As we prepare to head into August, with the Class of 2020 virtual Commencement taking place tomorrow, and the start of classes just a few weeks away, this seems a good moment to pause for breath and take stock of where we are as a College and as a community.
This has been a summer of tremendous stress and uncertainty. I hope that the decision announced last week, that we will offer entirely remote instruction with a very limited number of students on campus, is helpful in providing greater clarity about the fall semester and greater confidence in our ability to keep our community healthy and safe.
As I said at last week’s town hall meeting, we should feel pride as a community in being able to make this difficult decision at a time when many other schools are still struggling to resolve their plans. It is true that we were ahead of our peers in making budget cuts, including significant salary reductions, in anticipation of a projected budget shortfall. This enabled us to move quickly in shifting from our original plan to the more costly scenario to which we are now committed, and make the decision that we felt was right.
At the same time, I know that we all share the deep disappointment of our students and families at the necessity of this decision. As a community, we thrive on the energy and enthusiasm that students bring to us, and on the pride we feel at offering them a wonderful educational experience. We will need to mobilize a different kind of energy ourselves in order to launch the fall term without them and to maintain the focus and momentum needed to get through a semester that will be challenging for everyone.
Where will that energy come from? I know that it is hard to imagine anyone summoning more individual commitment than you are already demonstrating. In fact, in this moment, you may feel like you are running on empty.
I believe that success in the coming year will depend not on each of us working harder, but on all of us working together. Not surprisingly, the isolation brought about by this crisis has begun to drain one of our most precious resources, our sense of community, and we need to think intentionally about ways in which we can replenish it.
It is perhaps inevitable that our community has shown signs of stress over the last two months. Coping with a crisis of this magnitude would be a test at any time, but we are operating under the additional disadvantage of a remote work environment that has stripped away the many forms of personal interaction that normally make Lafayette a strong community. In-person meetings, hallway conversations, quick hellos in the gym, lunches and coffees with friends, the intersecting pathways of different members of the community across the campus: All of these nuanced forms of communication have been reduced to emails, memos, and a relentless succession of Zoom meetings.
In spite of all our efforts at communication, it seems a central paradox of our current moment that we each feel overwhelmed by information and yet inadequately informed. We spend enormous time and energy communicating with others without feeling fully heard or understood ourselves. It is important to acknowledge how much of this dynamic is a feature of the unique situation we are in. It may help us to feel less impatient with colleagues who don’t have all the answers we seek, or more understanding of colleagues who are asking for more than we can deliver.
During this crisis, we have benefited from a robust governance structure that allows for elected committees to play a role in many key decisions. I greatly appreciate the extraordinary work that a number of committees have undertaken this summer to make needed decisions quickly. I know that FAP and other faculty committees have worked hard to seek input and share outcomes at a faster pace than usual in order to help the community to keep up with the flow of events. Administrative Council has been working on ideas for bringing the community together and ensuring that we find time to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts, creativity, and resilience that we have seen over the past several months. We will continue to work with these groups to help engage and support all members of our community.
We also recognize, however, that we as an administration need to do more to ensure that the community as a whole feels involved, informed, and connected. We have gotten some valuable feedback and advice from colleagues about the need to create more varied and flexible spaces for discussion. Opportunities for smaller and more focused discussion of issues of concern, whether related to College policies, to compensation, to our shared role in addressing social justice issues, or other topics, may help fill in the missing spaces that are left after large open meetings or formal memos. We will be announcing the first of these efforts next week, and I welcome your thoughts and suggestions about ways to reduce one-way communication in both directions and engage in productive dialogue.
Finally, I know that many current questions and concerns relate to the College’s finances and the potential impact of our new plan on staffing and compensation. In the coming weeks, as we get a better sense of our fall enrollment numbers, we will work to refine our budget projections and determine where we stand relative to our earlier projections. As I said at the meeting, I believe the steps we have already taken position us well for the semester ahead. We will be working with FAP and Administrative Council to share updated information as soon as it becomes available. We will also be working with FAP to outline what a plan for restoring compensation cuts might look like, in the event that becomes possible.
My thanks to each of you for your dedication to our students and our mission. I hope that amidst all the challenges we are facing, we can find ways to appreciate each other, to help each other, and to sustain and strengthen the sense of community that will help to make the year ahead a successful one for our students, and for us.
Have a good weekend,