Dear Santa Clara University Community,
Since we last wrote to you about our plans for fall 2020 including our blueprint, Prepared SCU, we have been carefully monitoring the trends of COVID-19 cases in our area, and what they mean for our plans and preparations for a safe return to campus. As noted in our July 15 housing update to campus, our intention to welcome students back this fall— to reduced-capacity residential housing and a degree of in-person instruction—was set against a backdrop of rapidly changing conditions. We were hopeful that with the benefit of time before classes begin in late September, the trends might begin to improve and we would see a path to even broader re-opening.
Unfortunately, that was not to be. By several key measures, such as average daily new cases and hospitalizations, the COVID-19 trajectory in the Bay Area and California has worsened since we moved to remote learning in the spring. This has implications for the availability and turnaround times of testing, health care capacity, and ongoing restrictions on interpersonal activity. We have been in regular contact with local health officials and recently learned that California counties are facing “significant underreporting” of recent cases due to data errors. Unfortunately, the state of California has not yet issued any updated guidance to higher education, but recent directives have required K-12 schools, including those in our area, to begin their year online, until cases recede. Finally, in both our county and state, the fastest-growing demographic for COVID-19 infection is 18-34 year olds.
Thus, with 6 weeks to go until Santa Clara’s fall quarter begins, I am announcing today that we have made the difficult decision that courses will be primarily online for our undergraduates, with limited exceptions. In addition, we will suspend plans to bring students back to on-campus housing, again with some exceptions. (Most of our graduate programs had already envisioned offering fall 2020 classes remotely). We are joined in this decision by many other universities locally and across the region, including University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, San Jose State, St. Mary’s College, University of the Pacific, as well as a growing list of institutions outside our region.
From the onset of the pandemic, our top priority has been the health and safety of our community. Our goal in all our extensive planning and preparations has been to remain flexible and ready to pivot to adapt to changing conditions.
We know today’s news will come as a deep disappointment to our students and their families, especially our new students who had been looking forward to starting their Santa Clara experience on campus in the fall (please view my video message to students). I too had fervently hoped our community could be together on campus this fall, and a talented team of faculty and staff have been planning for months to try to make that happen. The Bay Area and California developments, particularly the ongoing challenges in testing, make clear that the threat of COVID-19 has not receded sufficiently to proceed as planned.
A Distinctive, Virtual Santa Clara Education
By the start of fall, we anticipate that approximately 440 instructors will have received additional training and professional development in teaching virtually and/or course redesign since March. We have also made significant investments in technology to enhance the learning experience. Our dedicated faculty are committed to making our students’ learning experience rigorous in keeping with the excellence of our Jesuit educational tradition. We also are committed to keeping our sense of community alive as we await the chance to gather again on campus. Departments across the University will continue to offer a variety of services to support learning and student well-being no matter where in the world you may be.
Some students and families have reached out because they have experienced financial hardships as a result of the pandemic and have asked for assistance. We hear you and have made available additional relief funding, so far totaling over $5.5 million for spring ‘20 term and the current academic year. In addition, we will delay the 3.75% tuition increase previously scheduled to begin this fall quarter until the winter quarter. We will waive the undergraduate enhancement fee for the fall quarter as well.
I realize that you may have other questions following this announcement. Later today, you will receive a detailed email from members of our leadership team about academic matters, housing, financial assistance, and other important information. Please continue to check for our updates on our Prepared SCU website for the latest information.
For nearly six months, we have all experienced so many changes and impacts on our professional and personal lives because of the pandemic. Sometimes it can be overwhelming, and we understandably yearn for clarity at a time when so much is in flux. I hope the clarity of this message offers some help to you. I wish this were easier, especially for our students whose college experience, like so many plans, has been upended. Like you, my hope is that we will be able to gather together in January, if public health measures, therapies, and perhaps even a vaccine allow us to do so.
If I may end on a personal note: one of the toughest things about these past few months is not having our students, faculty, and staff around campus. I imagine that this longing for community and connection is something that all of us have felt, each in our own way. While we are learning to connect in different ways, we miss each other. In such moments, we can find consolation in knowing that our Santa Clara community is strong and that our students are supported by our faculty, staff and vibrant alumni network. We know how to be there for each other.
We also rest on the sturdy foundation of our 169-year-old tradition of Jesuit education at Santa Clara, which has endured through many challenges across the decades. Though we did not ask for this moment, together we have risen to the challenge, and we will be stronger for it.
You and your families remain in my prayers.
Kevin F. O'Brien, S.J.