Dear Campus Community:
Over the last two weeks, I have spoken with and heard from hundreds of students, and faculty and staff. No question has weighed on me more than the one almost all ask: What is our plan for fall? In the midst of unimaginable uncertainty, we want answers, we want stability and we desperately want a return to “normal.”
I know that many universities are waiting until mid-June to make announcements about fall. But I have heard from too many people anxious to plan for fall to delay making a decision. With the health of our students and employees uppermost in my mind, I have made the very hard decision to continue with predominantly remote instruction through the fall semester. We hope to be able to grant exceptions for a very small number of courses that require specialized in-person learning experiences and are necessary for student degree progress. We will work to accommodate students unable to participate in face-to-face instruction.
Please know that this decision is consistent with guidance issued by the California State University as a whole, as the Chancellor shared at this week’s CSU Board of Trustees meeting. Like all CSU campuses, we are planning for a semester that will be primarily virtual. Most academic disciplines will be exclusively virtual. We will also be prepared to go fully virtual if public health demands it.
I understand the news I share with you today will unleash a torrent of questions. Colleges, department chairs and faculty are working quickly to identify the small number of courses that may qualify for an exception. Students registered in these courses will receive detailed communications and guidance from their department chairs as soon as plans have been finalized. I will provide another update by the end of this month with additional details. I know that staff also have questions. Our goal for fall, with health and safety in mind, is to limit the number of people on campus to allow those who must be here to be here safely and allow others to continue working from home to limit their contact with others.
While San Francisco’s mitigation efforts have been successful to date, COVID-19 will be with us for many months. Public health officials have urged us all to continue to be vigilant. We remain vulnerable until better treatments are developed, a vaccine is created and the majority of people have acquired immunity. Experts from departments of public health, medical centers and research universities anticipate that we will have a second wave of illness in the mid- to late-fall. And if history is any indicator, it could be far worse than the wave we just experienced. We must remain cautious and assiduously follow health guidelines.
At this time, the ability to increase face-to-face contact requires not just face coverings and physical distancing. Opening businesses and schools will also necessitate acquiring quantities of personal protective and sanitizing equipment. It will require frequent testing, tracing and quarantining. It will require monitoring waste systems to see if there is live virus present. And, as we saw recently with cases at the White House, even the stringent use of all these measures is no guarantee.
What makes universities unique and wonderful places also makes them uniquely vulnerable to the spread of disease — ask any faculty member who has faced a class full of coughing students in January or any student who has lived in a densely populated residence hall. We thrive on social interaction, on working huddled closely around a table, in a studio or over a microscope. Mitigating a highly contagious disease under these circumstances is near impossible and would be prohibitively expensive — at a moment in which the governor of California has announced that the state faces a $54 billion deficit and all anticipate dramatic cuts in funding to the California State University system.
Please know that I make this decision with a heavy heart. I want nothing more than for us all to stay well and be together. The COVID-19 pandemic sadly, however, does not allow us to have both … for now. I promise you that this will end and that we will all return to campus. For now, though, we will focus our attention on perfecting remote learning, teaching and working. It will not be the same, but it will be good. And we will focus on our students and their degree progress. They must earn their degrees, and we must help them.
I remain so very grateful to be here and to serve as president of this incredible university. We have served as a model for higher education before, as home to the first College of Ethnic Studies, as a leader in the upward mobility of our graduates and as one of the most diverse universities in the U.S.
We can lead again now. We can be a model of a university that puts the public good first by protecting public health, by creating an excellent remote learning experience and by continuing to foster upward mobility for our students, their families and communities.
As always, I thank you for your patience and wish you good health.
Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.
San Francisco State University