August 20, 2020

Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,

I write you at the start of what will be a most unusual, intense and remarkable academic year in the history of Hobart and William Smith. We are embarking on a great social experiment, one that has required and will continue to require that we demonstrate flexibility, compassion and patience in the face of significant unknowns. The pandemic has already taken so much from so many of us, with lives lost and interrupted, and in order for us to open this fall, we had to ask our faculty, staff and students to adapt further. Courses, schedules and spaces have been reconfigured to allow us to teach and learn in ways that are sensible and safe. Although we must maintain physical distancing, do daily health checks, wear face coverings and follow enhanced hygiene and cleaning practices, we do so with the knowledge that these actions are the best-known ways for us to thwart the spread of the virus. I call upon our campus community to show caution and good judgment, to monitor their own behavior so as to protect the larger community, and to abide by the standards set forth in our reopening plan.

We enter the academic year following a summer of upheaval, anti-racist activism and a resounding call for change. This nation has seen sustained and powerful activism with millions of people working together to ensure that Black Lives do Matter. Here in Geneva, there has been a tremendous outpouring of support with multiple marches, protests, rallies and teach-ins – all impactful and peaceful. Demonstrations are just the start and we cannot allow the momentum to stultify. Instead, we must institute real change that will ensure that Hobart and William Smith becomes a place that lives up to its values. I’ve made this one of the priorities of the Colleges for the next year and beyond, and in partnership with our new Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Khuram Hussain, will do everything I can to create action and outcomes, including the implementation of key elements of the Strategic Diversity Plan. We must do this work together, and in solidarity with more than 30 Geneva community leaders we developed a statement, published in today’s Finger Lakes Times, denouncing violence, racism, misogyny and intolerance in all its forms and condemning any rhetoric that supports inequity. We will follow this action with inclusive and engaged dialogue among leaders in the Finger Lakes region. I am also pleased to announce that the Board of Trustees is creating a standing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, chaired by Trustee William T. Whitaker, Jr. ’73, L.H.D. ’97, 60 Minutes correspondent and Emmy Award winning journalist. No one will bring more urgency or seriousness to this work than Bill, and I’m thrilled he has agreed to lead it.

At a time when much of higher education is in crisis, we begin the fall semester with a balanced budget, without having had to resort to layoffs or to any permanent academic or athletic program cuts. This is a direct result of the sacrifices of our faculty and staff, who have taken temporary compensation decreases and furloughs, as well as the efforts of many across campus who have been working for the better part of the last six months to identify cost savings without decreasing our ability to provide a high quality education to our students. The faculty also rose to the occasion by developing a set of excellent Maymester and summer session remote learning courses that generated enough additional revenue to make it possible for us to maintain visiting faculty contracts in a number of areas of study. Our strategic planning efforts continue as we seek to build our financial and operational excellence, enhance the Colleges’ reputation, and increase academic effectiveness. In an effort to accelerate innovation even in a period of higher education retrenchment, this summer the Board of Trustees contributed from its ranks more than $1.5M to support several key projects outlined in the strategic plan. These include computer upgrades for faculty and staff, an overhaul of our website and other public facing resources, and addressing a number of significant information technology deficiencies across campus. Sincere thanks to all of our employees, donors and trustees who have stood by us duringannus horribilis 2020.

Just 75 days from today, our nation will make an important decision about its future. Under normal circumstances, a presidential election is cause for intense dialogue on campus. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and efforts around anti-racism, that dialogue will likely amplify. One of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education is a commitment to engaging deeply with seemingly intractable issues from multiple perspectives so as to imagine new and better ways forward. No matter what views you currently hold, I call on all of us to remember that what makes our education different is the way in which we interrogate issues, listen closely to others with respect for the individual, and express ourselves without fear of reprisal. We must continue these practices in earnest.

All of this – the pandemic, protests, state of the Colleges and presidential election – have led me to declare this our Year of Engagement. This will be a year of engaging with new ideas, communities, and urgent social problems, using the power of the liberal arts. To start this off, at first-year orientation today, I will be asking our newest students to engage with each other, with the campus community and with the Geneva community. Similarly, we should all endeavor to engage positively with one another and to help each other through these challenging times. More details on how you can engage with us, including via a series of webinars for alumni, alumnae and parents who are not able to join us on campus as frequently this year, will be released in the coming weeks.

With encouragement for the upcoming year and confidence in our future, I thank you for your support.


Joyce P. Jacobsen