On Feb. 28, the Centers for Disease Control raised the level of the threat of the coronavirus in Italy to a level 3, which strongly discourages unnecessary travel. In addition, they issued a statement to all study abroad programs, urging them to bring their students home. In light of these changes, the University of Dallas Rome program decided to cancel the remainder of the semester.
The University of Dallas is not the only school to recall its students from Europe in light of the coronavirus outbreak. The Catholic University of America has closed its Rome campus, as well as the University of St. Thomas and Duquesne University.
The decision to end the semester came after several attempts to salvage it. The last attempt, released on Friday, envisioned three weeks of classes followed by the Greece and Northern Italy trip, followed by finals after nearly three weeks without being in a classroom.
Rome program director Peter Hatlie described the reaction of students as “noble,” prompting the Rome 2020 spring class to be named the “Royal Class.”
“I cannot express the gratitude that I have for each and every one of these people,” said sophomore philosophy major Anna Stevenson. “And I’m so glad that Dr. Hatlie is guiding this ship.”
Other students echoed her sentiments of gratitude for the staff and faculty.
“I have been blessed with a month here, among amazing people and amazing faculty,” said sophomore and student assistant Josh Gallinger. “It’s too bad that it’s not three and a half months, but … you should be thankful for what you’ve been given, not what you’ve lost.”
“If this had to be the month and half that we spent abroad, we lived it to its fullest extent,” said sophomore philosophy major Libby Regnerus.
“It’s not in our hands, it’s in their hands, it’s in God’s hands, and if it’s in God’s hands, that means it is for the better. He has a plan for us even though we might not know it right now, it’s for the better,” said Gallinger.
“There is just joy in this room,” said sophomore Hailey Guth prior to the meeting following the email that announced the decision to send students home.
Students will leave campus by Friday, although students who are part of the group flight, constituting only about 30% of the class, will be sent home as soon as possible. While the university will not cover the travel fees of students who booked their flight independently of the university, all students will receive a reimbursement for the Greece and Northern Italy trip.
Classes will be offered digitally after a weeklong break to allow students time to travel home.
“E-learning is a lot different than classroom learning,” said Hatlie. Exams may be adjusted to be less brute memorization and based more on timed essays, in light of the inability for professors to control students accessing the internet during exams.
The cancellation of the program has repercussions beyond the student body and UD staff. As an economy that relies heavily on tourism, Italy is suffering from the coronavirus not merely in the form of sickness.
The mensa workers and the custodial staff will be unemployed when the UD Rome program ends. Although Italy has unemployment insurance, Hatlie said that the government program will be stressed due to the massive influx of unemployed citizens.
“The Italian economy is not dynamic,” said Hatlie.
UD Rome staff echoed the sentiments of gratitude amidst the pain of departure.
“We missed opportunities to praise you when you should have been praised. We agreed with Dr. Hatlie that you are royalty,” said Rome director of Student Affairs Ben Gibbs.
“Although you will be the semester whose program could not finish its program, you and we will always know how significant an experience as a community we have had,” said English professor Scott Crider. “Spring 2020 has been challenged in a way that no other UD class has. I am often inspired by UD students, but I have never been more inspired by a class than I have been by yours.”