Fall 2020 Alumni Update

To: The W&L Alumni
From: President Will Dudley
Date: November 18, 2020

Greetings from Lexington, where we’ve reached the final week of what is surely one of the most unusual academic terms in our history.

We conclude the Fall Term feeling grateful to have made it thus far and humbled by the collective effort it has taken to get us here. Since our abrupt transition to virtual instruction last March, we have been focused on doing everything in our power to enable our students to return to and remain on campus, and on providing the best education we can under the circumstances. Doing so has involved difficult decisions and tradeoffs between the measures we must take to contain the spread of the virus and the familiar rhythms of life at W&L.

Fall Term in Review

These tradeoffs have been evident from the beginning of the term, with orientation programs conducted in small "home groups" on campus, and academic and student activities fairs moved online. With the campus closed to visitors, artistic performances and speaking engagements took place virtually, and intercollegiate athletic competition was suspended.

Our faculty dedicated their time and considerable talent to thinking creatively about how to deliver the best possible liberal arts education for our students. They put in countless hours preparing their courses to be delivered in multiple formats; teamed up to develop timely interdisciplinary courses such as Perspectives on a Pandemic, which addressed topics drawn from biology, economics, religion, journalism, and politics; participated in training sessions on inclusive teaching and advising; and worked with staff in W&L’s new Harte Center for Teaching and Learning (formerly CARPE) to employ best practices in new modes of teaching.

Our University Facilities staff reconfigured existing classrooms to enable physical distancing and created additional classrooms — both indoors and out — from scratch. Air handling systems were adjusted to provide better ventilation, and custodians implemented new cleaning protocols. Dining Services modified venues and serving procedures while also providing round-the-clock meals for quarantining students. Student Affairs staff have reinvented the services, support, and opportunities they provide to help our students thrive, and the Outing Club offered more programs than ever before, expanding the back campus trail system and getting our students outside during what has been a particularly beautiful fall in Lexington. This winter the club will unveil two new gravel firepits on back campus for students to use in the colder months, and which will serve as hammock stations and cookout venues in the spring.

We executed a robust COVID-19 testing program, including rapid tests for symptomatic students, bi-weekly testing for close contacts and random samples of our campus population, and wastewater sampling to inform our containment strategies. This winter, we will increase the frequency and volume of testing in order to identify and stem the spread of infections even more quickly. If we are able to reduce the incidence of the virus in our population, we are hopeful that we can offer even more activities and opportunities for students.

Our Athletics staff moved into the brand new Duchossois Athletic and Recreation Center in August after a two-year renovation. The center has already become a popular space for students to recreate, even in the absence of varsity athletic competition, with fitness classes, expanded intramural programs and individual workouts in the renovated Fitness Center taking place in accordance with the prevailing health protocols.

The pandemic did not prevent a wide variety of speakers and events from taking place virtually, including livestreamed student performances in the Lenfest Center, the Africana Studies program’s year-long series on Activism and Black Life, the Mudd Center’s exploration of Global Ethics in the 21st Century, a full array of career and professional development programs, and the popular annual Entrepreneurship Summit.

Alumni Engagement

As our students and employees have adapted to campus life during COVID, our extended community has had to adapt as well. We were sorry not to be able to welcome parents, families and recent graduates back to campus this fall for our traditional Parents and Family Weekend and Young Alumni Weekend festivities.

While we enjoyed the chance to connect with some of you virtually, we all know that nothing can replace the chance to be here together in Lexington. Unfortunately, with colder weather on the way and the virus spreading quickly across the country, we regret that we must extend our no-visitor policy this winter and spring. All upcoming events for alumni, including reunion weekends, will be cancelled through May 5, 2021. We do still hope to be able to host in-person commencement ceremonies for the undergraduate and law classes of 2020 and 2021. A final decision about commencement activities will be conveyed during Winter Term.

We all look forward to the time when it will be possible to gather in person once more. In the meantime, the Alumni Engagement Office is hosting virtual events for alumni that run the gamut of interests, including a panel on student life during the pandemic, a virtual walk around Lexington, a panel on the 2020 election, and a five-part discussion series on Prejudice, Discrimination & Anti-racism. Our Office of Lifelong Learning also launched “After Class,” a new podcast series featuring interviews with favorite W&L faculty members on their areas of expertise.

I encourage you to view the complete selection of recordings on the Alumni Engagement website, and look for new offerings in the alumni events newsletter, “It’s All Here.”

Looking Ahead

Despite the day-to-day challenges of running a university during a pandemic, we have not lost sight of the long-term aspirations outlined in our Strategic Plan. In recent months, we have advanced several initiatives in that plan:

  • Construction is progressing on our teaching and learning center, named in honor of Houston H. Harte ’50, a trustee emeritus and recipient of our Distinguished Alumni Award. The new Harte Center for Teaching and Learning, which will support the academic success of every student and the teaching excellence of every faculty member, is on schedule to open in August 2021.
  • We hired two new assistant directors in the Office of Inclusion and Engagement to enhance programming and student support in this critical area. Design work is underway for the Center for Inclusion and Engagement, which is scheduled to open in Elrod Commons in August 2022.
  • We have added a new staff position in the University Counseling Center to increase mental health resources and foster well-being for our students.

For those alumni who are interested in learning more about our institutional priorities, Vice President Steve McAllister and I will provide an overview of our strategic plan and university finances this evening.

Lena Hill, dean of the College and professor of English and Africana Studies at W&L, will become our new provost, effective July 1. Her appointment, which I announced last week, follows a highly competitive, national search, and I look forward to working with her in the years to come.

As Rector McAlevey mentioned in his Oct. 22 message to the community, the Special Committee of the Board of Trustees continues to gather information in support of the board’s deliberations on important issues relating to diversity and inclusion on campus, including the university’s name. More information will be forthcoming from the rector about that process in the new year.

Thank You

Our success this fall would not have been possible without you, our alumni, parents and friends, who contribute your time and talent to W&L in countless ways. Your support of the Annual Fund, which provided critical resources to meet the emergency student needs and budget shortfall caused by our rapid pivot to virtual instruction last spring, has enabled us to navigate this pandemic without layoffs, and continues to provide the resources and flexibility that allow us to offer the best possible educational experience for our students. I am grateful to each of you for your dedication to W&L, and I look forward to seeing you back in Lexington when we are able to gather together again.

Until then, I wish you and your loved ones a safe, happy and healthy holiday season.