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The Path Forward, Fall 2020

President Katherine A. Rowe sent the following message to the campus community June 12, 2020. - Ed.

Dear Students, Faculty and Staff,

With gratitude for the incredible work of so many colleagues, I write to share William & Mary’s Path Forward for Fall 2020 and beyond. We are actively preparing for an in-person semester, consistent with Commonwealth public health guidelines for Virginia Higher Education.

Here are the headlines:

  • A&S Fall Semester will start early and end before Thanksgiving, with no fall break
  • The well-being of our community is paramount. We will systematically adapt campus, operations and curriculum to safeguard health
  • All William & Mary employees and every student choosing to attend this fall are expected fully to commit to these safeguards, out of respect for our close community of learning and work
  • We will offer flexibility for students, staff and faculty to have options – including a summer semester in 2021 – so that no student’s path through college is interrupted
  • We will emphasize wellness, equity and community: focusing on the elements of learning, working and campus life that matter most
  • A hallmark of the fall semester will be engaging the creativity of W&M students in pragmatic solutions to support our communities under pandemic

As the planning group evaluated W&M’s options for the fall, we thought hard about the reasons to return to on-campus teaching and learning. Ultimately, our mission calls us back. No single path or solution will meet the needs of all. Yet a return to campus speeds access to student learning and community, under pandemic, in numerous ways. Students are asking to return and we have heard them. 

Our plan’s governing themes are flexibility, safety, wellness, equity, collaboration, innovation and service. Implementation will be led and coordinated by Sam Jones, reporting to me in his new capacity as Director of W&M’s COVID-19 Coordination Team. Next week, Sam will share with campus further details of their work in the next few months.

I want to thank the 100+ colleagues who helped craft this plan. Five multidisciplinary teams from across W&M worked through a rapid design-thinking process in May and June 2020. We received input and feedback from the Board of Visitors; leaders of W&M’s faculty, staff and student assemblies; the Emergency Management team and the expanded Cabinet-Plus group of 70 colleagues from across the university driving our COVID-19 response. The result is a creative, feasible and mission-driven path forward.

Our plan aligns with the Commonwealth’s guidelines for university reopening and benefits from robust collaboration between the universities in the Virginia public higher education system, the Virginia Secretary of Education and the Virginia Department of Health. Uncertainty continues: the federal, state and local public health context may change. The president and senior leaders will ensure the campus is prepared to adapt as we need to.

Much work remains. We trust and empower our dedicated faculty and staff to realize this plan in ways consistent with their disciplines and schools, and with the best interests of our community in mind. And we trust in our students. Collaborations between staff, faculty, students and our surrounding community are the superpowers that have made W&M successful in the spring. These partnerships will continue to be essential going forward.

I am grateful to the W&M community for your patience, commitment and trust as we have worked through this planning process and as we embark upon an unprecedented year, with continuing pandemic conditions. Please send us your questions. Going forward, they will help us build FAQs. We aim to be as responsive as possible to the interests and concerns of our students, families, staff, faculty and neighbors.

Stay well,

– Katherine

Katherine A. Rowe