March 11th – A Personal Message to Students From President Daniels

March 11, 2020

A Personal Message to the Students of Purdue:

It was no surprise, but just the latest reason for pride in our student body, to see the news report last night entitled “Purdue students worried about education more than health amid Coronavirus.”  A variety of students, while expressing proper caution and concern about the epidemic, told the reporter in various ways that they are “focused on their education.”  He should have expected answers like that; it’s indubitably clear that Boilermakers as a group are a couple notches more serious and academically purposeful than most of their contemporaries elsewhere.

Those of us serving as stewards of your university are firmly focused on your education, too.  We never lose sight of the fact that providing you a top-quality, rigorous, useful education – “higher education at the highest proven value,” as we say – is the reason this institution exists. We came to yesterday’s decisions with great reluctance and regret, and only after the most careful deliberation about their necessity and about alternative courses of action.

Many students have noted correctly that all evidence to date says that the COVID-19 strain poses very little risk to young people. But that leaves the problem of protecting that significant portion of the Purdue community who are in the more vulnerable categories, such as those staff or faculty in older age brackets or with preexisting medical conditions. And, given the nature of our particular institution, with more than 50,000 people in close proximity every day, we have an important public health duty to help minimize the spread of this disease in society at large.  

So, while the present circumstances, uncertain as they are, demand that we err on the side of caution, we are determined to do all we can to ensure your steady progression toward your chosen degree. On this point, I want to stress that here, too, there will be limits to our ability to do so. 

First, while digital delivery of education is progressing rapidly, it is not (and, many of us believe, may never be) a complete substitute for the learning that comes from effective in-person teaching. As one student said in this morning’s article, “There’s nothing that can compare with being there and learning from a professor in person.”  

We could not agree more strongly. In fact, Purdue has been a national leader in innovating and deploying “active learning,” which emphasizes even more the interaction between teacher and learner. We will continue to put safety and public responsibility first, but we are eager to return to the normal business of Purdue as soon as it is medically and scientifically justified. In the interim, please be patient and cooperative; our faculty will do their very best to help you continue mastering the relevant content, and to measure that mastery fairly.

Regardless when we can resume regular activities, there will be additional regrettable decisions to make. As just one major example, we will be forced to rethink plans for this spring’s commencement. Purdue is one of the few schools our size that still honors each graduate individually, a process that takes six ceremonies involving some 6,000 people in each session, in the same facility. Needless to say, such events are considered highly inadvisable right now, and it’s far from clear that this guidance will change sufficiently in the next few weeks to permit commencement as usual.

Last night at Ford Dining Court, I enjoyed one of my frequent dinners with students. I came away inspired, as I always am, by their commitment to their studies, but also their levelheadedness and thoughtfulness about the recent decisions we have all had to make together. If I had needed any further proof, your fellow students furnished it, that together we will make careful, data-driven decisions, together we will look out for each other, and together that we will get through this problem, however large or minor it ultimately proves to be.

That’s what Boilermakers do. Have a great Spring Break. Boiler up.