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Greetings from College Hill and from the President’s House.
This is truly a time of unprecedented change for all of us—as individuals, as a College community, and as a nation. I’m here today to provide an update to the extended Lafayette community, recognizing that even that phrase doesn’t mean quite what it did just four weeks ago. We customarily distinguish between the campus community—that’s students, faculty, and staff—and the extended community of alumni, parents, and friends. Today, we are all part of the extended Lafayette community, and the Lafayette campus spans the nation and the globe.
Let me begin by noting that as COVID-19 continues its spread, we recognize that many of you may have already felt its effects, such as job loss or illness. In addition, we know that many members of the Lafayette community are healthcare providers, who are working hard to combat the effects of this pandemic. Our thoughts are with each and every one of you along with our best wishes for your health and safety.
I’m proud to say that Lafayette has been working hard with our local community partners to support the efforts of our local health organizations. One of the first things that we did was scour the campus for PPE supplies that could be shared with local providers, and we put together a shipment of gloves, masks, gowns, material masks, goggles from the biology department, and other supplies that could be used by local organizations. In addition, we just started a new initiative that has our 3D printing lab in the engineering department working on printing disposable stethoscopes and also face shields that are in use by local hospitals. We’ll continue to stay in touch with the City of Easton and Northampton County about ways in which we can support their efforts.
In thinking about how Lafayette College is doing, the first question on most people’s minds of course is: “How are our students?”
There is no question that while the situation has been challenging for all of us, it presented a tremendous wrench for our students in particular to be uprooted from their lives at Lafayette, and it was a terrible blow for our seniors to lose the second half of their final year at Lafayette College. In choosing to reschedule this year’s Commencement from late May to a new date of August 1, we really wanted to plant a flag in the ground and make a commitment that we will do everything possible to have an in-person Commencement that will be an opportunity for students and families and friends to gather together and celebrate everything that the senior class has accomplished.
The other significant change that of course has taken place in the last couple of weeks is the enormous shift of our entire curriculum into a mode that we call remote learning. Remote learning might seem like an oxymoron since the kind of education that we offer at Lafayette is typically anything but remote. Our faculty have moved tremendously quickly, energetically, and creatively to think about ways to adapt their classes to the distance that now exists between themselves and their students.
These classes have taken a lot of different formats. Some of them are synchronous Zoom sessions that take place at the same time that class was scheduled. Some consist of recorded lectures or lab demonstrations. Some involve small group discussions among students in chat rooms. Some involve individual research projects or something as old fashioned as an art professor mailing art supplies to all of his students so they’d have materials to work with.
What I’ve heard from students that I’ve spoken with over the last week or two is that at a time of great chaos and uncertainty, these classes are really a lifeline, a source of continuity and stability that are more highly valued than ever. As I said to the faculty at a recent faculty meeting, it is moments like this that we understand the importance of the education that we offer.
As you might expect, the current situation has had an impact on the College’s finances. Though we started in a strong position, we do feel impacts in both the short term and the long term that’ll have to be taken into account in all of our future planning. Our most pressing immediate need was to develop a policy for reimbursement of the second half of spring room and board charges. The policy we announced last week we thought met our goal of being simple and equitable, and offering support to families in a variety of circumstances.
We also need to take into account that next fall’s enrollment could be impacted by continued disruption, which would certainly have an impact on revenues. And finally, it’s certainly the case that the current market volatility will have an impact on our endowment for many years to come.
With those facts in mind, we did have to make some difficult financial decisions that were outlined for the community in a memo that we sent out earlier this week. This memo describes some admittedly difficult actions like a hiring freeze, zero percent salary increases for faculty and staff, pay cuts for some senior administrators, delay of certain non-essential capital projects, and other budget changes that we think will be helpful to us both in the short term and in the long term. I was very pleased to find that though this news was difficult, it was understood by our community, and I’ve felt nothing but support from everyone across the College for the need to look carefully ahead to the College’s financial future.
In all of our decision making, we’ve tried to be guided by three principles. Our primary goals are sustaining the distinctive liberal arts and engineering education for which Lafayette is known; caring for our community, not only our students but the faculty and staff who educate and support those students; and building the College’s current and future strength.
I began by talking about many things that have changed. What has not changed is the amazing strength of the Lafayette community, and that has never been more evident than it has been over the last four weeks. I’ve seen not only tremendous support from faculty and staff of our students, but I’ve seen many alumni and parents reach out to the College as well, asking how they can help.
Many of you have found wonderful ways to be useful, whether it’s offering micro-internships to our students or other professional opportunities that will be helpful to our seniors in particular as they think about a difficult job market. And also, many of you have offered to be helpful in our admissions efforts, recognizing that this is not like a typical April when we invite everyone to campus to admire how beautiful Lafayette is, but a more challenging yield season in which we have to use the power of our personal connections to help people understand the value of Lafayette. Many of you have offered to be helpful, and we are tremendously grateful for that support.
We will do our best to offer regular updates and keep you informed. And we hope that all of you will stay in touch as well. In the meantime, thank you all for your support, and our very best wishes to you and your families.
President Alison Byerly