This message was emailed to the Bryn Mawr College community from President Kim Cassidy on March 20, 2020.
Dear Bryn Mawr Students, Faculty, and Staff:
It is with deep sadness that I write to share the decision that Bryn Mawr will extend remote learning and a modified calendar through the remainder of spring semester and not resume in-person classes. While this means we will not be able to hold Commencement ceremonies as planned, we are committed to making it possible for all students to complete the semester and for seniors to complete their final work. We have made this decision in consultation with the Board of Trustees and in collaboration with Haverford.
When Bryn Mawr (and Haverford and Swarthmore) announced on March 11 that we would deliver courses remotely through April 3, we had reason to believe that reducing in-person contact for a three-week period could be sufficient to disrupt the spread of COVID-19. As we have seen since, public health guidance has shifted substantially. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended no events for large groups through at least mid-May, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has closed schools and has ordered all non-life sustaining businesses to shut down. It has become increasingly clear that it is neither responsible nor realistic to plan on resuming in-person classes or events. Our highest priority must be to protect the health and well-being of members of the Bryn Mawr community. We also have a responsibility to contribute to the larger effort to slow the spread of the virus.
As I think of all of the important events and markers that accompany the last two months of the academic year—the plays and concerts to be performed, the presentations of final academic work, May Day, the annual book party for faculty authors, and so much more, I am keenly aware of how painful and disappointing this decision is to all members of the community. I know that we had hoped to come back to campus to finish our academic work in person. I am particularly saddened for our seniors, who have so looked forward to spending these last weeks together on campus and to celebrating their triumphs during Senior Week and Commencement.
I am especially sorry that we will not be able to hold Commencement ceremonies in their traditional form this year. We are exploring various ways to celebrate with and for the Class of 2020, including possibilities for distributed local events, a virtual ceremony, or inviting members of the class to a later in-person event. We will be asking seniors for input on what would be the most meaningful way to honor this class, which has contributed so much to Bryn Mawr during their years at the College.
With equal regret, the College will also cancel Reunion at the end of May. We will so miss seeing alumnae/i from the classes of 1940s to our most recent alumnae/i gather and reconnect with the people and places that had such an impact on their lives. We are working on alternative plans to celebrate with these classes.
At present no decisions have been made about summer programs abroad or on campus run by Bryn Mawr (i.e., Avignon, Ghana, Jordan, the Russian Language Institute, the Postbaccalaureate Program), about summer student research and internships, student work that ordinarily takes place on campus, or about summer conferences held on campus by outside groups. We will tackle these questions next.
I should note that our site visit for reaccreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education has also been postponed.
There are a number of practical questions that students in particular will have in light of this decision. I offer some initial information here.
- Students who have permission to remain on campus. Those who received permission to remain on campus may plan to remain until the end of the semester. You must continue social distancing, but do connect with friends and family via phone and digital tools. Any student who now wishes to depart from campus must notify Residential Life about their departure date as soon as possible. Because of the current orders in place for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, students who choose to depart campus may not return; it is a risk for the community to come and go.
- International students on campus. We know this is an especially challenging time for you, and that many may not be able to return home at the end of the semester. We will make every effort, in keeping with public health directives, to provide international students with access to on-campus summer housing and will help identify opportunities for work or study.
- U.S. students on campus who cannot return home in the summer. We also know that some U.S. students may be unable to return home in the summer. Again, we will make every effort, in keeping with public health directives, to provide access to on-campus housing and assistance in finding opportunities for work and study.
- Student belongings in dorm rooms. Due to current public health orders from Governor Wolf, students who are not on campus at present cannot return to retrieve their belongings now. When it becomes possible, Residential Life will provide a plan that allows students to return during a specific period to pack up their room. If students cannot come back to campus for other reasons, Residential Life will share options for shipping or summer storage.
- Room and board reimbursement. As our CFO Kari Fazio wrote to students on Tuesday, the Student Accounts Office will be reviewing accounts of those who have left on-campus housing to determine additional reimbursements for this remaining period. This process will take some time, so we ask for your patience.
- Grading. In light of the extraordinary circumstances under which classes are being conducted, we are initiating changes in the CR/NC policy and the Pass/Fail policy for this term.
- Undergraduate students will be allowed to choose to take one or more of their courses CR/NC in the spring of 2020, with a deadline of the end of the exam period to decide which courses will be CR/NC. There will be no limit to the number of CR/NC courses a student may take this semester, and these would not count as any of the four that students are allowed to elect over their four years. If a student elects to take a course CR/NC and the underlying grade is a merit grade, then the course can count towards the major.
- In addition, instructors will be allowed to decide and announce by April 1 that they will be grading one or more of their undergraduate courses Pass / Fail (where Pass = 1.0 - 4.0 and Fail = 0.0). If the professor elects to teach a course pass/fail, a student may count it towards the major or towards a graduation requirement as long as the student earns a Pass.
- Students, faculty, and staff travel. College-sponsored travel remains suspended until further notice.
- Summer housing. Because we have not made decisions about summer programming, we do not yet know what summer housing will be available beyond that offered to students who are not able to return home.
We are grateful for all that faculty and staff are doing to enable remote teaching and learning and to support our community. We will continue with our current approach to staffing and remote work at present, and we will re-evaluate each week as we get more information.
I know that there will be many more questions that surface as community members read this letter. We are working on FAQs that will be posted early next week and will continue to be updated. We also welcome any questions or concerns to be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will respond to these as quickly as we are able. I know that people are eager for communication, and we are trying to provide information in formal and informal ways through multiple channels. While you often are hearing from a single person on campus, based on what is most appropriate for each message, please know that many have contributed to that message and that we are coordinating information across offices.
I know that this is not the semester that any of us wanted or planned. I had hoped that I could send a very different message to you today. All of us in this community are having to make adjustments and address challenges that we have never faced before. For many, I know there is considerable hardship and worry. Against the backdrop of these difficulties, I have been inspired by the ingenuity and determination with which students, faculty, and staff are adapting to new forms of work, and by the support that we are giving one another (albeit at a distance or virtually). This creativity and commitment to each other are at the heart of the Bryn Mawr to which we aspire, and they strengthen our community, especially when we are not physically together. I wish you and members of your families good health, and I thank you for the ways you are responding to this unprecedented situation. And members of the Class of 2020: I look forward to celebrating you, your accomplishments, and your contributions to Bryn Mawr as soon as we are able.
With best wishes,