May 22 Community Update from President Hanno

Dear Wheaton Community,

This is my first community update to you since the many events and activities of last weekend, our traditional Commencement and Reunion Weekend. Despite the significant challenge of holding these events in our remote environment, the weekend was quite successful and brought the Wheaton community together at a time when maintaining connection is so important.

I have personally heard from hundreds of our community members about the positive feelings created by last weekend’s events. So many faculty and staff contributed to making these events special and their efforts were much appreciated by many. Our virtual Commencement ceremony was very unique and personal, offering a fitting way to mark this huge milestone in the lives of our graduates. If you weren’t able to attend it live, I encourage you to watch some of the livestream recording or read the recap of the virtual event. We estimate that more than 10,000 viewers tuned in at some point during the ceremony, making the Class of 2020 truly a record-breaking group with so many people watching the awarding of their degrees!

Hundreds of alumni also attended Virtual Reunion weekend, highlighted by a series of faculty panels, class parlor parties, and a Wheaton Town Hall for our alumni. At the Wheaton Town Hall, Board of Trustees Chair Janet Lebovitz ‘72 announced a $500,000 Wheaton Fund Trustee Challenge. The Wheaton College Board of Trustees will match all gifts to our annual fund, the Wheaton Fund, up to a total of $500,000, from now through June 30. This couldn’t come at a better time, as the Wheaton Fund directly supports students and provides the resources we need now more than ever to continue to move forward in these challenging times. If you can help us meet that challenge, please consider doing so.

The idea for the challenge grew out of the trustee conversations at their annual meeting last week. Wheaton Fund support is critical to helping us navigate the difficult landscape that exists right now. Like many institutions of higher education (and institutions in general), we face significant budget challenges for this year and the foreseeable future. These challenges are primarily driven by an expected decline in our revenues and the additional costs that we will incur as we implement mitigation procedures to safely bring people back to campus. The budget approved by the board provides us with a way forward but reflects significant cuts that will have an impact on just about every area of campus. However, these budget decisions were made with the goal of doing our best to preserve the high-quality educational and support experiences that Wheaton has always provided.

With the end of the spring semester, the college’s COVID-19 Reopening Task Force is deep into the planning required for the eventual return of faculty, staff and students to campus. In addition to our own on-campus conversations, we are very engaged in conversations with various statewide and national higher education organizations that are working on developing the roadmap for students to safely return to campus. Next week, Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Group will provide some specific guidance for colleges and universities in Massachusetts. In an email to the campus community earlier this week, I shared that we will see a limited number of staff returning to campus on June 15. Even then, we will conduct a slow, gradual and phased approach to bringing staff back to campus, with an emphasis on following the “Safer at home advisory” outlined by Governor Baker and public health officials.

I have received many emails and other forms of outreach asking for more information on our plans for the fall and/or offering advice and support. So many, in fact, that it has been hard for me to respond to all of them, for which I apologize. I assure you that the ideas shared are being incorporated into our discussions and planning and that we remain committed to our July 1 deadline of communicating more specific details about our plans for the fall semester. In the meantime, I’ll do my best to keep you updated on any impacts on our plans and operations that become known before then.

While the calendar seems to have lost some of its relevance under these current conditions, I do hope that the upcoming Memorial Day Weekend provides you with some opportunity to rest and recharge. Certainly the wonderful summer-like weather we are enjoying (at least here in Norton) will give you some opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.

Please enjoy the weekend, stay safe and be well.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College