Dear Colleagues:

As we close out an unprecedented fall semester and approach the end of a challenging year, I want to thank you for your outstanding work, share information from last week’s Board of Trustees and faculty meetings, and provide more details about our plans for the spring semester.

This has been an extraordinary year whose impact will be felt for many years to come: from the emergence of the pandemic in the spring, with the need to shut down and vacate campus; through a summer that combined intensive planning for an uncertain fall with a traumatic reckoning with racism in the nation and in our community; to a fall of entirely remote teaching and campus operations. I hope that in spite of the many difficulties we have faced, you share my pride in our capacity to respond and adapt to these circumstances, sustain our mission as an institution, and support each other through many complex situations and decisions. 

Members of this community made heroic efforts throughout the fall semester to provide the best experience possible to our students. On an anecdotal level, I heard from many students and parents about the ways in which individual faculty and staff worked to stay connected and offer support to students studying with us from all over the world. The data supports that positive impression. Of students responding to a survey about their education this fall, two-thirds or more gave high ratings to both synchronous and asynchronous lectures and virtual office hours, more than 60 percent reported satisfaction with virtual library materials and online exams, and perhaps most importantly, 70 percent felt connected to their instructors. This success reflects the hard work, creativity, and caring of our faculty as well as the dedication and commitment of staff who work tirelessly to support the academic program and the College. I appreciate the work that the Administrative Council has done in conducting a survey of staff about their experience this fall and look forward to following up on the results.

As we head deeper into winter, the increased spread of the virus nationwide poses challenges, but we continue to feel confident about the plans we have formulated for the spring. We will continue to work closely with state agencies, local health providers, and peers at other colleges and universities to stay up to date on new information and guidelines.

The decision to delay the start of the semester by two weeks, with classes beginning Feb. 8, provides a longer period of preparation and recovery following the holidays and increases the number of weeks we may benefit from warmer spring weather facilitating outdoor activities. Spring break has been condensed to March 30 and 31. Vice President for Campus Life Annette Diorio will provide updated, detailed information next week on pre-arrival testing, quarantine, and isolation requirements for students prior to the spring term. Updates will be provided regularly in Lafayette Today during the semester break. At this time, about 30 percent of our 700-plus classes and laboratory sections are scheduled to be held in person. We anticipate a total enrollment of approximately 2,500 of which 2,173 are expected to be on campus. 

While the progress made in developing and approving vaccines offers hope for a gradual return to normalcy, it seems unlikely to affect our need to maintain strict health protocols during the spring semester. To provide the best possible hope of safely holding an in-person Commencement, the faculty has approved moving Commencement to May 30, the day after final exams conclude. Eliminating the traditional celebratory week between finals and graduation, which often involves travel away from campus by graduating seniors, will help reduce the risk of infection. While the loss of Senior Week will be disappointing to the Class of 2021, if circumstances allow, it may be possible to schedule some activities following the ceremony for those who choose to remain.   

At last week’s Board of Trustees meeting, the board approved a budget for the current year, FY2021, with a projected deficit of $5 million if we maintain the expense reductions previously implemented. We are in conversation with the board on possible restoration of compensation reductions that were made effective July 1, 2020. We will continue our discussion at the February board meeting, when we will be able to confirm final enrollment figures for the spring term. The board also is interested in our ability to further reduce projected deficits of $5 million in each of the fiscal years 2021 and 2022. We will keep you apprised of developments on this issue, which we know is on the minds of many.

In January, we will resume our ongoing conversations among students, faculty, staff, and alumni about ways to more effectively combat racism at Lafayette. Many conversations and meetings, both large and small, have been held since students raised concerns during the summer months. A new website scheduled to go live next month will make it possible to follow progress on the steps we have taken to address racism in our community and actions we plan to pursue in the future. All parts of the College will have an important role to play in this work in the coming months.

I am deeply appreciative of the commitment and ingenuity shown by each of you over the last 10 months. All of us have learned to exercise muscles we did not know we had. Our community, and the institution itself, will be stronger because of how we continue to work through this period of challenge and change. 

In order to convey our personal appreciation for your dedication and support, Steve and I are sending holiday cards to all our faculty and staff colleagues this year. These are not funded from a College budget but come as a small gesture of thanks from the two of us. My very best wishes for a pleasant and restful holiday. 

Alison Byerly

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