Planning Perspectives: Q&A With Loren Reno

Last Update: June 1, 2020

As Cedarville University continues to prepare to welcome students, faculty, and staff back to campus for fall semester 2020, Loren Reno — who has been coordinating the University’s COVID-19 response since March — recently answered important questions about the philosophical approach that is guiding Cedarville’s preparation.

With an issue so complicated and quickly changing as the coronavirus, not to mention the diversity of opinions about how we should respond, where do you even begin?

We begin with what we know. That starts with God’s Word, our true, infallible, and profitable source of all wisdom. We know we are on firm ground if we base our planning on principles from God’s unchanging Word. That’s why we have chosen Philippians 2:4 to guide our preparation for returning to campus: “Look not every man on his own things, but every man (and woman) also on the things of others.” Our return-to-campus planning is following a biblical model of caring well for others and staying well ourselves.

Based on Scripture, we also know we must be subject to the authorities God has placed over us (Rom. 13:1). Our Governor has indicated his desire for colleges and universities in Ohio to return to campus in the fall. We will gather and use the best advice of experts, both those here on campus and our local, state, and national public health authorities.

What are your planning priorities?

We know that testing is an important element of helping to stem the virus’ transmission. Testing at home before returning to campus and testing upon arrival are two ways to accomplish this, each with pros and cons. That said, there is still uncertainty about the availability of testing, and where we are in August may be very different from where we are now. Testing, when available, will be an important part of our plan. We also know that deploying a vaccine — when approved — to our students, faculty, and staff will be most helpful, but again, we’re not there yet. I am thankful for our team of healthcare experts, including a medical doctor, nurse practitioner, pharmacist/infectious disease expert, and director of our University Medical Services, who are actively reviewing testing options and will ultimately advise us on this plan.

What changes are you making on campus to prepare?

You can expect to see new signage across campus with reminders of our “Caring Well. Staying Well” plan. We have installed or are installing plexiglass shields of appropriate size and shape in the right places where the clear barrier can mitigate the virus’ spread without requiring impractical distancing. There will be hand sanitizer stations at building entrances throughout campus. We are ensuring all residence hall bathrooms have soap dispensers and paper towels or hand dryers. Providing some reasonable and responsible protections will help us care well and stay well.

Are all of these precautions necessary?

While understanding there is weariness and even skepticism about continued self-isolation, abandoning all precautions prematurely isn’t the path we are taking. We are taking a path that will be scalable to the conditions, that shows a respect for others and ourselves, and that takes advantage of known virus spread mitigators. No matter one’s view on their personal vulnerability, taking some precautions in favor of others is wise and considerate. While a rigid 6-foot physical separation will not be practical in all settings, providing what physical separation we can is still prudent. The same is true for wearing masks: it just isn’t practical in some settings, and in others it can be helpful.

So, will masks be required on campus?

We have already ordered enough masks for every member of the student body as well as our faculty and staff members, and I’d recommend and anticipate that students will also bring their own masks. But, at this point, we cannot know what government guidelines will be in place in August. Will masks even be required two months from now? Maybe yes and maybe no, but we will be ready. Masks are simply a tool to protect others (and to some extent, ourselves), and we’ll need to think about places where they make sense and are helpful and recognize there are some circumstances, like eating meals in the dining hall or doing life with a roommate in the residence hall, where they are simply impractical and unnecessary.

How do you plan well when there are admittedly still many uncertainties?

Hockey legend Wayne Gretzgy is famous for saying, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” With the coronavirus, it’s hard to know where the puck (proverbially speaking) is going! It could go in many different directions. To that end, we are actively planning for multiple scenarios, ensuring we are nimble and prepared. We are not allowing uncertainty to paralyze us. We are preparing for continued requirements around distancing and masks, but understanding that those may be relaxed by the time August arrives. We will adapt our strategies accordingly. We are preparing for in-class instruction, while ensuring we have remote learning options in place for faculty and students who have underlying health concerns. We are building in flexibility. What is important or required in work areas may not be practical or sensible in our residence halls. We will use wisdom and judgment so that our faculty and staff, as well as our students, can live, work, and learn at Cedarville with confidence.

How can we pray for you and others involved in these return-to-campus planning efforts?

Pray for wisdom and discernment. Pray that we will plan well, yet maintain a humble spirit understanding that all we do is “Lord willing” (James 4:15). Pray for our students. The number of deposits from new and transferring students is favorable given the COVID-19 uncertainties. It is clear to us that our new students are eager to arrive and get started. And we are ready—eager—to have them here. The same is true for our returning students. While each individual, isolated student is wondering about all the others, cumulatively the registration numbers are strong, and we are expecting robust new and returning classes starting in August. Above all, pray that we will steward well this tremendous privilege of transforming lives for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.