Update from Deans Keen and Martinez
May 4, 2020
Dear Hamilton Community,
Usually at this time of year we’d be attending senior project presentations, arts and theatre performances, athletic events, and other programs that mark the end of the academic year. The campus would be bustling with students completing papers and preparing for finals, eating on the patio outside of Commons, tossing Frisbees on Dunham Green, and lounging in Adirondack chairs on a sunny afternoon. We miss these opportunities to interact with students – as well as our faculty and staff colleagues – and to experience in person the ways in which a semester or more of student academic work and extracurricular activity come together in the final weeks.
We remain focused on attending to traditional year-end projects, even though we are not together on the Hill. In addition to our typical administrative work, we’re collaborating with colleagues on operating plans for summer and fall, based on what we know, and contingency plans to account for what we cannot know now. During the past 10 days we’ve held virtual forums for students admitted to the Class of 2024, as well as online sessions for staff, faculty, and current students. Many of you have shared similar questions and concerns:
Collecting student belongings. This week students will receive an email asking whether they would like to clean out their own rooms or have the College pack up their belongings and store, or ship, the boxes. Here in New York State, the governor’s PAUSE order remains in effect until May 15, and we do not yet know whether it will be extended. Once the restriction has been lifted, we will communicate a specific timeline for reuniting students with their belongings.
Celebrating seniors. We surveyed seniors about how they wish to celebrate Commencement and, overwhelmingly, they said they want to reunite where their Hamilton journey started – on College Hill. President Wippman promised to arrange an in-person Commencement once it is safe to do so, but we’ve also planned a virtual ceremony on May 24 to acknowledge seniors’ successful completion of their Hamilton degree. We’re even sending every senior their graduation caps and tassels, along with a small image of the bronze map on Martin’s Way that they can step on – after the May 24 ceremony, of course.
Summer and fall operations. As President Wippman conveyed in his message on April 25, we are working hard to prepare for an on-time, on-campus start in August, if we can do that safely, but it’s too early to know. We hope to begin bringing back staff this summer when stay-at-home restrictions expire, but for now the College remains in Minimal Operations status. Hamilton’s COVID-19 Task Force is developing plans to move back to Reduced Operations, then Normal Operations. The College is eager to host alumni, prospective students, and other guests when it is deemed safe by health officials. All plans will consider precautions for anyone in our community considered vulnerable.
Academic continuity. The Academic Continuity Advisory Group was tasked by President Wippman with studying options for fulfilling Hamilton’s academic mission in widely different scenarios not under our control. For each scenario, committee members have assessed major implications, not only for delivering the curriculum, but for athletics and financial aid, and each scenario has been annotated with a list of governing authorities to be consulted if necessary. These authorities include major elected committees of the faculty. The Academic Continuity Advisory Group urges faculty members to plan for flexible pedagogy, including hybrid and blended learning, modular course construction, and take-home plans in case we have to turn once again to remote instruction. If the College needs to pivot again due to a resurgence of COVID-19, we’ll be better prepared to support students’ continuation toward on-time completion of their degrees. So far, the College has not made any changes to the Leave of Absence policy for students; requests are being considered on a case-by-case basis.
College finances. Fortunately, through generous philanthropic support and prudent fiscal management, Hamilton is positioned better than most colleges to face this unprecedented challenge. Nevertheless, all three of the College’s major sources of revenue – tuition, income earned from the endowment, and fundraising – may come under considerable strain, and we do not know how long that might last.
The College will continue careful budget and investment management in order to preserve its employment base and its commitment to generous financial aid for as long as possible. Campus construction projects are on hold, potentially for a full year, but the College may need to invest further in support systems such as the health center.
This week the senior staff looks forward to online town hall events with current parents and alumni. We welcome your questions in advance or during the second half of the live event.
We hope you and your family are safe and well,
Suzanne Keen, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty
Terry Martinez, Vice President and Dean of Students