I write today with thanks for your creativity, good will, and perseverance in working through the challenges we’ve faced in recent weeks. I also want to recognize the toll these circumstances are taking on our personal lives. These have been difficult days for everyone in our roles as caretakers, parents, friends, neighbors, and citizens, even as we invent new ways to work in our professions. I’ve spoken with some who are finding their equilibrium -- even enjoying some aspects of this new way of being -- while others are still finding their way. By now, we all know, or know of, someone who has been infected by the virus. Above all, I hope you and yours are able to stay or get well.
With so much changing in our world, and so quickly, the need for us to keep active connections with one another has only increased. Speaking for myself, I miss the pleasure of impromptu conversations with colleagues and students as I walk across campus. I feel the absence of simple gestures, like a smile or wave. I know many are thinking about ways to bridge the social gap the coronavirus has created. This week, our scheduled faculty meeting became a virtual faculty “forum” instead, as a way of checking in, sharing information, and helping us to stay engaged with one another. We’re planning a virtual forum for professional staff, too, and will share more details soon.
In the meantime, this message is meant to serve as an update on several areas of College business, and I hope it helps us all to feel better informed and united in this time of physical distance.
Navigating a Changing Landscape
As one would expect in such uncertain times, questions and concerns about the impact of the novel coronavirus on our individual students and their families continue to come in hourly. We have answered hundreds of emails. There are common themes, having to do with academics, room and board reimbursements, move-out dates, and safety precautions, but it’s also true that many of the messages we receive are as individual as are our students themselves. A good number of students are experiencing real hardship, and we’re doing everything we can to help. There are some complaints about decisions we have made, but also expressions of solidarity and gratitude that our priority remains the student experience and that we continue to support our students to the very best of our ability.
We are actively working to compile a COVID-19 website to answer as many questions as possible. Staff members from offices all over campus are helping to create solutions for problems we couldn’t have imagined until now and posting those solutions in the form of organized information on this website. Our approach is to ensure information-sharing, with as much detail as possible, along with links to policies, forms, and other websites.
Kudos to our faculty for moving instruction online. It appears to have gone extremely well. The inevitable hiccups and bumps along the way create an opportunity to figure them out collaboratively, alongside our students. Your ability to make this transition so well is consistent with the caliber of teaching we pride ourselves on and our focus on close mentoring. I have told everyone who has doubts about online teaching that our faculty are creating a teaching and learning experience customized for every course and every distinct group of students at this particular moment of the term. Every one of our courses still has the F&M stamp on it!
Under Carrie Rampp’s leadership, our instructional technologists have done stellar and extensive work strengthening our IT infrastructure and assisting our faculty in the process of moving their courses online. The Faculty Center and the ITS staff have run and continue to offer workshops and one-on-one sessions. The “Keep Teaching” website they’ve created contains many resources.
Thank you to everyone who is supporting this new approach to teaching and learning online with such dedication and expertise!
Supporting Students on Campus
I also want to recognize the stamina, inventiveness, and good cheer of all colleagues on the front lines beyond the virtual classroom right now, even as they juggle challenges in their own lives. You are the people addressing student needs in every aspect of their daily experience. That’s an especially hard task at the moment, given that we have considerably more students on campus and in the immediate vicinity than many of our peer institutions.
As we prepared to transition from spring break to the rest of the semester, we granted permission to approximately 200 students to live on campus. The majority of them are international students who could not travel home or would jeopardize their visa status if they did so. Currently, only those students permitted to stay in residence have access to the Steinman College Center and the Dining Hall, where they can get up to three “grab and go” meals per day.
Approximately another 250 students are nearby in College-approved, off-campus housing, including College Row, College Hill (“the Lofts”), and James Street Properties. Because these units are not College-owned, we cannot require these students to leave, but we continue to urge them to shelter with family if possible to ensure that they are not isolated.
That number of 450 students on or nearby campus is considerably more than we had anticipated, and the challenges of supporting them have been considerable. The group of outstanding colleagues who are doing life-sustaining work in this time of crisis includes employees from Student Affairs, Facilities & Operations, Public Safety, and the Dining Hall. While most of us are required and able to work from home, the work of these colleagues is essential for the immediate welfare of our students, and so they continue coming to campus. While I am appreciative every single day of the year for the work this group does to provide support and services for our students and to keep our buildings and grounds clean and safe, I am all the more grateful right now. They deserve our enduring respect and deep appreciation.
Even as our colleagues are doing heroic work to manage the current situation as efficiently as possible, we must continue to prepare for what could come, including the potential for illness on our campus. Right now, there are no confirmed cases of novel coronavirus among the population of our students in residence. We have been highly fortunate as a community to date, but we must prepare for the likelihood that the situation will change.
We would like to provide a safe harbor for as many students as possible. However, if and when illness strikes, we are not sufficiently staffed to provide appropriate support for the large number that currently remain. For their own safety and for the safety of our staff members, we will continue to ask more of them to find other living arrangements and leave campus, and that includes some students for whom this is a complicated challenge. Moving to a smaller on-campus population is an ongoing process and one that is difficult for all concerned. Several offices, including Student Affairs, International Programs, and our DipCares team, are working diligently to help students to relocate as quickly and safely as possible.
The smaller number of students who must remain on campus are being relocated to halls on the residential quad. Clearing rooms and moving individuals requires the packing and storage of some students' belongings that were left in on-campus housing. We have hired professional movers to undertake that work.
Staying Connected to All Students
The majority of our students are scattered across the country and around the world. Most are at home or with other family members. House deans and dons are holding virtual events to help students feel connected and informed, and are answering many immediate questions from students off campus. Coaches are working with their athletes, holding team “workouts,” and continuing recruitment and retention efforts. VP Hazlett’s leadership team has assembled a virtual DipCares network by which professional staff volunteers each connect with a cohort of students regularly to check in. If you are interested in helping with this important work, please submit this VCC Signup Form by the end of today (4/9).
Our focus, as you can tell from the emphasis in this message, is on remaining united and supportive even while we are apart. Among the initiatives created to help support connectedness for our students is the F&M Virtual Quad site for “distant socializing.” And many services are still available, including, but not limited to, the following:
OSPGD (webinars, advising, TrueBlue network)
Quantitative & Science Center tutoring
Writing Center tutoring
F&M Mindfulness program
All of this and more is evidence of the way in which you, our professional staff and faculty, have risen to the occasion to make the best of very difficult circumstances. There is so much evidence of the F&M spirit and willingness to help others. One example is the masks sewn by Holly Andrew and Ginny West from the costume shop in Theatre, Dance and Film. They created dozens of beautiful masks that were made available to community members on a first-come, first-served basis, and already they have all been claimed and are being put to good use. What an appropriate metaphor! Those well-crafted masks are part of the work everyone is contributing to keep us safe, cared for, and moving forward as a community.
Whether you work hands-on with our students every day or you are the invisible hands at work behind-the-scenes, you are what makes the F&M experience exceptional. The College simply could not function without all of our employees, including everyone who has continued their work while staying at home. (Be sure to visit this extensive database of resources for working remotely at F&M, compiled by Terry Davidson.) Thank you all for working night and day with wisdom, calm, good judgement, collaboration, patience, and consummate professionalism on behalf of our students.
The budget repercussions of the coronavirus and the disruptions it has caused will be considerable. Alan Caniglia, in his current role as acting vice president for finance and administration, has been working to gauge the impact on our budget projections. We have been consulting closely with governance committees on campus and with the Finance and Investment committees of the Board. Although we cannot yet know where the value of our endowment will land in this volatile market, or how long the pandemic crisis will continue to create significant financial challenges, we do know that we are on more solid footing during this time because of the hard work the entire community did last year to shore up the College’s financial health. Little did we know at the time just how soon this work would prove critical for our agility in a time of crisis.
We are currently evaluating the additional costs incurred and revenue lost. We cannot predict with any certainty the size of the future impact of the coronavirus on our budgets. We have already decided that summer sessions will take place online only. A great deal depends on whether we can resume in-person education in the fall, and whether we can enroll the kind and size of class we had anticipated before the virus hit. I am happy to report that there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic. Right now, for example, our recruitment of the Class of 2024 is going well, particularly given that we are not able to offer in-person campus visits and there is a great deal of economic and travel uncertainty around the world. Our Admission team is bringing tremendous energy and creativity to their work to bring in the new class, working in partnership with other offices and departments across the College.
At the same time, we are still working very hard to finish an important capital campaign, so our Advancement team is moving forward with F&M’s fundraising efforts. Our highest priorities for fundraising continues to be support for financial aid. Fundraising also allows us to support every student every day. One recent success includes the Student Hardship and Emergency Fund, which met its goal very quickly, thanks to our true blue F&M community of high achievers who rallied to help.
Next Thursday, April 16, at 11:30 a.m., the Budget Priorities Committee will host a virtual forum for Faculty and Professional Staff. Be on the lookout for a link and please plan to join in.
Ongoing College Business
Much of the College’s regular work continues, and we are forging ahead with critical projects. For example, our searches are on track for the vice president for finance and administration, chief diversity officer, dean of admission and director of athletics and recreation.
Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has not wavered. The next big step on this front will be receiving the results of the Campus Climate Survey from Rankin and Associates. As a result of the pandemic, the consulting firm partnering with F&M on the climate survey has asked that we postpone the plans for all-campus information sessions, which are now rescheduled for early in the fall semester. More information will be out soon from the committee leading this work.
Though we will also have to wait until the fall semester to launch our strategic planning process, I feel confident that our current circumstances are honing our collective skills to the great benefit of this endeavor. When we come together again, we will be equipped to embrace the unfamiliar and formerly impossible, to confront challenges with newfound innovation and adaptability, and to move forward with a bold strategic vision we all can take pride in having forged together.
There is no question that Franklin & Marshall College will survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world. We will absolutely have to make difficult decisions to compensate as we sustain financial losses. But when we make it through to the other side, we will have gained skills and experience in innovation, ingenuity and perseverance. Crisis requires that we sharpen our sense of identity and recommit to our core values and objectives. The F&M that emerges will be an even better evolution of our true selves.
I’m sending good thoughts to every one of you from my make-shift office to yours. Be well, F&M, and stay in touch.