Planning for Summer and Fall

To: W&L Faculty and Staff
From: President Will Dudley
Date: April 20, 2020

As we begin the final week of classes for the term, I want to thank our faculty and staff for ensuring that our students, despite being away from campus, continue to receive the outstanding education and support that define W&L. These times are terribly challenging, but they have also underscored the character of our community. I know that your caring and creative spirit will sustain us through the upcoming Spring Term.

I recently announced that we are unable to hold in-person commencement ceremonies on their regularly scheduled dates. Although this is greatly disappointing, I'm pleased to report that virtual degree conferral events will take place on May 8 and May 28 for our third-year law students and seniors, respectively. Planning for rescheduled in-person commencement ceremonies is underway, and we expect to confirm dates for those events soon. We look forward to welcoming our graduating students back to campus next year and giving them the sendoffs they deserve.

Summer Plans

Governor Northam's statewide stay-at-home order, which remains in place until June 10, and the uncertainty of subsequent guidance, will prevent us from resuming normal operations this summer. All of our summer programs, including Summer Research Scholars, the AIM program, Lifelong Learning, the Governor's Language Academies, and athletic camps and clinics have been either converted to virtual offerings or canceled. More information about the status of individual programs is available on the Provost's website.

I greatly appreciate the ingenuity and flexibility of everyone involved in reimagining our summer options. It is important that our students and faculty will continue to interact with each other, albeit in new ways.

Financial Impact

Steve McAllister wrote earlier this month to outline the financial impact of COVID-19 on Washington and Lee. Two primary commitments have guided our approach to managing the university through this crisis:

  • Maintaining educational quality
  • Preserving continuity of employment

The steps we must take to align our expenses with reduced revenues will be felt across campus. I know these are difficult adjustments, and I am grateful for your understanding that these measures are necessary to ensure that we emerge from this crisis in a strong position to pursue our collective aspirations.

W&L is prepared to meet the financial challenges posed by COVID-19 due to the foresight of our trustees in creating a reserve fund on which we can draw in times of economic hardship. Thanks to this reserve, the steps outlined in Steve's memo will be sufficient to avoid layoffs in the coming year if we are able to resume in-person instruction on campus this fall.

We will host a virtual Budget Town Hall this Friday at 2:00 p.m. to present the current budget parameters for next year and take your questions. All faculty and staff are invited to register for this event, and after registering, will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.

Next Academic Year

Bringing students back to campus as soon as possible, without undue risk to our community or to public health, is our highest priority. We continue to plan and to hope for an August return. However, we cannot predict how the pandemic will unfold or how guidance from governmental and medical authorities will evolve. We must, therefore, consider and prepare for the possibility that students will not be able to return to campus as usual in August.

I have formed a Contingency Planning task force to consider the impact on academics, student life, enrollment, employment, and finances should we be unable to resume in-person instruction this fall. The task force is charged with developing recommendations on how W&L should proceed in a variety of conceivable scenarios. Like other colleges and universities across the country, we must think carefully and creatively about how to secure continuity of instruction and offer the best possible education to our students while allowing for the possibility of ongoing social distancing requirements and potential disruptions to our traditional calendar.

The input and expertise of our faculty and staff will be instrumental in formulating these contingency plans. An Academic Working Group, chaired by incoming interim provost Elizabeth Oliver, will work with faculty to determine the best ways to respond to possible scenarios. Representatives from key faculty committees will join the Academic Working Group this week, and Elizabeth will reach out to all faculty tomorrow to provide more information about opportunities to participate in these collaborative discussions.

Other aspects of contingency planning will draw upon the expertise of our employees across campus. While we cannot know yet what the fall term holds, we will provide regular updates and additional forums for discussion as more information becomes available.

Grappling with unprecedented uncertainty in our personal and professional lives is difficult and unsettling for all of us. I take heart in the strength of our community and our shared commitment to our educational mission and the people who make it possible. We will get through this together, return to the residential education at which we excel, and continue to build a strong future at Washington and Lee. Thank you for joining me in this critical effort.