Dear Faculty and Staff,
I thought it would be helpful to briefly update you on a few important items as we start the week. I continue to be grateful for all you are doing to care for one another, serve our students and make sure they continue their studies and educational experience during this difficult and uncertain time.
In spite of the coronavirus pandemic, Seattle U fared better than expected in terms of Spring Quarter retention and has done well in transitioning to a virtual environment. Your hard work and creativity have helped us lead the way in this new normal. Thank you.
I am writing to you at the start of a very important week. The week ahead includes the final Board meeting of the academic year and the implementation of some decisions I discussed in my April 16 message on our immediate financial challenges created by the pandemic and steps needed both now and in the months ahead to secure the university’s financial health and well-being.
Thursday, I will share with you the decisions I have made and referenced in the April 16 communication. The decisions are in response to the move to remote instruction, students no longer taking classes on campus and most no longer in our residence halls this spring, the $7 million in revenue losses we have experienced for Spring Quarter and the uncertainties surrounding Fall Quarter.
Our Board meeting has a number of items on the agenda. We will be asking the Board to review three financial planning scenarios for FY21 that prepare us for the range of possible impacts on the university’s finances. Much remains unknown about the fall and any economic recovery. The financial scenarios cover various possibilities. Based on its research, the American Council on Education estimates a national drop in fall enrollment of 15 percent across universities and colleges and 25 percent decline in international students. I am not asking the Board to approve the final FY21 budget until November, only the preliminary decisions we made regarding some necessary reductions in FY21—part of our prior work to reposition Seattle U financially and academically over the next five years, which needs to be accelerated because of the pandemic. I will share more with you on FY21 in May.
We also remain focused on scenario planning for the fall beyond the financial side. We hope our students will be able to return to campus then but even under such a scenario we will need to continue strict social distancing and safety measures for students and community members. The state of Washington and local officials have acted aggressively to help flatten the curve with extraordinary efforts from frontline health care workers and emergency responders. As Governor Inslee recently shared, the state is preparing to gradually begin lifting restrictions if the trend continues. The state is putting in place enhanced structures and systems for rapid testing, contact tracing and isolation and quarantining of individuals who could be transmitters of COVID-19. A number of areas of campus are working on our plans for re-opening the campus and the fall scenarios and more will be shared in the weeks ahead, including dates for making key decisions.
I hope this brief update is helpful. We continue to navigate this crisis together amid heightened uncertainty, as are all institutions. For all that you do and your care, patience and understanding, I remain ever grateful.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.