Update on Planning for Summer Operations and Fall Reopening

May 4, 2020

Dear Faculty and Staff,

I am writing to follow up on my announcement last week that we hope and intend to reopen this fall for the return of students, with a likely mix of in-person and virtual classes, and to discuss the anticipated gradual restart of campus operations later this summer.

Seattle University will continue to follow state directives and public health guidance as we make decisions based on the best available information in this evolving and uncertain situation. The health, safety and well-being of our campus community, as well as doing our part to support public health efforts in addressing the coronavirus pandemic, must remain our highest priority as we consider how to restart campus operations later this summer and reopen in the fall. We know the delivery of our education and student experience and our campus operations will not return to the way things were for some time and not before a vaccine is widely available.

I am most grateful for our community members in critical positions who continue working on campus at this time and I appreciate the ways in which faculty and staff as a whole have adapted to our remote learning environment under extraordinarily challenging circumstances, both personally and professionally.

Restarting Campus Operations

On Friday, Governor Inslee announced the extension of the state’s stay-at-home order through May 31. The gradual lifting of a limited number of restrictions in Phase 1 is set to begin tomorrow as part of a four-phased approach to reopening the state. The governor reiterated that decisions will be guided by the science and data and that each phase depends upon the ability to continue the gains made to flatten the curve and have in place social distancing and comprehensive testing, tracing and isolation measures. A minimum of three weeks between the implementation of each phase is expected.

The restart of campus operations will likewise be gradual and not happen all at once. We know it may be sometime later in summer and, whenever it is, we will need to approach it in a phased and deliberate manner. There are many considerations to take into account, including the challenges and concerns of community members at higher risk and the needs of those with children or other family members at home. Some community members will need to continue working remotely even as we restart operations. Social distancing and other safety measures will have to be implemented in all areas and aspects of operations and remain in place for an extended period of time. You can expect to hear more from the university and your area as the process for restarting operations draws closer.

Reopening in the Fall for the Return of Students 

Reopening in the fall involves many complex issues to address, including issues of health and safety, academic continuity, de-densification and housing, to name a few. We are not opening back up to the way things were and you can expect things to look different when we do. The process is being overseen by the 10-member Presidential Task Force on Reopening Fall 2020, co-chaired by Provost Shane Martin and Executive Vice President Tim Leary. We will consult with faculty and staff to help in this process and encourage you to share your insights, concerns and expertise. Of particular importance will be the need to identify and have in place robust health and safety measures for physical distancing and testing, tracing and isolation that closely follow and align with public health guidance. Protecting more vulnerable community members and enhanced sanitation and protective protocols, including the use of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves, will be top priorities.

These health and safety measures will define and determine how we address the range of issues, including the schedule, mix and size of classes, the number and living arrangements of students in residential halls, our campus dining services, recreation and fitness operations, events and gatherings, building access and community-engaged learning opportunities. We will have to remain flexible and be well prepared for any resurgence of the virus in the fall and recognize every step of the way that we will only move forward if we can do so safely, according to state directives and public health guidance. Washington state has responded with great success in no small part because of Seattle’s first-rate, high-quality health care infrastructure, our heroic frontline workers and responders who are some of the very best in their field and the state’s commitment to be guided by the science and data.

While much uncertainty remains at this time, I want to be clear that our planning and decisions will be guided by the health and well-being of our community members and that whatever course of action we take, we will move forward together in support of and in service to our students, university and mission.

Please know that you have my continued gratitude for all that you are doing and that each of you, our students and alumni remain in my prayers.


Stephen V. Sundborg, S.J.