Message to Luther Community on Extension of Distance Learning Period

To: Luther College students, parents, faculty, staff, regents and emeriti
From: President Jenifer K. Ward
Re: Extension of distance learning period
Date: March 20, 2020 

Dear Members of the Luther Community:  

On Wednesday, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) confirmed nine additional cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, one of which is located in Winneshiek County. To the best of our knowledge at this time, the case in Winneshiek County is not a student or a member of the staff or faculty at Luther College. Yesterday, Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds held a press conference, at which time she indicated that there are 44 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Iowa, with cases found in 13 counties. We expect these numbers to continue to increase.

Given these developments, federal and state guidance on travel and social distancing, and our obligations to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff, and the local community, returning close to 2,000 students to Decorah in April, with no way to track their exposure to COVID-19, would be irresponsible. Therefore, I and my Cabinet, with the support of Board Chair Wendy Davidson and Vice-Chair Bob Paulson, have made the difficult decision to extend the period of distance learning through the remainder of the spring semester. Beginning Monday, March 30, and continuing through Thursday, May 21, all courses at Luther College will be held in distance learning formats and with alternative assignments. Students will not return to campus this semester to complete courses. Making this decision now allows our faculty more time over Spring Break to adjust their syllabi for the rest of the semester to account for remote learning.

Residence Life

Students who have been granted permission to remain on campus are being asked to identify options to leave campus. The Student Life Office, the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success, and other professional staff will work with all domestic and international students presently on campus to make travel and alternate housing arrangements, including the possibilities of students living with host families or moving to more suitable long-term housing on campus, if no other options are available, as determined by the college. We will ensure that all students have access to food, shelter, and learning opportunities. Services will remain open with a limited schedule for any student that must remain on campus.

In the interests of minimizing travel and protecting individual and community health, students will not be allowed at this time to return to campus to retrieve personal belongings from their residence halls. The Residence Life Office will provide details to students and their families regarding when they may return to campus to retrieve their belongings in a message next week.

Financial Services and the Financial Aid Office will identify adjustments to costs associated with room and board and will contact students and their families with details in a future message.

Course Grades and Graduation Requirements

In order to provide added flexibility to students in light of the COVID-19 outbreak and courses being taught in distance learning formats, the Academic Planning Committee of the faculty approved changes to academic policies regarding credit/no credit grading for courses, drop dates for courses, and graduation requirements specific to physical education courses. Details of the changes were provided to students, parents, and the faculty by the Vice President for Academic Affairs and Registrar in a previous message.


All students who complete graduation requirements during the Spring 2020 semester will formally graduate from Luther College and become alumni in May 2020. All diplomas will be mailed to students following the completion of the semester. Luther College is committed to celebrating this important accomplishment, and it will hold on-campus commencement exercises for the Class of 2020. Commencement exercises will be held at a date yet to be determined and will be dependent upon local, regional, and national considerations for individual and community health.

Campus Events

Effective immediately, all events at Luther College are cancelled through at least Thursday, May 21. The Campus Programming Office will work with event planners and hosts to identify and cancel events, including those sponsored by groups not affiliated with Luther College.

Remote Work

Effective immediately, all employees at Luther College who may do so will work remotely. Supervisors will identify employees who must perform their work on campus and make arrangements for remote work with other employees, if possible. Technological considerations and resources for remote work were provided to faculty and staff yesterday by the Vice President for Finance and Administration. Further guidance for employees regarding Paid-Time-Off (PTO) will be provided in a future update.

Access to Campus Buildings

Campus buildings will be closed to visitors and the general public. Staff and faculty with outside entrance keys/card access will still have access to buildings. Faculty who will be using academic building classrooms to deliver courses by distance learning should be able to access their buildings and classrooms. Details regarding access to campus buildings and services were provided to faculty and staff yesterday by the Vice President for Finance and Administration.

As indicated in our previous messages, the measures mentioned above do not offer a protective shield around Luther College or Decorah. Even so, they will allow us to help protect individual and community health by preventing our local healthcare systems from becoming overwhelmed. When in-person classes resume, we will all need to adjust to the likely reality of COVID-19 in our midst. At that time, Decorah, Luther College, and local health care systems and agencies will be in a better position to address any cases that may arise in Winneshiek County, Decorah, or on campus.

For more information on COVID-19 and its prevalence in Iowa visit the CDC and IDPH web pages. If you have questions regarding Luther’s response please consult Luther’s Health Advisories webpage or contact the Student Life Office (563-387-1020; [email protected]) or Health Services (563-387-1045). You can also call the IDPH information line 24/7 at 2-1-1 with any questions. We encourage you to do your part by practicing preventive actions and by limiting personal travel during these next few weeks.

I know that these are anxious and uncertain times. Together we will find answers to the questions that you may have now, as well as those that may arise in the future. This situation is challenging and not what we planned. But I know that our community is strong and that our commitment to academic excellence is unwavering. Even though the distance learning approach is going to be different for many of us, I know that the content of what we are going to do together will endure.

Until we are together on campus again, take care of yourself. Be kind to each other. Reach out to each other and do whatever you can to stay connected through email, video chats, and social media. Look for occasions for gratitude and joy, because there are lots of them still out there. We are still a community, even if we are dispersed. And we are going to get through this together.

Dr. Jenifer K. Ward, President
Luther College