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Ouachita coronavirus update

Following the guidance of the Centers Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and local health officials regarding the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this page will be updated with the most current information for the campus community.

Current Operations Plan

  • Classes are being carried out using remote instruction through the end of the spring 2020 semester.
  • On-campus classes and residential life are planned to resume for fall 2020 with additional precautions in place to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and guests. A Health Monitoring and Action Team is helping develop these protocols.
  • Students living in Ouachita housing were asked to leave campus by Sunday, March 15. Exceptions are available to students who have no other housing options, including international or third culture students, married students or those with other extenuating circumstances. 
  • Ouachita’s campus maintains its daily operations, with faculty and staff continuing their good work of educating and serving our students. Faculty and staff are encouraged to work remotely if possible. Those working on campus should use social distancing practices.
  • Campus events through mid-May 2020 will not be held in person, and university-sponsored trips are canceled. However, we are exploring options for ways to continue scheduled events virtually to maintain community and celebrate significant milestones together. Plans for individual events will be released as they are known.




All members of our campus community are encouraged to be diligent in prevention efforts, including:

  • Wash your hands often for 20 seconds or more with soap and water. Extra hand sanitizer stations are in common areas of campus, as well.
  • Avoid touching your face.
  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Stay home if you are sick.

See more prevention recommendations from the CDC.


More Information

  • All Ouachita-sponsored trips through May 2020 are canceled.
  • Guests to campus must gain prior approval from a faculty or staff member and should maintain social distancing while on campus. Some campus offices may be closed or operating remotely.
  • Individuals planning personal travel are encouraged to exercise caution and follow CDC and Arkansas Department of Health recommendations for travel.


  • Dr. Wesley Kluck, vice president for student development and university physician – chair
  • Tyrese Allen, Student Senate president
  • Tim Harrell, director of student life
  • Caitlin Hetzel, director of housing and assistant director of residence life
  • Dr. Tim Knight, dean of the Patterson School of Natural Sciences
  • Missy Lewis, compliance officer and IT Services project coordinator
  • Sherri Phelps, director of human resources
  • Rickey Rogers, dean of students and director of residence life
  • David Sharp, director of athletics
  • James Taylor, director of campus ministries
  • Molly Wallace, director of health services


  1. Be current with public health guidance and practices, especially as they relate to institutions of higher education.
  2. Give direction and recommendations for applying public health guidance/practices to Ouachita’s leadership groups; faculty, staff, and students; and sponsored activities.
  3. Serve as a sounding board for the university community on public health practices and recommendations that are in place.


Updates to campus

Dear students, faculty, staff and extended Ouachita community, 

As we near the end of a semester marked with unprecedented challenges for our university, our people and the world, we also look to the future with calculated optimism. I write to confirm that we plan to resume on-campus classes and residential life for fall 2020.

As always, the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and guests continues to lead our decision-making. As we monitor the COVID-19 situation, it is especially informed by guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the Arkansas Department of Health. 

I’ve appointed Dr. Wesley Kluck, who serves as Ouachita’s university physician and vice president for student development, to lead a Health Monitoring and Action Team. They will help us develop protocols to prepare to return to campus safely – staff and faculty over the summer and students in the fall. The team is already at work, engaging with campus leadership groups, academic schools, administrative departments and athletics leadership to think through necessary details for a variety of scenarios. I am confident we can adapt, as needed, to deliver Ouachita’s distinct education and experience and deliver on our mission.

Similar to other universities, there are a host of issues and questions to address. With the benefit of time, data, wisdom and innovation, along with the cooperation of the campus community and God’s grace, I know that Ouachita will rise to the challenge.

I’m so proud of you, our students, faculty and staff, for your exemplary attitude and effort that have marked Ouachita’s response to COVID-19. Thank you again! 

We will continue to communicate with you during the summer months via email and at as more specific plans for fall are confirmed. For now, congratulations on concluding this historic academic year; we look forward to seeing you again – in person – in the coming weeks.


Sincere regards, Ben

Ben R. Sells, Ph.D.
Ouachita Baptist University

Dear Students,

Truly, I can hardly bear to write these words – the hardest thing to tell you in my four years: we will not be resuming on-campus classes this semester. As a result, remote instruction will continue through Finals Week.

This decision is based on these three primary considerations:

  • A confirmed COVID-19 case in our county, along with multiple cases in the many cities and towns where students reside, makes it too risky to bring 1,500 students back to Arkadelphia.
  • Guidance from the CDC and the state of Arkansas limits the size of groups and prohibits serving food to groups in the cafeteria.
  • The decision will bring clarity for all of us in how we finish the semester.

I’m so sorry for you, for us, for Ouachita. We recognize the real disappointment. More than anything, we want you and those you love to be safe and healthy.

This decision raises a number of questions including:

  • When and how can students return to campus to collect their belongings? Given the nature of COVID-19, we need to develop plans that reflect appropriate health and safety precautions. We will provide updated information on Monday, March 23. Please wait for further instruction before returning to campus for your belongings.
  • What if, under these new circumstances, a student’s current location and living arrangements are not suitable for completing the semester?  To request an exception to be housed on campus, fill out the form at starting Monday, March 23.
  • Will students get a refund? We remain committed to passing on any net room and board savings to students to the extent possible.
  • What does it mean for Commencement? To comply with official guidance on avoiding large gatherings at least through mid-May, Ouachita will not hold Commencement on May 9. However, I will work with a group of graduating seniors, faculty, and staff to develop a plan to honor and celebrate the class of 2020 – the class I started with.

We know there are more questions, we are attending to them, and we will continue to communicate with you.

Your faculty have been working non-stop, racing to be ready to launch remote instruction on March 30. The effort they have put forward to reconfigure their classes has been inspiring. Staff have mobilized with the same intensity to reimagine how they can best serve you from a distance. Expect an email on Tuesday with “next steps” for starting on March 30.

For a season, Ouachita is scattered. This is temporary. It will eventually get better. And at some point, we’ll be together again. For the balance of this semester, I commit to you that your faculty and staff will put forth an extraordinary effort. And, I ask that you do the same.

None of us will ever forget this semester. Because we’re people of Christian faith and Ouachitonians, I believe we will someday look back and say: “I’m a better person – it gave me the opportunity to become the person God intended me to be in ways I didn’t want or anticipate but that I don’t regret.”

That’s my prayer. May it be so.


Kindest regards, Ben

Ben R. Sells, Ph.D.
Ouachita Baptist University

Good afternoon, Ouachita students!

What an extraordinary past few days in the life of our campus and country. During lunch on Friday, I was hanging out in the caf and stu wanting to see you and be around you, and I wish I could have talked to each of you. Even as this change in plans is for our health and safety, I so regret the disruption to your Ouachita experience. In all my interactions with you on Thursday and Friday, I so appreciated your spirit and attitude in the midst of so many changes and emotions.

This is temporary. It will eventually get better. And we’ll be together, again.

Until then, we’ll endeavor to provide timely, clear, and helpful information – and to be available for you. There are questions that have been addressed and questions to answer. We won’t think of everything, so ask questions. Find the most updated information at: We also will start sending a “Ouachita Update” each afternoon as information is available. Watch for those emails coming from, with consolidated information relevant to our entire student body.

All faculty and staff are preparing this week to help you successfully start classes again on March 30. While you can’t walk into their office to talk, you can contact them by phone or email, and I encourage you to do so.

If you’re unsure of who to contact about something, I’m giving you my cell phone: #######. Start with a text, provide your name, and explain the situation, and I’ll do what I can to assist you. I’m confident in God, you, and the Ouachita community.


Love, Ben

Ben R. Sells, PhD
Ouachita Baptist University


P.S. I’m reading through Psalms each month for my daily devotions. During these extraordinary days, I was drawn this morning to Psalm 81:9-10: There shall be no strange God among you, neither shall you worship any other God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt; open your mouth wide, and I shall fill it. “Lord, I ask that you give us Spirit-led wisdom and agility in all areas of our lives.”

Dear Ouachita students:

We have prayerfully sought wisdom about how our campus community should respond to coronavirus (COVID-19) to best protect our students and the broader community. While there currently are no confirmed or suspected cases of COVID-19 in the Arkadelphia area or at Ouachita, we believe the following precautionary measures are the responsible path we must take.

  • Ouachita’s Spring Break will be extended, with classes canceled from Monday, March 16, through Sunday, March 29. (Offices will be open Monday, March 16, through Wednesday, March 25.) Classes will resume in online formats from Monday, March 30, to Sunday, April 12. Course instructors will communicate to their classes how their specific instruction methods will change during this period of time.
  • At this point, on-campus instruction is planned to resume on Monday, April 13. (Note that this day previously was scheduled as a holiday for campus.) We will continually monitor the public health situation to assess if this online instruction period should be extended beyond April 13.
  • Students living in Ouachita housing must leave campus by Sunday, March 15. Exceptions will be granted to students who have no other housing options, including international or third culture students, married students or those with other extenuating circumstances. Contact your RD if you need on-campus housing and dining services.
  • Ouachita’s campus will maintain its daily operations, with faculty and staff continuing their good work of educating and serving our students while following health protocols from the CDC.
  • Campus events from March 16 to April 12 are canceled, as are university-sponsored trips. Additional information about events planned for later in the semester is forthcoming.

I understand that these measures are incredibly disruptive to your lives and this campus, and we have not made these decisions lightly. I am truly sorry for the impact it has on your Ouachita experience. We have learned from global public health leaders the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 through social distancing to mitigate the impact of the disease, which has now been labeled a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Combined with the timing and widespread travel associated with Spring Break, we believe taking this course of action now may prevent more drastic measures later in the semester.

I recognize this decision raises many questions and issues which we will address as we can. In this unusual time, let’s endeavor to extend grace and understanding to one another. We will continue to update you via email and post updates and FAQs on our COVID-19 webpage.

Ouachita is a tight-knit – and resilient – community: I have great faith in you and us. Together, with wisdom from the Lord, we will navigate this season. Following is a prayer, from “The Daily Prayer App” that has meant much to Lisa and me today – and is our prayer for you.

“Most loving Father, whose will it is for us to give thanks for all things, to fear nothing but the loss of you, and to cast all our care on you who care for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which you have manifested to us in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

Kind regards,

Ben R. Sells, PhD
Ouachita Baptist University

  • Dr. Wesley Kluck, vice president for student development and university physician – chair
  • Ian Cosh, vice president for community and international engagement
  • Ethan Dial, Student Senate president
  • Jon Fitzgerald, general manager of Sodexo dining services
  • Dr. Monica Hardin, associate vice president for graduate and professional studies
  • Tim Harrell, director of student life
  • Caitlin Hetzel, director of housing and assistant director of residence life
  • Kari Ledford, marketing and retail operations manager of Sodexo dining services
  • Bryan McKinney, university counsel and dean of the Hickingbotham School of Business
  • Bill Phelps, assistant to the president for IT services and facilities management
  • Sherri Phelps, director of human resources
  • Brooke Zimny, assistant to the president for communications and marketing

The Coronavirus Task Force is no longer an active committee.

Dear Ouachita students:

I’m writing to provide a further update on coronavirus (COVID-19) since my email on Monday. Universities across the state and nation are making plans to manage the situation, and Ouachita is no exception.

At this point no decision has been made to suspend on-campus classes. However, we’re taking steps to transition to online or alternate delivery formats for current classes if it becomes necessary.

In today’s environment, it’s natural for rumors to develop. You will continue to hear the most up-to-date and official information from me and other university officials, along with information on our website at

Knowing the character of the Ouachita community, and with wisdom that comes from the Lord, together we will navigate well this unusual season.


Kind regards,

Ben R. Sells, PhD
Ouachita Baptist University

As Spring Break quickly approaches and the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, we have developed the following guidelines for travel.

Ouachita-sponsored trips outside the United States:

These trips are suspended until further notice, with the exception of the Biblical Studies trip to Israel, which is still tentative.

Ouachita-sponsored trips inside the United States:

Trips are suspended to “hot spot” locations where COVID-19 has been confirmed in large numbers. States currently affected include California, New York, Oregon and Washington.

Guests visiting Ouachita:

Guests to campus traveling from a country with a Level 2, 3 or 4 advisory related to COVID-19 or to a U.S. hot spot (see current CDC andState Department guidelines) may be required to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to coming to campus.

Personal travel:

Your personal travel is discouraged to another country with Level 2, 3 or 4 advisory related to COVID-19 or to a U.S. hot spot. A self-quarantine at home may be required before returning to campus for those who travel to these locations or on a cruise ship where COVID-19 is confirmed. For students, this could affect the timely completion of classes for the spring semester.

We believe these are responsible and proactive steps to protect our campus community. We also recognize that these actions disrupt educational and personal plans as well as create stress.

We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust our approach, sending email updates as needed. Current campus recommendations also will be posted at


Sincere regards,

Ben R. Sells, PhD
Ouachita Baptist University

Next Steps