Update from President Casey

Back to Updates & Messages: COVID-19

Dear Colgate Community,

I write this letter as we face an unprecedented challenge in Colgate’s, and the nation’s history. As you know, in short order and in response to rising health concerns we had to empty our campus in March. Over the course of just a few days, faculty converted all of their classes into a remote-instruction format. Athletics competitions ceased. And the rituals that mark our year—the Academic Awards Convocation, Baccalaureate, Commencement, and Reunion—all were cancelled or postponed. We no longer saw each other on the quadrangles or in our residences. We missed the day-to-day routine of life on this campus and the other aspects that make Colgate both special and unique. And all of this occurred as we entered a deeply uncertain time.

I want to acknowledge how challenging this period has been for the Colgate community and the Village of Hamilton, and, I want to thank everyone on this campus and beyond for their resilience, creativity, and efforts. I also want to take an opportunity to outline the plans for our University’s future. 

Over the past several weeks, Colgate administrators, faculty, staff, and trustees have been preparing for the coming fall semester and the 2020-21 academic year. Colgate offers an exceptional and distinctive face-to-face liberal arts education for all of our students, consistent with our long-standing value as a residential college. Our goal, in all of our planning efforts, has been to continue our teaching and research mission at the highest level during this crisis, while ensuring the health and safety of every member of our community. Our commitment to returning to face-to-face instruction in conditions that promote the well-being of all members of our community might call for new patterns and a high degree of flexibility, but the safe return to this form of education is paramount to the University.

To that end, it is very important to state, confidently, that Colgate will begin instruction for the fall semester on the date long-planned to begin the academic year: August 27, 2020. Our faculty have been working extremely hard, even while finishing classes during the end of this spring semester, to develop an academic calendar that will provide increased flexibility for our students as we all navigate a complex, and ever-changing, national and global crisis. Our staff are devoting equally long days to ensuring that the out-of-class experience will remain strong and supportive of students’ academic success.

In short order, all Colgate students will receive detailed information from the Dean of the Faculty and the Dean of the College regarding new academic policies and practices that will allow Colgate to respond carefully and well to potentially changing conditions. Among the highlights of these new policies are the following:

First, we need to be prepared for the possibility that the effects of this virus may impede the ability of some students and professors to be present in the classroom (or in online classroom sessions) or to carry out their responsibilities as teachers and learners for extended periods of time. To minimize the effects of such disruptions, most Colgate courses this next academic year will be structured so that there are two grading periods: grading period A (August-October) and grading period B (October-December). Each of the two periods will have similar demands in terms of workload, structures of evaluation, final assessments, and the like. This format will allow greater flexibility as we move forward, and could offer multiple scenarios for tailoring instruction to best adhere to federal and state guidelines for gatherings and social distancing. 

Next, we are adding two new instructional periods to the Colgate academic calendar. The first two weeks of January will be the first of these new instructional periods, providing students an opportunity to reclaim elements of the fall semester that might have been lost due to COVID-19. Colgate will also add to its calendar a new June term. Students who encountered any COVID-19-related setbacks during the academic year will be able to take a single course in an intense block system. There will not be any additional tuition fees for these two instructional periods and any courses taken will offer the credit they would normally carry during a normal full semester. In this way, students who encounter setbacks during the regular semesters can continue working toward their graduation requirements.

We also want to restore the full array of our residential programs as soon as we safely can. The combination of academic engagement with the co-curricular life is what makes our form of education so powerful. It is what makes Colgate, Colgate. 

Currently, we cannot be certain as to the trajectory of this pandemic. When and how we can safely return to our classrooms, residence halls and other campus facilities will depend on the status of the pandemic and the strategies and guidelines that have been put into place, both locally and nationally, to mitigate the effects of the virus and our ability to apply these to measures to our community and on our campus.

To that end, I have created a Task Force on the Reopening of the Colgate Campus, to be chaired by Dean of the College Paul McLoughlin and Associate Professor of Biology Geoff Holm, to develop clear guidelines for the reopening of the campus in ways that ensure the health and safety of our community. I have asked this Task Force to carefully consider all health and safety guidelines developed by the State of New York and the Center for Disease Control and to consider how such guidelines can be applied to University. I have asked this committee to offer recommendations so that we can announce how we will engage in instruction in the fall semester no later than June 30.

While it is surely everyone’s wish that quick and accurate testing and anti-viral remedies will allow for us to be, again, fully residential by the fall, we have to prepare for the possibility that some or all of our instruction in the fall semester will be conducted remotely. Some Colgate students might not be able to return to the campus as the semester begins. State guidelines might prevent us from having large lecture classes. The state of the pandemic might require remote instruction to be carried on by all or a portion of the semester. We simply do not have enough information to be sure at this time.

To best prepare for the possibility that some of our instruction will not take place face-to-face in our classrooms, I have formed a second group, The Task Force on Remote Instruction, to help guide us in ensuring that all Colgate instruction meets our highest academic standards. I have asked this group to consider those teaching platforms, techniques and engagement approaches that will enable us to provide courses, in any format, that are challenging, engaging, and rich. We have allocated considerable new resources to this important effort. 

Due to sweeping economic disruption globally, we also expect that more students will need financial aid in the next academic year. In planning for this need, Colgate has set aside significant additional funds for financial aid. Through this increased investment, Colgate will again be able to meet the full demonstrated need of all enrolled students. Further, Colgate remains committed to eliminating federal loans from financial aid offers for all current and incoming students with a total family income of up to $125,000.

We have developed financial scenarios that will help guide us through all the possibilities we face. We will face some difficult choices ahead, but I remain firmly convinced that we will weather this storm and its financial impact in ways that will allow us to teach well, support our faculty and staff, and preserve those essential characteristics that have made this University a standard bearer in American higher education. We have faced adversity before. But in every instance we have stayed true to our mission, and that fidelity to our highest aims has served Colgate well. It will continue to do so.

We know that every one of our students, faculty members, and staff colleagues have been impacted by COVID-19. If we continue to support one another in the ways that we always have— with caring, compassion, and kindness -- we will emerge with the hallmarks of the Colgate education intact and with a greater appreciation for the education we offer. With this in mind, the challenges in the weeks and months ahead will be addressed in a way worthy of our collective efforts and of this esteemed University.


Brian W. Casey