masks, consistent physical distancing, and reduction of group sizes to mitigate exposure.
Those who believe or know they’ve been exposed are asked to reach out to the corps cadre for further guidance and instructions.
Smith posted that IUP’s communications department “completely ignores their own recommendations for students coming from hot spot areas to take the 14-day quarantine.”
The university’s website said “students and employees who have been in an area determined by the Pennsylvania Department of Health to have a high number of cases are asked to self-quarantine before coming to the IUP campus or the Indiana area.”
The state agency does not list any specific areas in Pennsylvania from which a self-quarantine is suggested, but as of Monday it recommends a 14-day quarantine when returning from 19 states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Utah.
Smith said more than 10 percent of Indiana County residents given COVID-19 tests have had positive results.
In a letter to the editor published in the Gazette last week, Smith suggested that students consider a 14-day self-quarantine that could be done from home.
“Alternatively, you can self-quarantine upon arrival to Indiana in Delaney Hall,” Smith wrote. “IUP’s residential staff can assist you in making this possible.”