Dear Whitman Community,
We have completed the first month of a Fall semester like no other. In a world seemingly overrun with troubling news, we have reason to remain cautiously optimistic that we will be able to stay together on campus through the end of the semester just before Thanksgiving.
The Summer was a time of extraordinary adaptation and preparation at Whitman and the rest of the university. Classrooms and common spaces were reconfigured for physical distancing, new technology and sanitation equipment installed, and carefully crafted signage created to ensure everyone follows campus-wide health and safety protocols. We’ve also supported our faculty and staff to enhance their ability to teach in a hybrid environment and to support our students and one another both virtually and in-person.
Our students are genuinely grateful that we’ve reopened. All of them know peers enrolled at institutions that were unable to open this Fall or have had to reverse course in recent weeks. While they know we also may face challenges when it comes to staying open, they’re impressed with our strong testing regimen and encouraging early results, amazed at how we’ve transformed our campus and classrooms since they were last with us in March, and committed to making sure that their peers on campus do not jeopardize our ability to be together.
Of course, it is not a “normal” campus experience. Our health and safety protocols – masks at all times in public, social distancing, limits on the size of gathering – change the dynamic on campus both inside and outside the classroom. We’ve also had some bumps along the way, such as Zoom going down on the first day of classes, signals of COVID-19 RNA in wastewater coming from two dormitories, and this past week’s increase in cases largely as a result of student travel over the Labor Day Weekend.
Despite these ups and downs, the university has made a relatively stable transition back to an open campus and in-person teaching. With more than forty-five thousand tests conducted, a positivity rate of 0.19%, and 31 active cases on campus at the time of this writing – all numbers well within the range of our capacity to manage and contain COVID-19 incidence on campus – SU appears to be navigating the challenges of the virus as well as can be expected.
We know the bar for continued success is extraordinarily high. As we’ve watched other universities around the country — including those that have taken extensive public health protocols and frequent testing, we’ve seen that this virus can rapidly exploit even minor openings in a community’s defenses. To stay together on campus this semester will require all of us to continue to be vigilant, to defend our community against this virus with the humility and respect that it demands, and to do the right things to keep ourselves and those around us safe.
The dedication, creativity, and resilience our community has shown thus far – and the grace under pressure that everyone is continuing to show as we confront each new challenge – should fill us all with well-founded hope that we can yet prevail.
It should also give us the confidence to lift our heads from the day-to-day challenges of the pandemic and look towards the next horizon.
The first stage of this crisis was a period of firefighting, as we transitioned to online teaching and found new ways to support our students virtually. The second stage has been a full-scale mobilization to reopen our campus while safeguarding everyone’s health and providing the best possible on learning experience for our students. Now that we’ve found our footing in this latest version of “normal”, it is time to anticipate what we must do to remain a leader in a world that has been — and continues to be — remade by COVID-19.
I welcome your ideas about the future of business school education, research, and engagement in the next version of normal that lies ahead. Our alumni have always been our best partners in connecting what happens in the classroom with what happens in the world of practice, and in connecting our students with guidance and opportunities for succeeding in that world. Your counsel, advice, and support will be more valuable than ever as we scan the landscape ahead and plot the best path forward for our school.
Thank you, as always, for all the generous ways in which you support Whitman and SU. Take care of yourselves and your loved ones. Be kind and generous with one another, and especially those who are most at risk. And let’s all keep dreaming of, and working towards, a more optimistic future. I know that if all of us continue to work together, our community will emerge even stronger on the other side.
Eugene W. Anderson