Congratulations on completing the academic year! This year did not end in the way any of us expected, but I want you to know how incredibly proud we are of your continued commitment and engagement in your academic program. I know that it was not easy, but you kept up with your classes even in the new format, and now I hope you will take some time to celebrate.
I’m glad that during this busy time so many of you were able to join me at our recent Town Hall meetings. I am writing to follow up and to share a few updates.
I have been thinking about you a great deal during this time of distancing. It is hard to experience life here without you, particularly as the campus comes back to life after the winter, and I know that you are all missing campus.
For our seniors, we are so sorry that you and your families will not be celebrating your commencement as we originally had planned. We are also sorry that we are not, at the moment, able to give you the sendoff that you deserve as you leave Holy Cross to use your gifts for the greater good of our world. However, while it will be later than we would like, we will celebrate your commencement in person. You voted in last week’s poll to hold an in-person event next spring, and we will be working with you to design a meaningful ceremony for you and your families as well as to plan additional “senior” events for you and your classmates to celebrate together. In the meantime, I do hope that all of you and your families will join us at 5:00 PM on Friday, May 22, for a virtual celebration to mark the official date of your graduation from Holy Cross. A link will be available on the Commencement website next Friday.
Fall Semester Decision Timing
I know that all of you who are returning students have important questions about what the fall semester will look like. We intend to announce the College’s plan for the fall semester by early July. While we would like to have answers sooner, we want to be sure that we are making the best decisions with the most complete information possible, and to do that we need to take the appropriate time. As Dr. Tony Fauci said weeks ago: “the timeline belongs to the virus, not to us.” So, we are doing all we can to plan, discern and make good decisions.
The report by the Governor’s reopening task force, which is expected on Monday, May 18, will be critically important input for our decision about the fall. This will give us a better indication of what the state’s guidance will be for recovery, as any plan we develop must follow state public health guidelines.
Scenario Planning for Fall 2020
It is my greatest hope, and I know yours too, that we will all be together on campus to proceed with our cherished living and learning model soon. Given what we know at this time, however, we need to plan for other scenarios for the fall semester. We know that public health restrictrictions may not allow us to bring our entire community back safely, and we know that travel restrictions and underlying health conditions of students, faculty and staff may prevent some from returning to campus, so some remote learning will be a part of our final plan.
We have been evaluating four models which help us to conceptualize and evaluate a range of possibilities for the fall semester. It’s unlikely that we will adopt any of them exactly, but they provide a framework for us to evaluate different options and what might be entailed to implement them.
Any plan for the fall, and even into the winter, will require the wearing of masks, social distancing, isolation of anyone who contracts the disease, and quarantining of anyone who has been in close contact to anyone who has become ill. We have to consider how we manage this on a dense highly residential campus. Testing for the virus will also be important. We are currently reviewing our options to develop the best plan to keep our community safe.
The principles for determining the fall plan remain the same as they have been since the beginning of the pandemic. First, the health and safety of our students and our community members are paramount. Second, we will strive to ensure that our students have the opportunity to meet academic requirements and make progress toward their degree. And in doing so, we will prioritize the quality of the academic program and the full living and learning experience for our students.
We recognize that there are students with special circumstances. There are students whose situations at home make it difficult for them to successfully complete their coursework for a variety of reasons. As we evaluate the models, we will identify solutions for these students. It is our responsibility to ensure that students have a level playing field and equal opportunity for success in the fall semester.
The College’s Emergency Response Team led us through the first phase of this crisis, gathering health and safety information, working to get us through the operational shift and move out in March, ensuring that our students on campus are cared for, that we have the resources we need on campus, and continuing to monitor developments from public health and safety officials. The Emergency Response Team continues to monitor, and adjust when necessary, how we are operating on campus. For our current phase of evaluating possible scenarios for the fall, I have established a task force made up of the following working groups:
- Health, Safety and Operations
- Academic Program
- Student Experience
Planning and decision making is and will be guided by the latest and best information from national and state public health agencies as well as experts within our own network, including Dr. Helen Boucher ‘86, Chief of Geographic Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Tufts University Medical Center and Dr. Michael Collins ‘77, Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Of course we are also paying very close attention to the guidance of Dr. Anthony Fauci ‘62.
Members of the Executive Team and I are also talking regularly with our peers from various groups of colleges and universities: the AJCU, the Patriot League, the Northeast Deans, HECCMA, the Boston Consortium, and the MA Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (AICUM). A couple weeks ago, I was one of 10 presidents in Massachusetts invited to a phone conference with the Governor and Lieutenant Governor to see how we might work together on higher education needs. I have also been in conversation with our local Congressman, Jim McGovern.
Financial Impact of COVID-19
We understand that the pandemic has had an economic impact on many of our families. We will be evaluating how we can respond to that as we assess the different scenarios. Most recently, we have used College resources to issue checks to work study students whose employment was cut short this spring. In addition, we have allocated $959,000 of federal CARES Act money to approximately 1,200 of our highest need students.
Some of you have asked about how the pandemic will affect the College’s finances. We know that the pandemic will have lasting impact on our financial resources. At this point the endowment has endured substantial losses and is down approximately 10% in the calendar year to date. Like so many colleges, Holy Cross is highly tuition dependent: 70% of our revenue comes in twice a year when students and their parents pay their tuition, room and board fees. Consequently, we are vulnerable to any changes in enrollment or to prolonged time spent studying remotely. We anticipate increased demand for financial aid in the coming year and beyond. We will have to discern carefully how to manage the financial pressures with which we are confronted.
We have made some decisions to date that will help us to manage the financial challenges: a hiring freeze, not offering salary increases for the next fiscal year for administrators or hourly staff, deferring all non-critical purchasing and discretionary spending, deferring some capital projects and limiting travel. We will be faced with more difficult decisions in the next fiscal year and beyond. As we have more information in the coming weeks, we will be in a better position to understand our financial outlook for the next fiscal year.
I will continue to update you as we have more information to share. We will also keep the COVID-19 website updated with answers to important questions. We have recently added more information about the use of our endowment and the distribution of CARES Act funds to students to the site.
This is a difficult time for all of us. It has asked each of us to make sacrifices in different ways, sacrifices that are not of our choosing. But while we cannot choose how this pandemic will impact us, we can choose how we respond. I have seen you respond already with resiliency in the face of heartbreak. I have seen you respond by strengthening your connections to each other as a class and to Holy Cross through the many ways that you continue to engage with us from your homes. And I have seen you respond with generosity of spirit and hope.
In one of her recent videos, Vice President and Dean Michele Murray talked about seeking and finding meaning in all that is happening in this moment. I realize that meaning is often hard to see while the losses are still being experienced. It typically takes time, perspective and a willingness to reflect deeply on life and its purpose to glean the gifts that losses offer. And to be clear, the gifts don’t make up for the losses, but losses themselves do make up a significant part of our identity as we mature. Obviously, how we engage and process our losses over time is critical so that we can let them add meaning and focus to our lives just as our achievements and blessings do. Empathy, compassion, humility, trust, patience, perspective, and hope are often blessings offered in times like these, times of sacrifices and loss. So, embrace this time to glean the gift that is being offered to you.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.