WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — In one of the boldest statements yet by a university president about students returning to campus, Purdue president Mitch Daniels said Tuesday that "facts have led us is to an intention to open school, but only after making a host of changes.''
That's great news for people who are hoping to see things get back to normal after the spring semester was disrupted by the COVID-19 virus. Campuses were closed and students were sent home, turning West Lafayette into a virtual ghost town.
There's a lot at stake in getting students back on campus, not only for educational purposes, but for economic reasons as well. The state of Indiana started the second of five phases in Gov. Eric Holcomb's plan to re-open the state, with every back to normal — yet with safer precautions — by July.
The means the August return of students to campus has something of a green light from politicians and medical experts, and Daniels and the Purdue leadership want to be in step with that. Done safely, of course.
"An extraordinary number of talented young people want to attend Purdue this fall, and they know, as we do, that a full collegiate education requires the personal encounters with great teachers and with fellow students that only a campus experience provides,'' Daniels said in a lengthy video statement released from the school.
"Where facts have led us is to an intention to open school, but only after making a host of changes to provide maximum practical protection to the potentially vulnerable around us, like some older faculty and staff members, and some students with risk factors like hypertension or compromised immune systems.''
Daniels said the science has proven that younger people are at far less risk than others, and with proper social distancing efforts in place, their safety can be assured to a great extent. But taking care of everyone, including older faculty and staff members, is top priority as well.
"The world of science has learned a ton about the virus itself, for instance, the understanding that in outdoor settings, the virus is extremely unlikely to spread. Of special relevance to a place like Purdue, the consistent finding everywhere is that the young people who make up over 80 percent of our campus population are at near zero lethal risk.
Daniels said adjustments to the school calendar might mean removing breaks in the fall calendar, so students aren't coming and going often to and from campus.
That decision might also have an impact on who might be allowed to come and go from campus, too, which certainly would impact fan attendance to sporting events, mostly notably football in the fall. Purdue's first home game is Sept. 12. (They open the season on the road at Nebraska on Sept. 5)
"One likely early decision will be to alter this fall's calendar to remove breaks and therefore the extent of coming and going from campus,'' Daniels said.
Daniels' comments come as a welcomed news for those hoping that a college football season can start and finish in the fall, because of the monstrous economic impact it has, not only on school athletic departments but on the hundreds of businesses in and around each college campus across the country. A delay — or even worse, a full cancellation — would have a devastating effect on colleges across the country, which are already dealing with massive financial shortfalls since the pandemic took over in March.
Daniels seems to be optimistic that all necessary protocols can be put into the place for on-campus learning to resume without much risk.
"To our students, thank you for pitching in to get us through this semester,'' he said. "We'll need your leadership this fall to help protect each other, and those who teach you. To my co-workers here on campus, your safety is at the heart of our actions. As we protect your health, we will protect your jobs by welcoming back the great young people for whom this university exists.''
With the majority of states in the country starting re-opening plans, there is much more optimism this week than there had been about college football starting on time, though any decisions about fan attendance and such are probably still a month or two off. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said his league is planning on starting on time and playing a full season.
Other Big Ten presidents have been slow to state as emphatically as Daniels that the fall semester can begin on time with students on campus, but that likely will change in the coming weeks as well learn more about the progress of the virus, and the protective measures that will be in place. Conference presidents talk often throughout this process, and they are all watching each other as well.
Daniels said updates will continues as more decisions are made.