In recent months, I have seen countless examples of agility and resilience demonstrated by members of our community. Consider: Our students have altered the way that they learn. Our faculty have pivoted in the way that they teach. Our staff have changed the way that they work. This pandemic has challenged us in ways we previously could not have imagined, and I continue to be proud of and humbled by your extraordinary efforts.
Throughout all of this turbulence, our La Salle community has remained resolutely focused on our students. Just yesterday, hundreds in our La Salle family contributed generously to our student scholarship fund, making this our most-successful Day of Giving in University history and raising more than $700,000. True to our founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle, and the mission that he began, we are continuing to work tirelessly, amid unpredictable circumstances, to deliver a high-impact educational experience that transforms lives. The scholarly exercises witnessed over these most recent months have been nothing short of commendable. Together and by association, we remain steadfastly united in our service to students—those who are enrolled in courses this summer and fall, and the nearly 1,600 who this year finished their programs and earned La Salle degrees across all levels.
Among many important virtues and pillars, the Lasallian educational experience centers on Catholic values and personal relationships. It is always our desire to foster and nurture the unique relationship between educators and students, imagining all of us as the older brothers and sisters of the students who we serve. Our move to remote learning, while critically necessary to ensure the safety and wellness of our campus community, has challenged not only our daily ways of operating, but also our mission and heritage as a Lasallian university.
I know how closely each of you is monitoring developments as we move through this global crisis, paying particular attention to Pennsylvania’s phase model. Recently, Gov. Wolf declared that all remaining red-phase counties in the Commonwealth will move to the yellow phase by June 5. While this is particularly encouraging, it is important to note that businesses located within yellow-phase counties are encouraged to allow employees to continue working remotely, prohibiting gatherings of 25 people or more. Universities, colleges, and schools are asked to extend remote instruction, as well, per Gov. Wolf’s guidance, until counties evolve into the green phase.
We are preparing for an unpredictable future, in both the immediate and long term. We have developed a robust recovery and continuity team that is processing inputs from a broad range of sources, including our faculty, staff, and students. As new data and guidance are emerging on a near daily basis, our plans for the fall and beyond continue to be shaped and revised. What makes this planning so challenging, beyond the constant shifts in the available information, is the extent to which so much of it falls outside of our control. Our work is framed by a series of guiding principles and priorities, including: the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and any University visitors; the ability to deliver on our mission promise of providing high-impact teaching and learning; and our commitment to making decisions based upon the best available data, reliable information, and guidance.
As such, La Salle University will return to an in-person experience in the fall semester, assuming government regulations permit us to do so. Based on the best available information and discussion with members of our community, we have made adjustments to this fall’s academic calendar. We will open the fall semester with classes beginning Monday, Aug. 17. We will eliminate the fall break and conclude the fall semester on Wednesday, Nov. 25, ahead of Thanksgiving. This configuration will significantly reduce or eliminate the need for members of our community to travel during the semester, thus limiting opportunities to contract and/or spread this communicable disease.
As we have been doing since the emergence of this pandemic, the University will continue to adapt operational and instructional protocols for the fall, as necessary, and we will plan for every conceivable scenario. It is worth underlining that all plans for this fall include an ongoing adherence to the best public health practices in this situation, including appropriate physical distancing, and health and safety modifications. All of our planning also includes the establishment of robust testing and isolation protocols and the creation of dedicated quarantine spaces for those in our student community who test positive for COVID-19. Our recovery and continuity efforts are grounded in current best practices and guidelines, as outlined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American College Health Association (ACHA).
Modality of academic delivery
We can confirm that the fall semester will be structured using a model that combines face-to-face and online instruction modalities. Using that as the starting point, there are a number of different ways that such a model can be built, the contours of which will be driven by the goal of reducing our population density on campus and in our classrooms. Given the uncertainty that surrounds this, faculty must devise their courses for the fall and spring semesters with this in mind. As is being commonly implemented across the higher education sector, courses will need to be developed for both face-to-face and remote versions of delivery, with the strong possibility that both modalities will be employed across a given course. Admittedly, this is not an easy task; however, doing so will aid the delivery of hybrid courses that bridge face-to-face and online learning experiences and support our students in the event that we must once again pivot to a fully remote model of instruction. Part of the benefit of an early start to the fall semester is its translation into an early finish, providing faculty with an extended period of winter recess to continue planning accordingly.
Residential living and dining
Throughout the pandemic, the protection of our community has served as a critical decision-making beacon for all of us. At every turn, we have taken and will continue taking necessary precautions that ensure the well-being of our students, faculty, and staff. This is particularly true for our students who are planning to live in campus residence halls. We will offer on-campus housing, assuming government regulations permit us to do so. The recovery and continuity team is evaluating multiple housing models, including the feasibility of more single-occupancy units, to reduce density in residence halls. These deliberate safety measures are intended to minimize close contact with others within student living quarters. We also are planning multiple avenues through which members of our community can enjoy safe experiences in shared spaces like dining facilities, Connelly Library, and beyond.
The recovery and continuity team continues its focus on developing our return-to-campus plan. The draft plan will be shared with the University community for feedback by the middle of June, with an aim to finalize the plan by July 1.
I realize that this update will likely generate further questions, many of which we are unable to answer at this time. Many elements of this planning are subject to change and remain out of our control, as we seek to plan around the emerging guidance from all levels of government. However, as tentative as some of this planning remains, I believe that it is still the best practice to share what we know and where we believe we are heading, recognizing that this is not a complete or firm set of plans. We are trying to give all of our community members—including our newest students who are set to join us this fall—some frame of reference for what we believe lies ahead, and especially our commitment to returning to an in-person experience this fall. After all, as we each know, it is those moments of interaction on our campus, the formal and informal moments, that allow for the greatest transformational impacts of a Lasallian experience. We need to do everything within our power to safeguard that experience within our community, achieving that in a manner that continues our prioritization of the health and wellness of all within our community.
The pandemic will continue to test our determination. I thank each of you for your patience, focus, and unwavering commitment during these unprecedented times. In the absence of the spirit of cooperation and association that defines our community, I am convinced that much of this work would not be possible.
St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us.
Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.
Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.