August 20, 2020
Dear La Salle colleagues, students, families, alumni, and friends:
Bob Goff, founder of the human rights non-profit, Love Does, had this to say: “Embrace uncertainty. Some of the most beautiful chapters in our lives will not have a title until much later.”
While I am not sure that we will ever reflect on this period as one of the ‘beautiful chapters in our lives,’ I can confirm that we are all becoming adept at embracing uncertainty. For several months now, we have been planning for the Fall 2020 semester. Countless hours of preparation, further fueled by contributions and feedback from more than 800 employees and 1,000 students, produced a detailed return plan for our University. Our plan accounts for all facets of campus life and work—from academic modality and classroom reconfigurations, to residence life, employee engagement, and personal safety precautions.
Throughout this process, we have been committed to returning to an in-person, on-campus experience, the heart of the promise of high-impact Lasallian teaching and learning that we make to the students and families whom we serve. We shared our return plan in July, which has since been approved by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. As anyone watching the news can attest, in the weeks that have passed since then, this pandemic has not subsided and, in many regions in the country, it has become more (rather than less) challenging to contain and control.
Since deciding earlier this month to delay move-in, we have continued to closely monitor the dashboards of case counts, positivity rates, and transmission rates in Philadelphia and in the region. Unfortunately, we have not seen the consistent downward trends for which we had hoped, and young adults continue to represent one of the fastest-growing segments of our population for new positive cases.
Further complicating the local data trends have been delays in testing and concerns about contact tracing capacity. Additionally, we just received notice that one of our key on-campus health professionals is unable to provide the services for which we had planned, compromising our ability to deliver the highest quality of care for our students.
In recent days, we have seen local and national examples of college students showing an unfortunate disregard for the health guidelines laid out by their institutions, resulting in uncontrollable outbreaks on their respective campuses. These outbreaks have forced some institutions to abandon their in-person experiences within the first days of their semesters, causing significant disruption to their academic terms. We would be naive to think that we might be able to avoid this fate. In fact, we already have received multiple reports of off-campus students here at La Salle who have been non-compliant with our guidelines and, in some cases, who are already engaged in our conduct proceedings as a result. We understand that our students, like their peers across the nation, have been separated from their friends, their sports, their jobs, and their communities for several months now and they are very keen to reconnect. However, this has led to behaviors that threaten our entire community.
Throughout our return planning, we have balanced a series of sometimes competing preferences and interests across our University community, while consistently maintaining a focus on health and safety. These recent developments now dictate that our campus return plan must evolve again.
Despite our high degree of preparedness, comprehensive efforts to de-densify campus, and the installation of multiple personal and campus-wide safety measures, we have determined that a full return to campus at this time remains premature.
We have reached the difficult but necessary decision to deliver the Fall 2020 semester almost entirely through remote instruction. With limited exceptions, those courses that previously had been scheduled for in-person or staggered modality will be moved to a synchronous online model with classes maintaining the same meeting times and students gathering remotely in accordance with those schedules. The Br. LUWIS system will be updated in the coming days to reflect these changes.
Our on-campus housing will be closed for students, with limited exceptions for a subset of our student body, including international students and those with academic requirements and special personal circumstances. Our Housing and Residence Life teams will provide more information to eligible students in the coming days.
I realize that each of you will receive this decision with a range of reactions, based on unique personal circumstances. I am confident that all of you share a sense of disappointment in this outcome, but layered onto that may be any number of other reactions: relief, acceptance, and hope for the future. I want to convey to each one of you that those of us most closely connected to our return planning share your mix of reactions. From the first day, our goal has been to deliver the best possible version of our Lasallian experience in a way that maintains the safety and well-being of our community members. Until now, we have believed that we could achieve that goal with an experience that included a return to in-person, on campus living and learning this fall. We no longer believe that is possible and offer this decision as the best way to ensure the well-being of all of us.
We know you likely have questions. In the coming days, various departments across campus will be following up with additional information. We have attempted to answer questions through a revised FAQ on our COVID-19 page. There, you also will find a feedback form. We invite you to submit questions and comments that the FAQ does not address.
I want to take this opportunity to remind our La Salle family of how deeply committed we are, each one of us, to delivering a remarkable Lasallian experience to the students whom we serve. The stories our students shared with me from last spring demonstrated profound heroics in terms of the lengths to which our faculty and staff went, in order to ensure the best possible outcomes in and beyond the (virtual) classroom. We are committed to continuing to support those outcomes. For example:
Employee return plan
Much of our phased return plan for employees will remain unchanged. The Office of Human Resources will provide an update next week with additional guidance and details.
. . . . . .
I remain grateful for the continued patience and resilience that are being demonstrated on a daily basis to adapt, as a community, to a challenging and rapidly changing situation. I have heard from many parents this summer who are excited to begin or continue the remarkable experience that La Salle colleagues are providing for their student. I have assured them that we are all working toward exactly that and, when this time of challenge is behind us, we will all have been strengthened by this adversity.
We are La Salle University. We are a family, whether we are on campus or online. We provide transformational experiences with life-changing professional outcomes. We are committed to helping the students whom we serve to develop into successful, high-impact citizens who will go on to enhance the world around them, just as we have done here since 1863.
Take care of yourself and one another. Practice physical distancing. Wear cloth face coverings. Wash your hands. Pay attention to your body if you are not feeling well. Let us ask our founder, St. John Baptist de La Salle, to be with us and our families, friends, neighbors, and others whom have been most greatly affected by this pernicious virus.
Remember that the title of this chapter has not yet been decided. Let’s work, together and by association, to make it a tale of resilience, community, and hope.
Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.