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COVID-19 Response and Recovery Update

Dear members of the Emerson community,

The COVID-19 pandemic, at home and abroad, has turned our way of life, established institutions, familiar ways of doing business and even our habitual way of knowing each other upside down. Yet, in the wake of this continued upheaval, I take great comfort and inspiration from our students, faculty, staff, and families—and the ways in which you have risen, with the creativity and ingenuity that only Emersonians can muster, to meet the challenges presented by this merciless pandemic.

The examples of this community’s generosity and resilience over the last few weeks are too many to name, but allow me to offer just a few. Students and faculty have adapted to our new normal with astounding speed and grace. Even amid the chaos of their last week on campus, a group of Emerson students in Assistant Professor Susan Althoff’s class quickly mobilized to write about the impact of the novel coronavirus for The Boston Globe Magazine. At home, students like Leah Thomas ’22, are adapting to our current learning environment by moving into monologues and one-on-one coaching over Zoom for Assistant Professor Lindsay Beamish’s Scene Study class. Professor Janet Kolodzy’s TV News Producing class, using nothing but their laptops, wrote, edited, organized, and produced a “live-to-tape” newscast from their homes in seven different states. Staff across multiple departments are delivering care packages for those members of our community who are recovering from COVID-19 in isolation, and more than 30 employees donated sick time to support colleagues in need of sick time to recover from COVID-19. And, to share and preserve the living history of our remarkable community during this crisis, our archivists are curating a new digital collection called Emerson Endures: Documenting Our Shared COVID-19 Experience.

A college is only as strong as its people, and Emersonians are indomitable. Today I write to update our community on how our College, as it has for the last 140 years, will endure and move boldly forward in these still uncertain times.

We have established a COVID-19 Response and Recovery Leadership Working Group.

For the foreseeable future, the President’s Council, including Shari Stier, Senior Associate Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer, will be reconstituted as the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Leadership Working Group. This group will evaluate the current and future financial impact of COVID-19 on the College and most immediately, determine the teaching and learning structure of the AY ’20–21 Fall Term as well as its concatenated impact on the AY ’20-21 Spring and Summer Terms including our Global Pathways programs. Our work will be humane, data-driven, and inclusive of student, faculty, and staff input.

Additionally, the Leadership Team will:

1.       Ensure that the health and safety of our faculty, staff and students is our utmost priority.

2.       Establish principles and values that inform the College’s response and recovery efforts.

3.       Create inclusive, humane, responsive and fiducially sound solutions.

4.       Identify and devise solutions to critical problems informed by pandemic epidemiology, health, safety, data and other relevant considerations.

We will be concluding soon a process to identify epidemiology experts to advise and support the work of the Leadership Team, particularly with regards to the Fall Term.

A smaller group of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Leadership Team will focus on fiscal and operating budgets, especially as they relate to teaching and learning, student and residential life, and staff: Lee Pelton, Anne Shaughnessy, Michaele Whelan, Paul Dworkis, Ruthanne Madsen, James Hoppe and Shari Stier. This group will be expanded to include faculty, students, and staff.

The Leadership Team will share regular updates with the Emerson community.

The Board of Trustees has established a corollary Trustee COVID-19 ad hoc committee to oversee and provide guidance on the work of the Leadership Team.

We plan to resume classes in Fall 2020.

The College is making every effort to resume classes on campus in the fall, while also safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our community. While the White House announced yesterday that governors could “call (their) own shots,” Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned that when it comes to safely reopening the economy, which of course includes higher education, “the virus will dictate.” With this in mind, the College is evaluating a multitude of possibilities across the academic and student life experience, including options for course offerings, scheduling, and delivery, as well as housing options for the Fall 2020 term and beyond. We know that our students and families want and need answers soon, and, as such, resolving this issue is among our highest priorities.

We will uphold the academic excellence and experiential learning that are the hallmarks of an Emerson education.

Wewill expand and stretch our creative boundaries as we innovate and reimagine the Emerson learning experience for these changing times. The scope of the pandemic’s impact has been disruptive, broad and deep. While it is certainly far-reaching, it is also unimaginable that complete restoration to life-before-COVID-19 will be achieved in a single year. It is my hope at Emerson and elsewhere that in our response and recovery endeavors, we will have the wisdom and courage, where we are able, to re-envision how we live, study, and work in exciting new ways. It is also my hope when the dark clouds of the hardships and heartbreak have faded away, a bright sun will illumine the endless possibilities of our commonwealth of learning.

With much gratitude for your commitment to the College,

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