Stanford can’t control coronavirus, but it can be transparent in its response

March 8, 2020, 8:12 p.m.

Amid rapid escalation of the coronavirus outbreak, we are concerned about Stanford’s lack of communication and clarity regarding the status of spring quarter. 

Stanford has been relatively clear about its plans for winter quarter. Provost Persis Drell announced that Stanford is canceling all in-person class meetings for the rest of the quarter, starting on Monday. Final exams are to be taken remotely, and the University is allowing residence staff members to leave campus early. 

However, it is distressing that the University has remained silent about its plans for spring quarter, saying little in its online health updates beyond assuring students that “the university will remain open.” We know that all spring international abroad programs have been canceled, but we do not know what life on the main campus will look like.

With more than 16,000 matriculated students, including nearly 2,000 undergraduate seniors set to graduate in June, a lack of planning for spring quarter bodes poorly for both the University and the students it serves. Seniors set to graduate in spring do not know whether they can graduate if their major or general-education requirements necessitate spring quarter classes. 

The coronavirus situation is rapidly evolving, and the administration cannot predict what will happen next. But there is a range of likely possibilities for the development of the virus, and it is possible for the University to accordingly provide a range of possibilities for what its decisions will be regarding spring quarter. What is the likelihood that the quarter will proceed as normal? Will classes be online, as they are in the next two weeks? The longer the University waits to release plans for spring quarter, the harder it becomes for students to plan accordingly. 

Uncertainty about spring quarter plans is especially stressful for certain populations, like those who will have to reconsider loans taken out for this school year, those whose visas will be at risk if they are not enrolled at a university in spring, those whose near-future plans require graduation or spring-quarter enrollment and those who would have uncertain housing plans should the quarter not proceed as normal. 

We call on Stanford to provide plans — even a highly provisional set — for how spring quarter may proceed. These plans could have different possibilities contingent on the development of the virus, but transparency and communication would still prepare students for the different moves the University may decide to make. Though we recognize that the administration cannot provide a plan for all contingencies, certainly some broad questions can be answered.

For instance, under what circumstances would the University remain open for spring quarter, and under what circumstances would classes be moved online? What would cause the University to evacuate on-campus housing and/or cancel spring quarter?

In the event that spring quarter does not proceed normally, how can students expect to complete their degree in due time without further financial hardship, their ability to utilize Stanford housing in the event they are unable to return home? What are other measures the University may take, and what would be the effects of a closure on tuition, financial aid and guaranteed housing for students who may need to take additional time to complete their degrees as a result?

These questions are far from exhaustive, and similar questions must be raised for the impact of University measures on faculty, staff and service workers. How Stanford operates in spring will affect the daily life and well-being of many non-student community members, people who rely on their work here, and they deserve to know what options the University is considering.

We do not expect Stanford’s administration to have all the answers. But a general notion of what directions the University is considering and how they might impact different populations on campus would at least give members of the Stanford community an idea of what to expect and how to plan for the next two weeks. 

The Vol. 257 Editorial Board consists of Claire Dinshaw ’21, Malavika Kannan ’23, Layo Laniyan ’22, Adrian Liu ’20, Jasmine Liu ’20 and Willoughby Winograd ’22.

Contact the Vol. 257 Editorial Board at opinions ‘at’

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