I am writing to update you on our campus planning for the fall. These updates expand on the initial guidance I sent you back in June and are included in the attached document (Guidance to Faculty for Fall July 2020). Faculty Senate will convene faculty meetings to follow up on this information on July 29 and August 10.
Prior to our meetings, I want to address some concerns and questions I have heard directly from faculty.
I recognize that this has been a summer filled with anxiety and uncertainty, and it has only continued to increase as parts of our nation are experiencing a surge in coronavirus cases. Our planning for the fall has evolved to respond to changing circumstances and to new information from governmental and public health sources. That said, we have kept several guiding principles in mind throughout the summer.
First and foremost, we have been planning for in-person learning, with substantial precautions in place for faculty, staff, and students, including classroom modifications, social distancing requirements, and face covering requirements. The Commonwealth of Virginia has endorsed in-person learning for the fall (even if Virginia were to return to Phase II) under careful guidance that we are following.
I want to be clear and candid about why the in-person educational experience remains our focus and priority. In-person learning is the reason why many of our students choose Longwood over other schools. This is the experience that the majority of our students say they continue to desire for this coming fall. And we cannot ignore that our most disadvantaged students have the most to gain by being part of that experience.
Beyond its importance to our mission, a voluntary move to online learning or an inconsistent student experience with in-person learning would have immediate, severe enrollment and budget ramifications. Aversion to attending Longwood at all, or severely reduced tuition and fees from an online semester, are likely outcomes of a fully online semester or an inconsistent in-person learning experience. Tuition and fees constitute about two-thirds of our university budget; state funding constitutes only a third of our budget. A steep decline in tuition and fees, compounded by the already substantial COVID-19 related expenses we face, would lead to stark financial consequences.
We will work to accommodate faculty and staff whose documented health needs or family circumstances necessitate they work remotely, and we will continue to monitor events in Virginia, in consultation with public health authorities, to make further adjustments if necessary. But at this existential moment, we must remain committed to the community we serve and, to the extent possible, the in-person experiences that community expects of us.
I want to highlight another guiding principle of our planning process: a commitment to work in cooperation with academic departments, program faculty, and faculty governance leaders in making decisions and adjustments for the fall. To that end, I re-affirm my commitment to the principles of shared governance and to the value of faculty’s role as teachers and scholars.
The planning process continues to be iterative and responsive to handle changing circumstances. Dr. David Shoenthal has discussed program needs with all department chairs, some multiple times, and has worked closely and directly with Facilities staff on classroom modifications. I have consulted with the deans, the Academic Chairs Council, and the Faculty Senate Executive Committee throughout the summer. I’m grateful for the recommendations on adjustments to policies and procedures to deal with teaching, scholarship, and service for the fall. The Faculty Senate plans to hold a called Senate meeting in August before the semester begins to consider changes to the attendance policy and additions to the syllabus statements that address COVID-related issues.
There have been calls for more faculty voice on the COVID Fall Planning Task Force. In response, Dr. JoEllen Pederson, chair of Faculty Senate and Associate Professor of Sociology, has agreed to join the Task Force effort. I am grateful to Dr. Pederson for being willing to participate in the continued planning process.
Meeting the unprecedented challenges of this crisis require us to continue to work together for the good of our students and the advancement of our mission. I thank you for the many ways you contribute to the transformation of our students into citizen leaders, and I ask for your collaboration as we strive to preserve the experience and future of Longwood.