January 13, 2021

Goucher's decision to put safety first

Dear Gophers -

Several students and parents have written to me to ask why Goucher College joined with the two other Landmark conference colleges and opted out of participating in winter season conference athletic competition. So, I thought I would outline for everyone the reasons for this decision. The Landmark Conference presidents meet regularly to arrive at decisions that collectively represent the best interests of the Conference as a whole while respecting each institution’s autonomy and need to make decisions that are right for their campus.

For Goucher, our decision came down to two factors: safety and practicality.

First, the graph below might help to illustrate the magnitude of change we have seen nationwide since last semester when on July 31, we made the decision to go virtual in the fall and as of January 6 when we reaffirmed the decision to remain online at this time for the spring:

COVID cases chart

Goucher College currently enrolls students from 39 different states, including 61% of our students coming from outside the state of Maryland. Consequently, any decision to bring students back to campus would be asking potentially infected students to travel cross-country in the midst of a pandemic. Locally Maryland’s positivity rate remains above 8.5%, and because of the unfortunate events that transpired in our nation’s capital last week and the impending inauguration this next week, local public health officials are expecting that positivity rate to increase markedly in DC and Maryland over the next few weeks.

Last fall, we adopted a benchmark that has been established by the CDC requiring the state and county 7-day positivity rates to be below 5% before we would bring anyone back to campus. We’re currently sitting at 8.77%, and Pennsylvania, where the majority of Landmark conference schools are located, currently sits at 13.88%.

Faced with this situation, we ultimately decided that, at this time, bringing our students back to campus and permitting athletic competition to proceed would be irresponsible. Several of our Landmark conference college peers came to the same conclusion. We all realize the situation is very fluid. A month from now, the situation might be very different. Consequently, the Landmark Conference presidents have agreed to meet once again on February 10 to make a determination about the spring athletic season.

The second reason we decided to opt-out of competition play was practicality. Quite frankly, engaging in Landmark conference athletic competition at this time would be close to impossible and divert resources and attention away from our core mission as an educational institution. Because of the high positivity rates in some Pennsylvania counties, all Maryland residents — including Goucher student-athletes — would be subject to Pennsylvania Health Department restrictions, including in some cases a 10-day quarantine period. Additionally, the Landmark conference presidents agreed that any of the schools who made the decision to proceed and play could also drop out of conference play at any time if the positivity rate on their campuses and/or surrounding community increased to an unacceptable level. This would make it virtually impossible to arrange for a schedule where we could guarantee our student-athletes they could compete against the Landmark conference schools located in Pennsylvania.

Given this level of logistical complexity, the additional one hundred thousand dollars that would be required to implement frequent, three-times-a-week testing for a small percentage of the total study body, and the need to arrange for additional medical staff, housing, quarantine and isolation protocols, we decided that it was not in the best interests of our students, coaches, and staff.

I also had to consider the safety of our faculty and our staff, many of whom are older and at a much higher risk of serious complications from the virus. Unfortunately, the rollout of the vaccine in Maryland has proceeded at a much slower pace than had been originally forecast by public health officials back in December, so without this additional protection, I would put everyone — residential life staff, food service staff, coaches, etc. — at extreme risk. All of these factors ultimately contributed to our decision to opt-out of winter season athletic competition.

I realize that this decision has been a major disappointment for our student-athletes and many parents. We all want our students back on campus and to resume athletic competition as soon as possible. We will continue to explore multiple ways to do that. Our provost is currently discussing several creative ideas with our faculty, and we plan on making further announcements via email and in a town hall meeting on January 25.

Meanwhile, I want to thank everyone in the Goucher community — our students, our faculty, our staff, and our parents — for pulling together amidst this pandemic, and I look forward to welcoming everyone back to campus as soon as it is safe to do so.

- Kent

Kent Devereaux, President