An Update on Fall '21

Monday, March 08, 2021
Dear campus community,
I write as we mark the one-year anniversary of teaching, learning and working mostly remotely. There is no way that I could have ever imagined this milestone when we announced on March 9th a suspension of in-person classes and – shortly after that – a call for shelter-in-place that would leave most of us working from home. In some ways, I still cannot believe what we have accomplished — and lost — over the last twelve months.
By any standard, the last year has been hard. I think particularly of those in the SF State family who have been sick or lost loved ones to COVID-19 and those for whom the economic toll of the pandemic has been painful. But I also think about all of us who have not been able to spend time with family and friends, who are living in isolation, who must balance work and caregiving roles, who have missed weddings and graduations and who miss the daily markers of a socially engaged life. But as I write this, I am optimistic. All SF State employees, including student assistants, are now eligible for the vaccine, and here in the Bay Area and across the state, the vaccine is increasingly available. President Biden has announced a goal of producing enough vaccines for all adults in the U.S. by the end of May. And, locally, experts from the University of California believe all University employees and students will have an opportunity to be vaccinated by June. This heralds well for the fall.
The growing availability of vaccines, the anticipated restoration of this year’s state budget cuts and the considerable investment of federal one-time funds for higher ed fills me with optimism. While much still remains unknown about fall 2021, I want to share our current planning assumptions. In the midst of a raging pandemic, our plans last spring and fall were driven solely by public health. As we pull ourselves out of this crisis and plan for the future, we need to balance multiple priorities:
  • The continued health of our community
  • Our educational mission—the impact of many months of remote learning on students
  • Our role as an engine of educational equity as students decline to attend or stop out 
  • The mental health of our students
  • Our institutional health as students decline to attend and enrollments decline
  • And, the social fabric of our community as we continue to work in isolation
Just months ago, the state and CSU budget looked dire, and we were in the midst of what I described at a recent open forum as budget armageddon. Last month’s surprise news about restoring the 2020-21 state budget allows us now to entirely rethink our planning. We are joyful that there will be no furloughs, no layoffs, and no additional draconian budget cuts. But our enrollments remain volatile, and we may see smaller pandemic-driven enrollments in fall.  The picture will be clearer by summer. But with the help of one-time federal funds, used in compliance with federal regulations, we can bridge a more modest University deficit and help Academic Affairs develop a multi-year strategy to bridge their budget gap. We are not talking about austerity but about making incremental changes in how we use our resources, how we schedule our classes and how we align our instructional budget with our enrollments. 
We all share the same priority--supporting our students by providing them with the classes and services they need to succeed and graduate by rebuilding our staff and by hiring faculty that meet our institutional commitments to equity and inclusion. By working hard, together, to retain continuing students and implement a strategic enrollment management plan to attract new students, we can build to a stronger future. I promise.
Our immediate focus is on fall semester. We have surveyed faculty. We have surveyed students. We have held Listening Sessions primarily composed of staff. And we have surveyed staff about fall 2021 planning.  Fall will certainly be a transitionary semester. Our goal remains unchanged—bring back as many students, and the faculty and staff needed to serve them, as we safely can. The data collected to date suggests that the majority of the University community, including continuing students, would prefer to remain remote or work partially on campus and partially remote. We will continue to listen to all of you and work with the San Francisco Department of Public Health to develop concrete plans for fall. Please bear with us—and continue to share your concerns and suggestions—as we work through the many complexities involved. We will soon update our Campus Plan information. A schedule of in-person classes for fall will be finalized in early May. Please keep an eye on the website for additional details as they become available.
On March 6, 2020, I attended our last large University event. Over 300 students, faculty, staff and administrators joined me in the Annex to have a conversation about our role as the City’s University and to chart a path toward strengthening that role. Yes, the pandemic threw us all an unexpected challenge. But our role and our future remain unchanged. We are The City’s University. We are key to the recovery of the city and the region. And we are well poised to meet that promise. So, as with the last year, buckle your belts. The path will be bumpy. But with our eyes on the horizon, we will get there.

Lynn's Signature

Lynn Mahoney, Ph.D.