Update on Fall Semester

I hope that you and all of those close to you are safe and healthy.

Our faculty, staff and students have gone to extraordinary efforts over the past several weeks to recreate the Wheaton experience in a virtual environment. Classes are being delivered remotely, offices continue in full operation despite staff working from home, virtual events continue to bring our community together, and policies and procedures have been revised in record time to adjust to this new reality. In short, while we would all agree that it’s not the same as being here on campus, we continue to offer a quality academic experience and move forward on many fronts.

As the spring semester winds down, we are all turning our attention to what comes next. The biggest question on most people’s minds is, “What will the fall semester look like?”

After significant discussion among our faculty and campus leadership, we have affirmed our intention to deliver an on-campus fall semester, whenever we can begin that semester, with the precautions in place that we will need to ensure the health and safety of the members of our community.

The distinctive Wheaton educational experience, what has shaped this institution throughout its history and what makes our work so impactful, is based on a residential model of liberal arts education. The powerful learning that takes place in our warm and supportive academic environment is complemented by what happens in our residence halls and in life on campus, and thus is heavily dependent on creating a community where we can be together and work together. It is difficult, or at least very different, to try to replicate this in a remote environment.

We will only allow a return to campus when guidance from public health experts will enable us to ensure the health and safety of the members of our community. We are already working to develop the precautions and protocols that must be in place to ensure a safe reopening and we will provide more specifics on these over the next few weeks and months. We expect that when we do return, there will be changes in the way we operate and in what might be expected of each of us in our daily routines. As you know, our campus is spacious for a school our size, we are not in a densely populated urban community and we offer small class sizes – all significant advantages for protecting the health and safety of our community.

Currently, the first day of classes for the fall semester is scheduled to be September 1. This start date is still our hope. Yet, it may not be possible to begin at that time given restrictions that might still be in place and the work we must do to prepare to have students here on campus. We are committed to developing an academic calendar and a course delivery plan that ensures a full and quality academic experience for our students and that keeps students on track to graduate on time. We expect to provide frequent and timely updates on when we plan to open, giving you at least two months notice before any scheduled start date for the semester.

This is a community that supports each other in so many different ways and this decision for the fall is accompanied by other initiatives that will help our students, both current and incoming. As you know, we provided a full pro-rated refund for room and board for the remainder of the Spring semester almost immediately. We are also now allocating $1 million of federal and institutional money as a Student Relief Fund to help provide support to any current student who has experienced financial challenges because of the effects of this pandemic. We also expect to have a fund of equal size in the fall for all students, returning and entering, who have needs beyond those normally expected because of the challenges of this situation. Watch for more information on these initiatives in separate emails in the coming weeks.

Wheaton is an amazing community and it has been so inspiring to see how everyone has come together to overcome the challenges of this current situation and to focus on supporting each other. I know that we are all looking forward to being together on campus and I hope this email gives you some comfort that we are headed in that direction. We all know that we will continue to face many challenges and that there remains much uncertainty. Thus, I ask for your continued patience and understanding.

Wheaton’s long history shows that we are capable of weathering many storms and challenges. I am very confident that we will emerge from this challenge stronger than ever and even more resolute in our commitment to the transformative Wheaton experience.

I look forward to seeing you – here on campus – as soon as that is possible.

Dennis Hanno
Wheaton College