Instruction moves online due to coronavirus concerns

Written By Dara Collins and Jordyn Hronec

The university announced last Thursday that class instruction would move online this week on Wednesday, March 18, after having classes cancelled Friday, March 14 through Tuesday, March 17 due to coronavirus concerns.

This announcement came on Thursday, March 13, a day after other area universities announced the switch to online.

According to University President Paul Hennigan, a university shutdown of this magnitude has never occurred before, but the university is following all guidelines put forth by federal, state and local governments. He also stated that the Pittsburgh Council of Higher Education, made up of the 11 accredited schools in Allegheny County, were working closely together to make decisions.

Hennigan said that he is involved in daily meetings at 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to discuss the situation.

“The number one priority is the students and the delivery of the mission,” Hennigan said. “So that’s how we start every meeting, with ‘what are we doing with the students, how are the students doing?’ And that usually leads us down a discussion path for the remainder of the meeting.”

Prior to the official announcement from Hennigan, Student Body President Jake Berlin tweeted from his public account that the university would close as a precaution and an email announcement would be sent “very soon.”

Since then, Berlin has been accused of causing “widespread panic” within the campus community, as well as providing “false information,” and will take part in a student conduct meeting this Thursday, March 19. Berlin denies this accusation.

“It’s not as though we weren’t on top of it,” Dean of Students and Vice President of Student Affairs Keith Paylo said. “I do not believe in any way, shape or form that we were behind in any way. I believe that we were trying to come out after a thoughtful process in the strongest way possible.”

Lou Corsaro, the university’s spokesperson, said that students should only look for official university statements and correspondence regarding updates.

“We have seen some social media that is just clearly wrong, and it’s irresponsible,” Hennigan said.


Facilities, events and operations

On Friday, March 13, Hennigan updated the campus community via email about policy changes effective immediately.

Some campus facilities, dining options and residence halls are still open and operational. 

Hennigan announced via email on March 17 that the Student Center and CMI are closed.

In a separate email from the Office of the Provost, the library announced changes in its hours and services last week.

The library will be open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Online assistance is available Monday-Thursday 8 a.m. to midnight, Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 1 p.m. to 11 p.m.

As for residence halls, students were updated on Monday, March 16 that they are “strongly encouraged to move home as soon as possible.” Residential students were then sent a second update during the day, informing them that all students must be moved out of the residence halls by April 3, unless they fill out a “Move-Out Exception Request.”

Students were also informed that, according to the date that they moved out, they would be receiving back a portion of their housing fees and meal plans, as well as a refund for unused flex dollars. Hennigan said that further information as to what could be considered a “move-out exception,” would be communicated to students in the coming days.

“We, quite frankly, have to get legal guidance on it,” Hennigan said. “And that’s why we made the move-out date April 3, so we’ll know in a day or two what the guidance is, but we have to make sure we follow all federal laws and rules.”

On March 17, residents were informed they must vacate residence halls by March 27 and few exceptions would be granted.

As per campus announcement sent via email from Rachel Phillips, Coordinator of Student Involvement in the Student Activities Involvement and Leadership (SAIL) office, all student events, meetings and rehearsals, including off-campus meetings and travel, have been cancelled for the remainder of the semester effective March 16.

The Pittsburgh Playhouse’s “Pippin” had one run on its preview night, Friday, March 13. 

According to Dean of Conservatory of Performing Arts (COPA) Steven Breese, most Playhouse performance events have been cancelled due to the gathering of individuals in the space. Other shows, including “Pump Up the Volume,” have been delayed, and Breese said the situation for delayed shows is still being determined.

Campus Activities Board and the SAEM club’s spring concert scheduled for Wednesday, March 18, highlighted by a Drake Bell performance, has been postponed to the fall.

The University Counseling Center also cancelled all of its Mindfulness Workshops for the remainder of the semester. 

All face-to-face meetings with the Center for Student Success have been cancelled, however Student Success Coordinators are available via email and phone. Tutoring and Disability Services are also in the process of moving to an online format.

“We completely understand that these are extraordinary circumstances,” Hennigan said. “And not everybody is digitally capable and equipped and savvy, we understand all of that. But we can help students get through it. People just need to reach out and get the help they need. And that’s what the Center for Student Success is here to do.”

All student workers are no longer approved to work on campus effective March 17.

There has been no decision made concerning commencement as of March 17.

“No one wants to see that cancelled, but no decisions have been made,” Paylo said.



The University cancelled classes on March 13, 16 and 17 before resuming in an online or other alternative format on Wednesday, March 18.

“The faculty needs time to create those classes and to get ready for Wednesday,” Dr. John H. Pearson, Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs, said. “Trying to do it overnight when a number of faculty teaching on ground classes may not have done significant online teaching would probably have been a disaster.”

Many area schools, including University of Pittsburgh and Carlow University, extended spring breaks prior to the switch to online instruction. Point Park possesses a different academic calendar and made time for faculty to prepare for the changeover.

“We tried to be as efficient and yet as responsible as possible so that when students and faculty get online on Wednesday, everyone hopefully will be ready,” Pearson said.

Pearson said classes will not be monitored any more than a typical class.

“I trust our faculty to do the very best job they can,” Pearson said.

Other alternatives in lieu of online instruction are up to the discretion of professors.

“I know that there are a few classes, for instance, where students are working on projects, and they may be project based classes rather than being in class online every day,” Pearson said. “There are a couple small classes, especially in the graduate programs, where students are essentially going on a version of independent studies with the faculty member.”

As for COPA, Breese said there are many courses that can be transitioned without difficulty, such as History of Theater and courses of that nature. Then, there are the applied and experiential classes including cinema film production classes, dance classes and acting classes.

“First of all, we’re in the creative arts, so we have to find creative solutions to things like this,” Breese said.

The COPA faculty is offering exercises, ideas, online videos, writings and readings.

“Some [dance] faculty are using technology, some are working with different kind of exercises students can do at their home, some are doing more intellectual work in addition to the physical work, but the idea that you could ever emulate being in class with 45 people working on ballet bar, we can’t emulate that exactly,” Breese said.

Breese said the alternative assignments for students are to create a similar, if not the same, learning outcome.

“Our faculty has been extraordinary in this crisis situation and very creative, and I’m very proud of them,” Breese said.

All students involved in an internship, co-op and student teaching should adhere to the original schedule at their placement site per Paylo’s March 12 email.

However, if a placement site shuts down, Pearson said the university will work with the students to find a solution.

“The principal always will be a principal to do what’s in the best interest of the students,” Peasron said. “We are not going to penalize anybody because COVID-19 came to Pittsburgh. We will certainly work with the students to sort that out, but we’re definitely not going to penalize the students over any of this. That would be ridiculous, actually.”

Pearson encourages students to reach out to Paylo with questions or concerns.

“If he’s not the person to address a specific concern, he will direct them to the person who is,” Pearson said.

Pearson echoed Breese’s sentiment that the university is working well given the circumstances.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work that the faculty, the staff and the students have done to address this issue so quickly, and so calmly,” Pearson said. “It’s an extraordinary event. I’ve been in higher education for 40 years, and I’ve never seen anything like this, so I think we are doing a fantastic job, and I think that we are all working hard to do the very best we can in an incredibly difficult situation.”


Study abroad

All university-affiliated domestic and international travel is cancelled until further notice per Hennigan’s email sent on March 13.

According to the Director of Student Life, Amanda Anderson, all but three students have returned from the countries where they were previously studying abroad. There were a total of 11 study abroad students.

“Some I make contact with daily,” Anderson said in regards to the three remaining study abroad students. “Others are more occasional, as I’m not getting responses back to my emails. That just tells me that they are working independently or are comfortable being independent.”

Point Park’s study abroad destinations, according to the website, include Regent’s University London (England), American University of Rome (Italy), University of Salford (England), CSDMA Madrid (Spain) and University of West London (England). The remaining three study abroad students are all located at Regent’s University in London. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), Italy, the United Kingdom and Spain are ranked Level 3 (widespread sustained ongoing transmission), and the CDC recommends avoiding nonessential travel.

On March 10, Hennigan sent an email explaining the university’s three-pronged approach to protect the safety and well-being of Point Park. 

“Fortunately, the university has only one student currently impacted and that student has returned to the United States, has no symptoms and is following the CDC guidelines for self-isolation” the email said.

According to Paylo, the student practiced self-isolation off campus.



The River States Conference (RSC) announced on March 13 that it would suspend all athletic related activities including all competition, informal or organized practice and participation in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) championships effective March 13 at noon through March 31. 

Just three days later, on March 16, the RSC and NAIA decided to cancel all spring sports seasons for 2020.

The question of eligibility is being asked across all athletic associations, and there has been no determination as to whether student-athletes will be given another year of eligibility due to their season being cut short.

All students are advised to follow social distancing and hygiene guidelines set by the CDC.

As of Monday evening at 7:15 p.m., there are 76 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Pennsylvania, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The counties affected include Allegheny (5), Bucks (5), Chester (2), Cumberland (5), Delaware (7), Lehigh (1), Luzerne (1), Monroe (8), Montgomery (30), Northampton (1), Philadelphia (8), Pike (1), Wayne (1) and Washington (1).

Laura Frost, a natural sciences professor and Engineering and Technology Department Program Coordinator, believes the coronavirus can pose a serious threat if not contained properly.

“This coronavirus is displaying strong, and very high transmissibility from person to person,” Frost said. “It’s probably more transmissible than influenza is right now, and that’s saying something due to the fact that we have a seasonal flu, and we know the flu is highly transmissible.”

Frost also pointed out that there is a discrepancy in the statistics portrayed by the media in correlation with mortality rates.

“It also has a higher fatality rate than influenza,” Frost said. “I saw a report saying that it is 10 times more fatal. My calculations do not quite bear that out, and we can’t technically confirm a fatality rate for an epidemic until it is over, so any numbers you see regarding a fatality rate are factitious. We don’t know the total number of total confirmed cases, and we won’t know how bad it is or what the rate is until we have a death count at the end.”

“Right now the numbers the media are displaying are around a 10 percent difference in fatality between influenza and COVID-19, inherently making the statistic sound worse than it is,” Frost said. 

Paylo emphasized the importance of the health and safety of the campus community at this time.

“Even more than ever before, the health and safety of the students is paramount,” Paylo said. “It is the number one concern of us, making sure that students are as healthy and as safe as they can be. Students should know that we’re putting them first. Because it is such an unprecedented time, we are learning and we are doing the best that we can.”

Up-to-date coronavirus information can be found on the official websites of the CDC, World Health Organization (WHO) and Pennsylvania Department of Health. The Point Park University website also has a page dedicated to updates and resources for faculty and students. 


Additional reporting for this story was done by Co-News Editors Luke Mongelli and Jake Dabkowski