CORONAVIRUS

Coe, Cornell, Mount Mercy shift online for semester, make alternate graduation plans

Kirkwood waiting to see what happens with coronavirus before canceling

Coe College graduates wait to ring the Victory Bell, a tradition, before the May 2018 commencement ceremony in Cedar Rap
Coe College graduates wait to ring the Victory Bell, a tradition, before the May 2018 commencement ceremony in Cedar Rapids. Coe, like other colleges and universities, has canceled its spring commencement this year because of the coronavirus. (The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Like Iowa’s public universities — which have canceled spring commencement ceremonies and announced students won’t return to campus for classes this semester — private colleges also are taking that extra step, including Coe and Cornell colleges and Mount Mercy University.

Coe on Wednesday night announced it will shift from in-person classes to online platforms through the rest of the spring semester, like many other higher education institutions responding to the threat of COVID-19.

Mount Mercy in Cedar Rapids also is shifting the rest of its spring semester to virtual education — beginning Monday — as is Cornell College in Mount Vernon, which operates on a unique block schedule that allows students, faculty and staff to focus on one course at a time.

Cornell also postponed its commencement ceremony, and Coe announced this year’s graduation events have been canceled.

Although Mount Mercy hasn’t yet called off commencement, it released a statement saying, “We want to start generating ideas from our MMU community about how we might celebrate it differently if we have to” and directing people to an online link.

All three of Iowa’s public universities on Wednesday canceled graduation ceremonies — and are working through alternatives. That move and the shift to virtual education — along with fears of having students in proximity — prompted the campuses to close residence halls and most buildings, including dining facilities, libraries, student unions and recreation centers.

Cornell and Coe, too, have asked students to return home, with Coe encouraging they do so by April 5. Cornell administrators are working with students to pick up belongings, staggering their arrival throughout the remainder of the year, per “social distancing” recommendations.

Both campuses are considering special housing exceptions — as are the public universities — for students who have extenuating circumstances that making returning home difficult or impossible.

Mount Mercy has not amended its decision earlier this week to allow students the choice of staying in the residence halls for the rest of the semester. But those who stay will have modified dining options, according to the campus’ website.

The colleges — like the public universities and other campuses across the state — are encouraging non-essential faculty and staff to work from home. High school students and others shopping for a campus home next fall are conducting visits virtually and over the phone.

“Our steps to date, as they have evolved, continue to be guided by our absolute highest priority — the safety and security of our students and employees,” Cornell President Jonathan Brand said in a statement. “No doubt, we also have a lot of important and exciting work to accomplish — something which we’ll have to do to the best of our ability from a distance.”

KIRKWOOD

Kirkwood Community College, which moved most of its in-person classes online through April 10, has not yet extended that virtual shift through the rest of the semester. It also has not canceled its May 16 commencement.

Earlier this week, Kirkwood President Lori Sundberg suspended all labs and hands-on courses through April 10; locked campus buildings and libraries through April 3; and closed The Hotel at Kirkwood Center from noon Sunday through April 6.

All Kirkwood events are canceled through April 3, and college-related travel is suspended through April 10.

On Wednesday, Sundberg said the campus will open its library Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to noon for laptop checkout and pickup.

It also is setting up a mobile food pantry for those in need in the parking lot of the Michael J. Gould Recreation Center. It will be open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. March 25 and April 1. Students will be asked to wait in their cars and drive through for pick-up service.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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