Dear Members of the University Community,
We have been through so much in the last few months, personally and as a community. Thank you for all you have done to care for one another, particularly our students who are continuing their studies in such anxious and uncertain times. Together, we have risen to the challenge of our times.
As we conclude our classes for this most unusual academic year, in both our graduate and undergraduate schools, our attention turns to next year. Everyone is asking: will we return to campus? We are planning to open our campuses, including modified in-person classes and instruction, in the fall, to the extent that we are permitted by local and state regulations.
Key Guiding Principles
As we plan for the fall, we are guided by two principles: (1) protect the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students, and (2) offer a rigorous, transformational education in the long tradition of Jesuit education. While grounded in principles, our planning is also data-driven, relying on the best scientific resources available, including our own faculty experts. We are also consulting with other universities and local health officials.
We will seek input from faculty about how best to deliver instruction, modify the academic calendar if needed, and plan for the coming academic year. Student feedback on this year’s remote learning will also inform our planning. And we continue to engage staff to identify strategies for supporting a safe and flexible working and learning environment.
Scenario Planning and Preparations
Next year will likely look very different than other years. It will be a year that requires us to be nimble and adaptable to change. For example, our undergraduate instruction may be hybrid in form: some content may be delivered online, some in person; some class days may be in person, others online. Graduate programs might be delivered in different ways than undergraduate courses, depending on their student populations, programmatic needs and accreditation rules.
Even before the pandemic, professors here were offering different modes of learning. Now we expect such innovation in pedagogy to accelerate. This summer we will build upon our already substantial classroom technology platform and invest in more faculty development to ensure that we are ready for flexible modes of learning, especially if we face a resurgence of the virus and the county issues another sheltering order.
Our campus will look different. We are fortunate to have one of the most beautiful campuses in the country, and we also have a lot of space. We will make our campus low-density to comply with public health requirements. We are exploring how best to provide appropriate physical distancing in classrooms, residence halls and dining areas. Here, our ongoing commitment to smaller class sizes is helpful: at present, the average undergraduate class has fewer than 22 students, and 78% of our undergraduate classes have fewer than 30 students.
Our calendar might also look different: it already does, with some of our graduate programs on a different calendar than our undergraduate quarter system. Again, this variation is helpful so we can spread out people on campus across different times and buildings. We might also offer more classes on weekends and in the evenings.
Key to our ability to offer in-person courses will be testing, tracking, and providing ways for students to isolate and quarantine if necessary. With these measures in place, we are best able to safeguard the health of our entire community, especially those most vulnerable, while also continuing our core academic mission of teaching, learning and research. All along, we will follow intensive cleaning and sanitizing protocols, and face coverings will become customary on campus.
To inform his decision-making, President O’Brien will rely on a working group composed of seven teams, envisioning how we can safely continue our operations and further our mission. At present, we have over 130 members of our community on the various teams. We work closely with collaborative governance bodies, including the appropriate university policy committees. We also regularly receive ideas, input and feedback from our campus community.
By mid-summer, we will offer more specific directions about the next academic year. The quarter system for undergraduates and many of our graduate students gives us more time than those universities only on semester schedules. We realize many of you would like to know these decisions on what fall will look like sooner, but we believe the most responsible approach for us is to rely on the most up-to-date public health guidance in addition to the work of our teams. We live in an area that has taken strong public health measures to mitigate impact from the pandemic. This is important for us: as a Jesuit university, we are committed to serving the common good and the communities of which we are a part.
There is still much uncertainty about the course of the virus and potential therapies and vaccines to counteract it. Yet our extensive planning and preparations can bring some confidence as we look to the future.
Amid the pandemic’s impact and the changes in our daily lives, our mission as a Jesuit university endures. Central to this tradition is cura personalis, the care for each person, in mind, body and spirit, and our noble calling to make this world a more just, gentle, and sustainable place. This calling is all the more pressing as the pandemic has revealed the need to better care for our common home and to remedy health-care and economic disparities among vulnerable communities.
We are the oldest college in California. We have been leading the way for 169 years, and we will continue to lead in this time. We will get through this challenging moment because we can rely on one another and the help of God. We will get through this together with grace, and our beloved Santa Clara University will be better and stronger.
In this promise, and in all of you, we find hope.
Kevin F. O'Brien, S.J.
Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs