From the President department heading
Illustration of John C. Bravman, President
Illustration: Joel Kimmel
Rolling with the Punches
“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

These immortal words of boxer Mike Tyson precisely describe what happened to us last spring. We got punched in the mouth, big time. The arrival of COVID-19 rocked all of our worlds, and our heads are still spinning from that punch. But we’re still on our feet.

At Bucknell, as I write this in late October, week 11 of the fall semester, we are seeing a rise in positive COVID-19 cases, with 10 active cases — nine students and one employee. Since Aug. 17, when classes began, we’ve administered nearly 35,000 tests, with 29 positive cases.

This week, we’ve expanded our isolation housing and decided that all classes must be held remotely. We’re hoping our plan holds and that our students will remain on campus until Thanksgiving break. From home, they’ll take their final exams remotely, then have an extended winter break.

By the time you read this in January, we should be two weeks from the start of the spring semester. At least, that’s our plan … As another great pop philosopher, John Lennon, once said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” Nobody planned for a pandemic of this magnitude.

And yet, though there was no roadmap for how we could successfully navigate our fall semester, our faculty rallied to keep our educational program flourishing. Most of our students acted maturely and responsibly, wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distancing and testing requirements. And countless nonteaching staff from every corner of campus worked behind the scenes to ensure that students in isolation housing had meals delivered and much more. Turn to Page 18 to read about the array of unsung heroes who kept our students and employees safe during our three months of daily uncertainty.

Returning to our boxing metaphor, we — like other colleges and universities — have been badly bruised, but haven’t been knocked down or knocked out. And this is a testament to the resiliency and dedication of our community — students, faculty and staff.

I’m writing this exactly one week from Election Day, the apex of the most divisive presidential campaign in history. Concurrent with a rampaging pandemic, issues of racial injustice have been in the forefront of the national consciousness to a degree not seen since the 1960s. Being Bucknellians, we have the ability to multitask. So not only are we endeavoring to keep our academic program moving forward, but concurrently this fall, we’ve been addressing some of the nation’s roiling social problems.

All three of our colleges, as well as divisions such as Athletics, University Advancement and Communications, have formed diversity, equity and inclusion task forces. Bison Votes, a nonpartisan, student-powered voter registration initiative, helped to register more than 1,000 student voters on campus in advance of the Nov. 3 election. And a new Food & Nutrition Task Force is looking at issues of food insecurity and diverse nutritional needs.

Contemplating the level of anxiety we’re all experiencing right now over COVID-19 and other leading issues, it occurs to me that Bucknell is built to withstand this kind of unfathomable uncertainty. We’ve learned to analyze and verify information and use our critical-thinking skills to execute a plan. There’s not much we can do about the virus and its impact directly, but we can reaffirm our belief that broadly educated individuals do have certain assets that enable them to navigate uncertain times.

By the time you read this, plans for the spring semester may have changed many times. But please know that we are coping and planning — and in many ways thriving — despite getting punched in the mouth. We’re not going to give up, and we’re not going to go down.

Copy of John C. Bravman signature

John C. Bravman