Spring 2020 Campus Update

To: W&L Faculty, Staff, and Students
From: President Will Dudley
Date: May 8, 2020

This morning we confer degrees on our law graduates virtually at 10 a.m., marking a special occasion in the life of the university. As we bid farewell to the Law Class of 2020 and embark on the final weeks of the undergraduate academic year, I write with an update on our contingency planning process and other news from campus.

Contingency Planning

I was pleased to see almost 300 faculty and staff attend the virtual Budget Town Hall on April 24, which addressed the current budget parameters for next year. As Steve McAllister noted in his presentation, these are predicated on resuming in-person instruction this fall. In the past few weeks, our Contingency Planning Task Force has been actively examining what it will take to make that possible, and what our options will be if it is not.

Bringing students safely back to campus is in the best interest of our entire community. Our residential liberal arts education is built upon personal interaction. Our faculty, ably supported by staff in ITS and CARPE, have made tremendous efforts to shift to virtual instruction this spring. But teachers and students belong in the classroom and benefit from the highly experiential co-curricular and extra-curricular activities that complement our academic programs. If we can return to in-person instruction in the fall in a way that is safe for our campus and local community, we will.

Such a return is unlikely to look like a normal fall at W&L, given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The virus is highly infectious and often stealthy. It can be spread by individuals who are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic, and while the disease is rarely serious for healthy younger people, it can cause fatal complications for those who have underlying conditions or compromised immune systems. Resuming business as usual, without taking recommended precautions to comply with public health guidance, would put people in our community and the surrounding areas at undue risk. So we must prepare for the likelihood that life on campus will be different.

Our Contingency Planning Task Force is composed of four main working groups: Academics, Student Life, Admissions and Enrollment, and Finance and Employment. Members are drawn from the undergraduate and law faculty, staff, students, and the Board of Trustees. Each working group is charged with providing recommendations on the steps that must be taken to return safely to in-person instruction this fall. Since we cannot predict how the pandemic will unfold or how guidance from governmental and medical authorities will evolve, these groups are also anticipating the issues we will face if circumstances do not permit students to return to campus on schedule. They will report their findings to me later this month.

  • The undergraduate Academics group, chaired by incoming Interim Provost Elizabeth Oliver, and a parallel group chaired by Dean Brant Hellwig at the law school, are working to develop a calendar that maximizes our chances of completing the academic year on campus. Options being discussed include an early start for Fall Term, with a goal of completing classes by Thanksgiving, so that students would not need to leave Lexington and return. This group is also considering how to maintain social distancing requirements in classrooms and labs, which may require adjustments to our normal class hour schedule. Finally, the group is assessing the additional tools and support our faculty would need to enhance their remote teaching, if a return to virtual instruction were required on short notice. All of the proposals developed by this working group will be subject to discussion by the faculty.
  • The Student Life group, chaired by Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sidney Evans, is considering the ramifications of an altered academic calendar on student move-in and orientation, as well as options for housing and dining that adhere to social distancing requirements. These requirements will also impact athletics, the performing arts, and other extracurricular activities. This working group is investigating options for heightened levels of cleaning and disinfecting in campus facilities, regular and widespread testing and contact tracing, and supplemental housing to quarantine or isolate students in the event of an occurrence on campus. All of this work is taking place in consultation with state and local health authorities.
  • The Admissions and Enrollment group, chaired by Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Sally Stone Richmond, has been tracking enrollment for the incoming undergraduate and law classes. Undergraduate admissions concluded successfully on May 1, meeting all of our goals for the Class of 2024. The law admissions cycle, which continues into the summer, is on track to yield a class in line with our expectations. This working group will project the impact of evolving health and government guidance and the economic crisis on enrollment, retention, and financial aid.
  • Those of you who have read Vice President of Finance Steve McAllister's budget memo know that we are fortunate to have a reserve fund that will help us weather this crisis. If we are able to bring students back to campus in August as planned, we can avoid pay cuts, furloughs, and layoffs with the measures already announced. The Finance and Employment group, which Steve chairs, is focused on how to return employees to work safely, and on determining how best to offset lost revenues with additional expenditure reductions should we be unable to resume in-person instruction in the fall. As this group develops its contingency plans, maintaining educational quality and preserving continuity of employment remain our top priorities.

While I have great confidence in the abilities of those involved with this work, I also know that they will benefit from the thoughts and suggestions of our broader community. If you have ideas, concerns, or questions, I encourage you to submit them using the form available online. We will continue to offer regular updates on this planning work and provide additional opportunities for input as it proceeds.

Some Good News

Contingency planning may be top of mind for many of us, but it is important to remember that the good work of our faculty, staff, and students continues, even in these unusual times:

  • I am delighted to report that we have enrolled the strongest and most diverse undergraduate class in W&L history. The 472 members of the Class of 2024 come from 40 U.S. states and 19 countries. There are 46 Johnson Scholars. Twenty percent identify as domestic students of color, eight percent are first-generation-to-college students, and six percent are international students. The median SAT is 1430 and the median ACT is 33. We look forward to welcoming these newest Generals in August.
  • Several of our students have won prestigious awards, including Caroline Rivers '20, who accepted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Mexico; Colin Berger '20, who accepted a Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Spain; Abby Keller '20, who accepted a U.S. Teaching Assistantship in Austria; and Bo Garfinkel '21, who will be participating in the Public Policy Institute of America (PPIA) Junior Summer Institute at Princeton University.
  • Many of our seniors have presented their thesis and capstone work virtually. The thesis projects of our senior studio art majors, Angela Delos Reyes, Ashley Gillen, and Allison Young, are on display digitally in a virtual exhibition created by the Staniar Gallery interns: Lindsey Hewitt '21, Victoria Morgan '20, Darcy Olmstead '21 and Kassidy Strosnider '20.
  • Student teams competing in the annual Business Plan Competition pitched their ideas online to a group of alumni judges and, for the first time, the public was invited to vote for the winner. Seniors Ashley Gillen, Collette Murray, and Faith Palmer took home the top prize for "Uglies," a fast-casual smoothie and prepped fruit restaurant focused on minimizing food waste.
  • Our athletic teams completed a strong winter season, combining to post a 70-21 (.769) record and capturing conference championships in men's and women's swimming, men's indoor track and field, and wrestling. Seven female swimmers, one male swimmer, three wrestlers, and one pole vaulter qualified for the NCAA Championships but were unable to compete due to the suspension of championship play. Four of our spring teams — men's and women's golf, women's lacrosse and women's tennis — finishing among the top 20 in final Division III polls after a truncated season, and seven of our spring athletes were named All-Americans. We will have an opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments of our student-athletes at the annual Athletics Awards Ceremony, which will take place virtually on Thursday, May 21.
  • Professor Tim Lubin has received fellowships from both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Council of Learned Societies for his project "Appropriations of Indian Dharma and Law on the Peripheries." The fellowships will support 18 months of research and writing starting in the summer of 2020.
  • Professor Leah Green was interviewed on NPR's All Things Considered to discuss her first book, "The More Extravagant Feast," which was released on April 7. She won the Walt Whitman Award from the Academy of American Poets for the book's manuscript in 2019.
  • University Registrar Scott Dittman was awarded honorary membership by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers. This is the professional association's highest honor, recognizing his 44 years of service in higher education, the last 35 of which have been at Washington and Lee.

While Scott won't officially retire until December, there are several faculty and staff members who will retire in June. We regret that we will be unable to honor them, along with our employees celebrating milestone anniversaries, at our annual Employee Recognition Banquet, but we are committed to marking the contributions of these employees when it is once again safe to gather.

As a reminder, we will confer degrees on our third-year law students and seniors this morning at 10:00 a.m. and May 28 at 1:00 p.m., respectively. I hope you will tune into these virtual ceremonies and congratulate our graduates on all that they have achieved during their years at W&L. We look forward to celebrating with them on the Front Lawn next spring during their rescheduled Commencement exercises on April 3 and May 23, 2021.

As we bring the academic year to a close, I continue to take pride in how the members of our community have supported and encouraged one another throughout a period marked with uncertainty and disappointment. Washington and Lee remains an exceptional place to study and work, even when we can't be together. But I look forward to the day when we are all back on campus, and I appreciate your perseverance as we determine what it will take to get us to that goal.