Tusculum University is blessed with an outstanding collection of academic, athletic and extracurricular programs in a Judeo-Christian environment that prepares our students to lead successful and civically engaged lives.
We are also focused where we can on developing new programs that build on our mission and further strengthen our university as we enter our next 225 years of educating students and faculty members. This demonstrates our agility and ability to respond to the changing dynamics in education and to serve the needs of our students most effectively.
At the same time, we are sometimes faced with challenges – not of our own making – that require us to pause and re-evaluate a new initiative. The onset of the coronavirus and uncertainty of its end date are an example of a situation that has impacted Tusculum and will influence plans for the Niswonger College of Optometry.
The College of Optometry is designed to address the prevalence of eye disease in Central Appalachia and improve the health and well-being of people in our region. Members of the College of Optometry team, as well as many other members of the university family, have been involved in advancing this program.
The Accreditation Council on Optometric Education in 2019 designated the College of Optometry as a Stage 2 applicant, which is not a pre-accreditation or accreditation status but rather a step toward potential accreditation. Tusculum achieved Stage 2 faster than any other candidate school, and the next step was a site visit from the ACOE.
Circumstances do not allow for Tusculum to schedule the site visit for summer of 2020 as planned. Tusculum cannot begin recruiting students until the site visit is complete and the ACOE has granted preliminary approval of accreditation.
In addition, optometry practices across the nation have scaled back on patient visits, except for urgent cases. As part of the pre-accreditation process for the College of Optometry, Tusculum will need to demonstrate it has established a patient base and achieved a certain number of contact visits with its faculty. Tusculum would have had difficulty meeting required patient numbers in the current pandemic environment.
Based on all of these factors, the ad Hoc Optometry Oversight Committee, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees and I have concluded the most appropriate move is to pause the College of Optometry and re-evaluate it in the future. Unfortunately, that also means we will need to furlough all faculty and administrators who are solely involved in the College of Optometry.
This, of course, is not an easy decision and one taken only after a great deal of thought. All of us should be grateful to members of the College of Optometry faculty and administration for their commitment to create a first-class program for Tusculum. The members of the optometry team merit praise for their efforts to tackle the prevalence of eye disease in Central Appalachia. They have represented Tusculum with distinction.
I would like to highlight the stellar leadership of Dr. Andrew Buzzelli, the College of Optometry’s founding dean, who has demonstrated a commitment to serve people in Appalachia. Others on the College of Optometry team have distinguished themselves as well. For example, Dr. Gregory Moore, the College of Optometry’s associate dean for clinics, and Dr. Richard Hom, a faculty member in health policy for the college, have educated fellow professionals about best practices for treating patients with urgent eye conditions that cannot wait for care until the coronavirus pandemic ends.
We will keep you informed as we make further decisions on the College of Optometry. I encourage the Tusculum family to keep members of the College of Optometry in your prayers in the interim.
As we navigate the coronavirus situation, I am proud of everyone in the Tusculum family for contributing to the betterment of the university and the support of our students. We have experienced a drastically different mode of operation, but all of you are handling the change in the best manner possible. I thank you for your assistance.
With Pioneer Pride,
Dr. Scott Hummel