Dear Faculty and Staff,
I hope this finds you well as we move through our current academic term. In advance of Thursday’s President’s Forum, I wanted to share some updates on key areas of focus for the coming months, particularly our planning for fall 2021 and the development of our budget for fiscal year 2022 (FY22), which runs July 1, 2021–June 30, 2022. Much of this information is also being shared in a separate communication I am sending to our students and their families.
Most importantly, as we approach the one-year mark of going primarily virtual in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to express how grateful I am for all you are doing for our university, our mission and especially our students as we all navigate together these unprecedented times.
As we continue to monitor the course of the pandemic and follow public health guidance, our plan for the fall academic term is to return to a primarily in-person mode for both instruction and the student experience. After consulting with Academic Assembly and hearing from student government leaders, we have decided to begin the fall quarter as scheduled on Sept. 22, 2021, for undergraduate and graduate students, and the fall semester on Aug. 23, 2021, for law students. Following Thanksgiving, with few exceptions, undergraduate and graduate students will finish out the term virtually in order to minimize public health risks associated with traveling home and back to campus. The School of Law will share its plans in a separate communication with law students.
As for student housing, university-managed residence halls will return to double-occupancy rooms for the fall. (We do not anticipate offering triple-occupancy rooms, at least in the fall.) There will still be a need to continue setting aside some rooms for isolation and quarantine purposes.
Even as we prepare for a more traditional student experience next year, we are in the process of exploring some changes this spring that would allow students more opportunities for in-person classes and other activities. Public health guidelines are allowing for more flexibility in this regard and we are committed to working creatively to enhance our current students’ participation in the life of the university and with one another. As we move forward together, we will need everyone in our community to continue doing their part to support one another’s health and safety.
We will continue to update you on the university’s fall plans as they develop. All phases and aspects of our planning will continue to be informed by public health guidance as we prioritize above all else the health, safety and wellness of our campus community. This has been our commitment throughout the pandemic and one from which we will not waver.
Looking to the fall and beyond, Human Resources is now exploring a Workplace Flexible Schedule Program, which would encompass guidelines for more flexible work options for staff. COVID-19 has shown the opportunities as well as the challenges of remote work. These lessons will inform our planning for operations and staffing, not only for the fall but also for life after the pandemic. The program will focus on the well-being and success of our students, how our staff and faculty can best be cared for and supported, our ways of engagement as a community of colleagues and important compliance considerations.
At their meeting in February, Seattle University’s Board of Trustees approved parameters for the FY22 budget with decisions still to be made in areas such as compensation and fringe benefits. Much work remains before the preliminary budget is presented to the board for approval at their June meeting.
Recognizing that these are difficult financial times for many of our students and their families, the budget for FY22 sets tuition and fee increases at 2 percent—roughly half of the increases in recent years. In addition, we anticipate making further investments in financial aid for our students. It is important that we do everything we can to help keep the cost of an SU education within the reach of all students and families, particularly as we strive to be a truly inclusive university.
As we commit to a very modest increase in tuition and fees, our projections also include a slightly smaller undergraduate class due to the pandemic impact on our first-time-in-college and transfer student enrollment this past fall and a reasonable expectation that while the number of new students will increase in fall 2021, it will take another cycle to get them back to or above pre-COVID levels. The lower tuition increase, coupled with our projected undergraduate enrollment, means we, like most institutions, will need some baseline reductions. We recognize the challenges this presents given the financial repositioning that was already underway prior to the pandemic and, as such, our goal is to get to the lowest level of reductions needed.
We will continue to invest in those priorities that are most critical to supporting our students’ educational experience. The FY22 budget is being developed in alignment with our strategic directions and multi-year financial planning. A key component in all of this is supporting you, our faculty and staff. Challenged though we are by lower than usual revenue projections, we are committed to compensation increases and some restoration of retirement benefits. In the coming weeks as decisions are finalized, we will share more details with you on the FY22 budget.
For the current FY21 budget, we are on track to perform slightly better than budget due largely to winter and spring enrollment exceeding expectations and higher-than-expected savings from reduced travel expenses. We will be receiving additional COVID-related assistance from the federal government for institutional losses and direct student aid, and we are in the process of determining whether to use these one-time funds for FY21 or FY22. All of this provides some additional flexibility in our decision-making.
I look forward to discussing our fall plans and updating you on other important priorities, including the opening of the Jim and Janet Sinegal Center for Science and Innovation and the presidential transition at Thursday’s forum. (A recording will be available to those unable to attend.)
This past year has not been easy and I am deeply appreciative of all you have done, and continue to do, in order to deliver to our students the best possible educational experience and help us realize the strategic priorities we developed together. You, our faculty, have proven yourselves more than up to the challenges of the past year, consistently receiving high marks from students in surveys. These new ways of teaching that you have been making possible in a primarily virtual mode will serve us well as we transition to more in-person learning and activities in the fall. You, our staff, have been equally nimble in adapting and responding to our current reality while supporting the many ways in which we carry out our core educational mission. I continue to be impressed by the commitment, creativity and compassion of all of you. And while we will continue to be met with persisting and new challenges, you all give me hope for the future of this great institution. Thank you.
Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.