September 3, 2020
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
This week marks the launch of a new academic year, a historic year, with faculty, students, and staff participating in classes, meetings, and activities from both on-campus settings and remote locations across the region, across the country, and across the world. Honestly, it feels like a small miracle to have reached this point. To restart this fall in the midst of a pandemic represents a monumental achievement—perhaps the most remarkable feat of institutional reimagining we have ever known.
Among the noteworthy accomplishments: We entered into a partnership with Hartford HealthCare to enhance and integrate medical services across the College. We opened our own COVID-19 testing center and, in a little over two weeks, successfully tested almost 4,500 individuals studying and working on campus. We developed an entirely new online orientation to launch the 13 new transfers and the 437 members of the extraordinary Class of 2024, before welcoming them in a special live-streamed event. We created new signage and messaging to support everyone’s safety and reorganized our dining operation into a convenient takeout service. We redesigned cleaning protocols in residence halls and public spaces; rearranged classrooms and residences for social distancing; installed tents across campus for informal teaching and gathering; and enhanced our green spaces with new plantings and dozens of new Adirondack chairs so more students can enjoy the expansive lawns of Tempel Green. Even more critically, we reimagined our entire academic schedule as a flexible mix of in-person, remote, and hybrid courses, then developed new tools and technology infrastructure to support that vision. We reorganized our athletic program for a year in which NESCAC competition will be curtailed. Finally and most importantly, we held two online summits to advance the campus dialogue about our institutional commitments to full participation and anti-racist education, not just to improve our own environment but also to give our students the critical perspective they need to change the world.
All this was accomplished in a summer like no other—or, more accurately, in one continuous push from mid-May to the first week of September. We could never have pulled it off without the steadfast commitment of staff and faculty across every division of the College, working both here and remotely, including those in admission and financial aid who brought in a first-year class overwhelmingly claiming Connecticut College as their first choice. There were students, too, who joined faculty and staff in our integrated working groups and met throughout the summer to consider every detail of our operations. I want to thank all of you for your excellence, your inspiration, and your dedication to this College.
The Year Ahead
A primary goal for the coming year is now to execute on these carefully laid plans: in short, to complete a successful and healthy fall semester and then repeat that success in the spring. If all continues to go well, onboarding quarantine for students will end and in-person classes will begin Sept. 11. The learning experience of the coming weeks will, in turn, inform the faculty’s deliberation about the spring. As before, you will find all important decisions about spring 2021 on our Path Forward website.
Building on Strength
Thankfully, not all our planning this year will be around COVID-19. One of the most important lessons learned in the last six months has been how quickly, as a College, we were able to reimagine our work. Many of the innovations that we needed for the new remote teaching and learning environment have proved valuable, and colleagues across campus are now thinking about how to leverage them in the future.
The rethinking is timely. Our strategic plan, Building on Strength, released four years ago in fall 2016, drew on the collective wisdom of the College community in order to guide decisions and actions for the next ten years. I invite you to read the most recent progress report for the academic year 2019-20. The plan is now entering its fifth year—the halfway point—and so it is fitting that we take a moment to review goals and progress to see how they have evolved.
We will do that as a community this year, working through our major governance committees and with our Board of Trustees. You will receive more information later this month. Two very thoughtful reports I received over the summer—from the Priorities, Planning, and Budget Committee and from the special working group on Study Away—offer ideas and recommendations that will be helpful to this review process, especially as they relate to specific goals within the strategic plan.
One of the major projects called for in Building on Strength is the revitalization of Palmer Auditorium, to advance the College’s distinction in the creative and performing arts. Funds were raised for this project in 2018; architectural plans completed in 2019; and construction commenced in June 2020 with A/Z Corporation. Those of you who are on campus can see the work now underway on the building’s exterior. The project is scheduled to be complete by fall 2021. We are so fortunate that Jim Norton, former director of facilities management at Connecticut College, has agreed to come out of retirement to help us oversee this historically informed renovation.
The funds for the renovation were raised as part of the comprehensive campaign for Conn launched in fall 2017. Over the last three years we have made good progress on our campaign goals. Even with the economic challenges brought on by COVID-19, our community remained steadfast in its philanthropic support last year, helping us reach a $6M annual fund goal to ensure a balanced budget at year’s end. The campaign raised $14M in new gifts and commitments in 2019-20, bringing its three-year cumulative total to nearly $128M. The coming year includes an even more ambitious goal.
To conclude, I want to announce a few opportunities for the campus to come together in the coming weeks. The first is the visit of Joy Harjo, author of Crazy Brave, the beautiful memoir assigned to our incoming students this year. She will be with us on Monday, Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. EST as part of our annual collaboration with the One Book One Region program. You may register for the virtual event here.
Second, because of the required quarantine, our opening-of-school Convocation could not take place as in previous years. Sunday’s welcome event for new students fulfilled the function in part. But we would like to hold this important ritual later in the fall. The date we are saving is Thursday, Oct. 1, just before our virtual Fall Weekend. You will be receiving more information about this event soon.
Third, I want to remind you that our second annual All-College Symposium will take place in a new online format this year, on Friday, Nov. 6, 2020. Please mark your calendars to be inspired as you witness our students demonstrating how they have learned to put the liberal arts into action.
I look forward to seeing all of you in the coming weeks either online or on campus. In the meantime, I wish you a healthy and successful start to this historic new year.