Reopening Update: Decision on Fall Start, End Dates-A Message to Faculty and Staff

May 27, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff,

I hope this finds you healthy and well. Together, we have worked to successfully navigate, as well as possible, the immediate challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic in order for our students to continue their education and pursuit of their degrees. It is a significant accomplishment that has required an extraordinary level of flexibility and adaptability on the part of each of us.

A Jesuit education is about meeting students where they are through a highly personalized, values-based approach that is rooted in care, excellence and inclusion and I am most grateful to our faculty for demonstrating how this commitment sets us apart, regardless of the mode of delivery. It is a commitment that has been validated by the high level of satisfaction our students expressed in a recent survey on the transition to remote learning.

As we approach the conclusion of the spring quarter, I am writing to update you on our plans for reopening and the return of students to campus this fall, with a modified structure of in-person classes and learning experiences supported by a mix of hybrid and virtual instruction.

Our first priority will continue to be the health, safety and well-being of all members of our campus community. Caring for one another is a part of who we are and will continue to be central to our decision making. We are carefully considering accommodations to help protect our most at-risk and vulnerable community members and their families, as well as to serve students who may need to be in isolation or quarantine. We must also be mindful of our responsibility to the wider community and as society reopens to the new normal, we must all work to manage and minimize the risks of COVID-19 while treatments are being developed to reduce its severity and duration and we await a widely available vaccine.

More details about our ongoing planning will be shared later in June. For now, I want to share that we have made the decision to move the start of fall quarter forward two weeks to begin on Wednesday, September 9, and end before Thanksgiving on Tuesday, November 24. (The School of Law, which is on a semester system, will start as scheduled on August 24 and end on November 25.) While we considered the possibility of including Saturday as a regular day of instruction, we decided not to pursue this given the significant concern expressed in the recent survey of faculty and staff.

By moving up the start and conclusion of our fall term we seek to significantly reduce the number of students needing to travel back and forth in November and December and being exposed to and potentially spreading infectious diseases like the flu and COVID-19.

We also recognize that these adjustments to the academic calendar have impacts on faculty and staff and I want you to know that we are looking at how best to address the impacts on you.

All our planning is being carried out consistent with Governor Inslee’s Safe Start plan for reopening the state of Washington and public health guidance from the CDC, state and county, including guidance specific to higher education. Washington state has acted based on science and data throughout the crisis and has emphasized it will continue doing so in seeking to strike the right balance with a phased and gradual approach for reopening. It is a path Seattle University will continue to follow and adhere to closely. We anticipate most faculty and staff will continue working entirely remotely for several more weeks and more will be shared with you on planning around how we will move forward in this regard in a separate communication today.

Let me reiterate that we are preparing for whatever the scenario. There remains a high degree of uncertainty and unpredictability about the virus. This temporary situation requires flexibility, nimbleness, creativity and innovative approaches. If we need to again transition to fully virtual instruction due to a resurgence of COVID-19, we will adapt as necessary.

University planning teams are making good progress on our reopening plan for de-densifying campus, implementing physical distancing, enhanced safety measures (e.g., PPE, face coverings, additional hand sanitizing stations, frequent cleaning and disinfecting) and protocols for screening, testing, tracing, isolation and quarantine. We look forward to sharing more in our June update about how we are modifying classrooms, residential halls, dining areas and campus gathering spaces to enforce distancing, limit capacity and create lower density environments. Not an easy task but we will get it done.

A recent Zoom conversation I participated in with students underscored for me how much they are missed. This has been a beautiful spring season on campus and in Seattle. While the usual uplifting sounds and scenes of a vibrant and lively campus filled with students are temporarily absent, I find hope and promise in what is to come as we prepare for their return this fall, construction continues on the new Center for Science and Innovation and the many ways in which you are caring for one another during this time. With the spring quarter nearing its end, I also hope you will join in the series of initiatives to virtually celebrate our 2020 graduates in June, while looking forward to their rescheduled in-person commencement this October.

Thank you for your adaptability, patience and understanding. Please know that you and your loved ones are in my prayers and have my best wishes.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.