April 27, 2020
Dear Members of the Hobart and William Smith Community,
I write to you with updates as we continue in this time between times, with fervent hopes both that the stay-at-home orders will be safely lifted on schedule, but also that any further outbreaks of COVID-19 will be minor and controllable. Faculty, staff and students alike are eyeing the end of the term, no doubt with even more enthusiasm than usual, as we enter the last week of our forced experiment in providing classes using a remote learning model. I have been so impressed throughout the past two months with how everyone in our community has pulled together to get through this crisis. That was especially evident in the outpouring of support our students received from alums, parents, faculty and staff who donated to the Student Emergency Fund and the many who are contributing directly to financial aid through the Annual Fund – Thank you!
There have been many opportunities for our community to reflect on positivity amid this pandemic: admiring the ingenuity and flexibility of our faculty and staff as they pivoted in just one week to a brand new paradigm of instruction; seeing our students adapt with their trademark curiosity and resourcefulness to new models of collaboration; working with the local community to help provide meals to those most vulnerable; showing support for health-care workers and first responders; and learning of the bravery and resourcefulness of our alums and parents who are on the literal front lines of COVID-19. In many ways, the pandemic has underscored our values and inspired us all to be our best selves as we seek to help one another.
The Colleges held their spring trustees meeting last Friday, using Zoom. While it was sad not to be able to welcome our trustees to campus, we were able to conduct important business, including numerous matters of governance. Craig Stine ’81, P’17 was elected as the next Board Chair, starting July 1, and I have been working with him already on a number of projects where I have appreciated his perspective as an alumnus, parent and leader in the financial sector. Current Chair Thomas Bozzuto ’68, L.H.D. ’18 has served the Colleges for many years with integrity and deep loyalty to this alma mater, and I owe him a huge debt of personal thanks for staying on for a fourth year to help me transition to the presidency. Cynthia Gelsthorpe Fish ’82, Chip Carver ’81, and J.B. Robinson ’96 have agreed to continue in their roles as Vice-Chair, Treasurer and Secretary respectively, and Albright Dwarka ’21 and Audrey Platt ’21 move into their roles as the senior student trustees. I am especially excited to announce that Dr. Margueritte Murphy, a friend to many of you from her years as a member of the Colleges’ faculty, will be joining the Board of Trustees to provide important expertise from her years in higher education. I am deeply thankful to all the returning and departing trustees for their service to the Colleges.
The Board also endorsed the strategic plan that I had presented to them, “Advancing Hobart and William Smith: The Strategic Direction,” together with all processes and procedures for the execution of the plan. Thanks to the many of you who sent me comments on the draft version of the plan, many of which influenced the final version that is now on our website. Even at times of short-run challenge, it is important to keep our view firmly on the Colleges’ future.
Meanwhile, the Colleges have convened several contingency planning task forces that are working in concert on a range of logistical and financial considerations for the fall semester and beyond. The goals are to open safely this fall and to assist with mitigation of the costs that the pandemic has caused our students and their families to incur, while also dealing responsibly with the financial implications that it has had and will continue to have, for the Colleges. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to consult with internal constituencies and external groups, including numerous peer colleges and universities in the region, state and nation, on how to proceed regarding reopening the campus. We will announce our plans when we have reached the right balance between gaining more information and certainty through waiting, and people’s need to know for planning purposes.
We also continue to weigh options for when to hold an in-person Commencement celebration for the Classes of 2020, and will make that announcement in early June. I’m very much looking forward to the moment when I can congratulate each member of these Classes in person for all they have accomplished in extraordinary circumstances.
My hope is that you and your loved ones stay safe and well during these challenging times. We will come out of the other side of this ordeal stronger for what we have learned about dealing with adversity, both personal and societal.
Joyce P. Jacobsen