June 12, 2020
Dear Reed faculty and staff,
I write to share progress on Reed’s planning for the fall semester and to let you know that we are on track to announce our decision by June 30. One thousand eighty-two faculty, staff, students, and family members completed the COVID-19 survey. The insightful feedback and input is invaluable for our planning efforts. I received preliminary reports from the working groups on June 8. It is clear that they have carefully considered results from the survey and focus groups, consulted expert advice, and are making recommendations as new information and guidance becomes available.
What is next? During the week of June 22, I will discuss recommendations with the board of trustees. There is a great deal to cover, but I am confident that the time we are taking to consider all perspectives and options will result in an announcement by the end of June.
I want to acknowledge the concerns many of us feel during this time of enormous complexity as we confront the pandemic, seek to combat anti-blackness, and grapple with our individual worries about the future. I am mindful that Reed is a cause, a home, a laboratory, a studio, an employer, and especially a critical stage for students as they make their way forward in their lives. Each of these roles and conditions shapes our response to current challenges.
The pandemic itself resists planning. It is unlikely that we will have a vaccine during the 2020–21 academic year and also unlikely that a vaccine would immediately return us to our former practices. We must then imagine a plan that will operate over at least a year, not a single semester, and potentially longer. And we must be prepared for that plan to evolve based on external regulations, developments in treatments for those with COVID-19, and in conjunction with protocols for health and safety that will support work on campus.
Many of you have raised important questions about various aspects of the college’s operations. You have asked about the safety of living and working on campus and the ability of the college to both sustain its mission and survive the financial impacts of this pandemic. As you are aware, our recommendations and operations are guided and determined by county and state public health regulations. In addition, our recommendations are guided by an emerging plan for institutions of higher education overseen by the Higher Education Coordinating Commission (HECC). We have been engaged in following this guidance carefully and contributing our perspective to the HECC through our consortial organization of private higher education institutions.
Any plan for the fall semester will include the following:
- A plan for testing all community members and additional diagnostic and surveillance testing
- Implementation of public health measures, from face coverings to distancing to communication
- Contact tracing for community members who are ill with the virus
- Supplies of personal protective equipment
- Plans for isolation of ill students resident on campus
- Developed relationships with Oregon health authorities and the government
- Outreach about and monitoring of good health behaviors
While the college has gained strength financially in recent years, our fundamental operations depend, like so many nonprofits, on the interest and ability of an external audience to participate in and support the organization. We will develop the financial structure to support our plan—based on better information about enrollment, the incremental costs of supporting the plan for the fall semester, loss of planned revenue, declines in projected endowment growth, and our commitment to provide an excellent educational program to all enrolled students—before August. The actions we have taken to date (as communicated in the 2020–21 budget update from Vice President and Treasurer Lorraine Arvin on May 1) began to address the current fiscal year’s deficit. These decisions were difficult and had considerable impacts on community members.
Should enrollment and tuition revenues fall short of projections, financial losses will grow very quickly. The potential scenarios for such a drop include the possibility that students would not enroll in an online-only program (former Yale President Richard Levin recently speculated about the unwillingness of families to pay regular tuition for such a program) and increases in financial aid to support students whose families face significant financial challenges. Scenarios we have modeled on a 20% reduction in tuition revenues, along with a reduced number of students living on campus, produce budget shortfalls approaching $20 million. If the college experiences a significant shortfall in enrollment for the 2020–21 academic year, we will need to consider taking further actions across the college to reduce costs.
I continue to be impressed and grateful for the work of faculty and staff to support students in their lives and academic work and to keep Reed moving forward during these difficult times. In the coming weeks, I look forward to more opportunities to connect with you individually and in group sessions that we will organize to inform you of developing plans and to answer your questions.
My best wishes to you,