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Unity College Hybrid Learning Fall Update

November 3, 2020

Dear Unity College Hybrid Students, Parents, and Guardians;

As we near the end of our second term in Hybrid Learning we are taking a moment to look back on our busy fall and look forward to the steps ahead. Since we kicked off this unprecedented Covid year in August, we have designed many new courses and adopted new schedules to allow for remote teaching and learning while also working to stay true to our core mission of training tomorrow’s environmental leaders. We decided early on that our priority this year was to ensure everyone’s safety and I remain convinced that this was the right decision, but we miss seeing our students! We are grateful to all the students and families who have continued their education at Unity College this fall, and now more than ever we are looking forward to returning to in-person learning once it is safe to do so.

When we made the call to transition temporarily to fully remote learning for the 2020-21 academic year, we weighed a number of factors. Given our small size and rural location, we seemed well-positioned to bring all of our students back in the fall. As we investigated further, however, we determined that with 75% of our students returning from other states, and with the limited medical support both on our campus and within our region, the risk to students was too high. We’ve now seen how high that risk can be: the New York Times has tied more than 214,000 cases to the reopening colleges and universities this fall. I’m relieved that Unity College has not added to that total. We know that many of our students value the traditional in-person college experience. Here again, however, we learned from our peer institutions that the in-person offerings provided by most fell far short of the rich curricular and co-curricular life that students rightly expect. In the final analysis, we did not want to have to send students home before the end of a term as many colleges are now doing. Instead, we chose to temporarily go fully remote and adjusted our tuition strategy accordingly. We certainly are glad that our students are not having to navigate the confusion rippling through other college campuses, even if some remain unhappy with our decision to go remote.

Please know that students are not the only ones missing in-person classes – everyone within Hybrid Learning and I are looking forward to getting back to in-person learning when safety allows. Many of you have reached out to me asking about our plan to re-open and when you can expect to send your student back to campus. As much as I would like to share an exact date, that is not possible at this time due to pandemic conditions which are deteriorating in Maine as they are across the country. We are monitoring the situation and will provide regular updates. In the meantime, we are working to develop a robust reopening plan for the fall, Covid permitting.  We will have more to announce on that front soon. Regardless of how the pandemic resolves, Unity College will continue to embrace in-person learning as a critical piece of our Hybrid Learning curriculum. We are committed to offering a student experience that incorporates in-person, immersive, remote, and residential learning options.

Even as we teach and learn remotely this fall, we are working to maintain our ethos of experiential learning. Students in Dr. McKnight’s Wildlife and Fisheries Techniques class, for example, collected field data from all over the country, and students in Dylan Dillaway’s Dendrology course are building tree maps in their own neighborhoods. After we return to in-person learning, we will continue to offer immersive alternatives to students who choose to take remote classes while working or completing an internship. This video from Mike Moody, Assistant Professor of Conservation Law Enforcement, provides a good example of those alternatives, and this video from Dr. Adamski provides an illustration of how our work continues even in these unsettled times.

As we look forward to offering in-person classes, we hope to be able to do so at all Unity College properties including 90 Quaker Hill Rd. There has been a great deal of misinformation surrounding the 90 Quaker Hill Rd. property, and I would like to take a moment to provide clarification. First, it is important to know that none of the Unity College properties, including 90 Quaker Hill Rd. are currently listed for sale. Second, if we ever decide it is necessary to sell any Unity College property that hosts students, whether that is 90 Quaker Hill, McKay Farm, or Sky Lodge, it is my promise to you that prior to any such listing, you will receive a communication that fully explains how we plan to replace that part of your student’s experience. We intend to use all of our properties so long as there is sufficient demand and they continue to support student learning. Though we experienced a significant enrollment decline this year in our residential campus, we are confident in the value of Hybrid Learning and are working hard to spread the word about this new program with interested potential students. Feel free to share the link to our Hybrid Learning Virtual Open House!

I hope this letter helps to clarify some of the confusion that has lingered over the past couple of months. There is a vocal minority of critics who have taken to social media to share their opinions, and rumor and misinformation have been the predictable result. Though I respect everyone’s unique concerns and experience, Unity College must look to the future. We would truly be failing our students and alumni if we did not work tirelessly to make a Unity College education relevant and accessible to students from all walks of life interested in tackling the most pressing environmental issues of our time. There is important work to be done, and Unity College graduates are the ones to do it. We are proud to offer a curriculum focused on environmental and sustainability science that prepares our students and alumni to change the world, a world that so desperately needs graduates from America’s Environmental College.

So, as we prepare to finish our second academic term and begin our third, I urge you, reach out with your questions and concerns. My team and I stand at the ready to help. Please contact Vice President of Hybrid Learning Zach Falcon at (207) 509-7131 or zfalcon@unity.edu. Our students have always been, and will continue to be, the driver of all that we do. Thank you for taking the time to read this update, and I look forward to continuing the conversation.

In Unity,

Dr. Melik Peter Khoury
President
Unity College