Harding University has offered classes in Florence, Italy, since 1980, and students there were among the first to feel the weight of the coronavirus pandemic. Harding announced on Feb. 26 that the campus there would close three days later.
It was a move that seemed extreme at the time but soon seemed prescient, as Italy became a “hot spot” reporting thousands of new COVID-19 cases daily by the second week of March.
“We had already been closely following the situation in China, so when we saw the increase in the number of cases of the coronavirus in Italy, we assumed that the situation could quickly become dangerous for our students who were studying in Florence,” Harding President Bruce McLarty said last week in an email response to questions from Arkansas Business.
“Also, the nature of that program allows for a great deal of free travel throughout Europe. We believed that we needed to act quickly to bring them home. As everyone would expect, both parents and students alike were deeply disappointed by our decision at first.
“Initially, it was not obvious that such a move was absolutely necessary. However, within just a few weeks, the stories out of Italy were shocking the world, and we were all thankful that our students were safely back at home.”
Harding University Florence and Harding’s other study abroad programs — in Greece, England, Zambia, Australasia and Latin America — have all been canceled for the summer, McLarty said, but no final decision had been made for the fall semester as of last week.