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Tusculum Hits ‘Pause’ on Planned Optometry College Due to COVID-19

It is furloughing faculty and administrators who are working solely in the program.

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GREENEVILLE, TN –  Tusculum University is pausing efforts to launch the Niswonger College of Optometry.

The university cited “COVID-19-driven changes in the optometry delivery care system” and the “likely timetable for the accrediting body that is reviewing Tusculum’s plans” as the reasons for its decision.

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“Tusculum will revisit the College of Optometry in the future, but at the moment, it is challenging to continue the current level of progress on this excellent program,” said Dr. Scott Hummel, Tusculum’s president. “We still have other successful health care programs that have been staples of our academic roster for years and will continue to produce graduates that make a difference in people’s lives. Our commitment to quality health care remains.”

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. The next step was a site visit from the ACOE, Tusculum stated in a press release.

Circumstances do not allow for Tusculum to schedule the site visit for summer of 2020 as planned, according to the release. The university cannot begin recruiting students until the site visit is complete and the ACOE has granted preliminary approval of accreditation.

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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.

Because of these circumstances, Tusculum is furloughing faculty and administrators who are working solely in the optometry program until the program can be re-evaluated.

“We made these decisions with a great amount of thought after taking appropriate time to consider our options,” Hummel said. “The members of the optometry team merit praise for their efforts to tackle the prevalence of eye disease in Central Appalachia. They have developed the concept for an innovative program, and we are grateful for their commitment to a first-class program.”

Hummel said this adjustment to the optometry program does not impact other aspects of the university during the pandemic. Tusculum has successfully adjusted to teaching fully online and empowering faculty and staff members to complete their work remotely, according to the release. The university remains on track to finish the spring semester on time and is registering students for summer courses and the fall semester.

“Our Pioneers deserve commendation for their efforts to react positively to this change and still achieve results,” Hummel said. “At times like this, we are guided by Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble.”

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