April 29, 2020
Dear Washington University Students,
This has been an historic and unprecedented end to the 2020 spring semester at Washington University. We hope all of you continue to be safe and well, and that you are in the process of completing your final spring assignments and preparing for the summer ahead. We miss all of you terribly – the campus is not the same without you around!
I am writing today to share several updates, as it has been a few weeks since my last communication. Please know that while there is still a great deal of uncertainty about the fall, we are working diligently here in St. Louis to develop plans that are flexible and aimed at containing the further spread of COVID-19 as the campus prepares to reopen.
To our graduates, you are almost to the finish line! In a few short days, most of you will have finished your degree requirements. Let me be among the first to share my congratulations! As the Chancellor communicated previously, we all were devastated to lose the opportunity to celebrate your graduation with you in-person on May 15 as we had planned. But a committee, led by Chancellor Emeritus Mark Wrighton, has been working hard to develop plans for an alternate, in-person Commencement celebration for you and your families that will take place at a time in the future when we can celebrate safely together. Taylor Chen, our senior class president, and several other students have been a part of that committee and we are hoping to announce our plans very soon. As a WashU graduate myself, please know how proud and honored I am that I will soon be able to call so many of you my fellow Washington University alumni. Go Bears!
Plans for the Fall Semester
We know all of you are eager to return to campus and we are eager to have you back! I am serving on the Chancellor’s Fall Contingency Planning Committee that is working to develop our plans for next year. We will definitely have a fall semester but it is still not determined yet whether we will start classes on August 24 in person as we have planned, or if we will adjust our start time or how we deliver instruction. For an institution like Washington University, our strong preference is to have an “in person” experience, where students, faculty, and staff can be together on campus as a full community. However, we may need to make some changes for the fall to make sure we can provide the great experience and education we know all of you expect from WashU, as safely as possible. We also know that you and your families want to plan for the fall semester soon, so the Fall Contingency Planning Committee is working toward making decisions about the fall semester as early in the summer as possible and practical.
Belongings in the Residence Halls
We know that we still have many students with belongings in our Office of Residential Life managed properties on- and off-campus. We cannot yet allow students to return to St. Louis to retrieve their belongings, as St. Louis County and St. Louis City remain under “stay at home” orders. However, we are working toward several options for reuniting you with your possessions that we hope to announce in the next month. We know these plans have changed since we first communicated with all of you in March, so we appreciate your patience as our plans have evolved to likely include:
- Setting windows of time this summer where students can register to return to campus in a safe and orderly fashion to pack their rooms, retrieve their vehicles, and return home. We will do this once public health officials in both St. Louis and at Washington University provide us with guidance that we can begin this process. We will provide guidelines for those returning to campus to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 and keep you and our community safe.
- Providing convenient storage options here in St. Louis for students who want to store their belongings here rather than take them home.
- For those unable to travel to St. Louis to retrieve their belongings, providing the option of having their belongings packed, shipped, or stored.
As soon as we receive clearance from local officials that it is safe to begin this process, the Office of Residential Life will contact all students living in Residential Life housing with dates and additional details.
Financial Impacts to the University
As some of you may have heard recently, universities around the country – including WashU – are facing serious financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The costs associated with the shortened spring semester, the cancellation of in-person spring and summer programs, the dramatic reduction of clinical revenue on the Medical Campus, and the increased technology costs related to providing online instruction and transitioning to remote business operations have all put a strain on our resources. Across the entire University, we are making difficult financial decisions to ensure that we can continue to support our students, faculty, and staff now and when we all return to campus together. One of our most difficult decisions this week was to temporarily furlough approximately half of our Student Affairs team whose work on campus has been substantially reduced as a result of the current situation. Furloughing members of our team through the summer provides them continued access to their WashU employee benefits as well as unemployment compensation from the State of Missouri and the federal government. Even though some of our team members are not available over the summer, we want to make sure you know we are still here for you if you have questions or need support. As we plan for your return to campus, our priorities remain clear – we will continue to provide an outstanding experience for all current and future WashU students.
We know this pandemic has changed the lives of everyone in our WashU family. The uncertainty about our future, the collective anxiety we face, and loss of in-person relationships we all cherish is hard. We want you to know we are here for you if you need us. If you are facing continued financial challenges as a result of the pandemic, we encourage you to reach out to your counselor in Student Financial Services. If you need to speak to someone from WashU Cares, our mental health team at Habif Health and Wellness Center, or would like a referral to someone in your home community, we are here to help. Additionally, please know that the resources we are providing in these areas are being adjusted based on current demand for service. Should students’ need for service increase beyond the capacity of those we have retained, we will bring other staff back to work with you. Some useful resources and tips are available from the Habif Health and Wellness Center team here.
Please know we are thinking about all of you and your families every day. It is the anticipation of being back together as a WashU Family later this year, and celebrating Commencement with the Class of 2020 that keeps us going, brings us hope and inspires us to work harder to meet these important goals. Please let us know if you need us, keep in touch, and stay tuned for more news soon.
Interim Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs (effective June 1, 2020)