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Let there be life

SBU plans on-campus classes for fall semester

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 Southwest Baptist University’s Bolivar campus sits empty following its closure in March due to the COVID-19 crisis. Plans are now forming for student life to return in August.

Area residents — and businesses — can look forward to Bolivar’s Southwest Baptist University campus once again teeming with student life come August, after the school announced plans to open all campuses for the Fall 2020 semester. 

“We are committed to providing face-to-face instruction for our students this fall,” SBU President Eric A. Turner said via an SBU news release. “Our highest priority always is carrying out our mission of preparing students to be servant leaders in a global society. For now, this means dedicating our resources to planning for the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff with our campuses open this fall.” 

The university said SBU’s Executive Cabinet is leading the planning process. 

“Workgroups will explore various components given different scenarios the university may face and will take into account guidance from state and local officials,” SBU said in the release.

The return will bring change, however, Turner explained. 

“Pieces of the academic and campus life experiences likely will be different this fall,” he said. “Our entire society in general will be different. We have many logistical details to consider, but we will continue to provide our students with a holistic and transformative educational experience.”

The university said details will be available closer to the start of the semester.

“I know there are a lot of questions right now,” Turner said. “We will answer those in a timely manner. The workgroups need time to work through details. We also will have to consider new information that surfaces between now and the start of classes. I can assure you our mission continues.”

Classes for the first summer session, June 1-25, are all online. The university said it expects a decision about instructional delivery for the second summer session, June 29-July 23, no later than May 15. 

“Decisions will be made specific to each campus and appropriate for the programming at those locations,” the release added.

In anticipation of August

As the coronavirus pandemic struck, the university first extended its spring break and announced a week of online course work on Wednesday, March 11. Eight days later, Turner announced the university would move exclusively to online learning and close campuses for the remainder of the semester. 

SBU’s announcement this week was a milestone the president looked forward to, even in the first days following the closure of campuses.

“University campuses thrive with students,” Turner told the BH-FP during a March 26 interview. “Summer time is a time when the campus is quiet, and we can hardly wait for August.”

In the meantime, as the university campus remained empty this spring, it was not without purpose, as the BH-FP previously reported. 

Turner said in March the university had finalized a memorandum of understanding with Citizens Memorial Hospital, outlining the use of the Meyer Wellness and Sports Center and a residence hall during emergencies — like the COVID-19 pandemic. SBU’s facilities could be used as overflow medical facilities if the hospital reaches its capacity — a scenario that fortunately has not arisen. 

And the Bolivar campus found another way to serve. As a community beacon and reminder of the honor due frontline workers who continue to battle the COVID-19 crisis, the school’s bell tower has been illuminated with blue lights. 

Spokesperson Charlotte Marsch previously told the BH-FP the tower would remain lit until “society is fully reopened.”   

“This is a show of support for health care and other frontline workers during this time of global disruption due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she previously said. “Many of our own alumni are among those who are true servant leaders in the Bolivar community and beyond.”

Also, local leaders and community members joined together in a drive-in prayer service on SBU campus parking lots in honor of the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 7. Turner participated in the program.   

Online commencements planned

Even as the university looks ahead to a new semester, plans remain in place to virtually bring the current one to a close next week.

Nearly 530 students will graduate from SBU’s four campuses during three online commencement ceremonies to be held Saturday, May 16, SBU said via a separate news release.

The university said it will broadcast the ceremonies online at 10 a.m. to honor the 103 associate, 217 bachelor and 210 graduate degree recipients.

“We are privileged to honor these graduates who have worked so hard to reach their goals,” provost Lee Skinkle said in the release. “They have endured the challenge placed in front of them this semester and have handled it with grace and dignity. We are confident they will carry this forward as servant leaders in a global society.”

The commencement address will be delivered by SBU alumni, while award presentations will include the student Life Beautiful Awards and the Orien B. Hendrex Distinguished Teacher Award, in addition to the diplomas to be awarded, the release said.

The university said ceremonies will be available for viewing simultaneously and for viewing for at least a year. For updates and more information about the ceremonies, visit

According to a Friday, April 24, post on its Facebook page, SBU said while all graduates are encouraged to join in the upcoming online ceremony, May 2020 graduates “will have the option of walking in an on-campus commencement ceremony in December.”

The post said “the December option is dependent upon the university’s ability to host a live commencement ceremony based on the pandemic situation at the time.”

More details about the December commencement will be released this fall, the post said. 

Jill Way and David Talley contributed reporting.

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