Columbia College community,
Following President Bollinger’s message, I am writing to confirm that Columbia has made the difficult decision to make the fall semester an entirely virtual learning experience for undergraduates. We are no longer able to bring students to campus at this time, aside from a limited number of students already approved for housing due to unique circumstances.
The steady reopening of New York State has been an encouraging sign for Columbia’s campus reopening. Yet, our prior communications acknowledged that we must monitor public health guidance and be comprehensive in our thinking. Unfortunately, the pandemic is exhibiting a troubling trajectory around the country and world, with the highest single-day death toll in the United States reported this past week. The advancement of the virus in over 33 states and territories demonstrates that we are still in a crucial phase of our national battle against this pandemic. In addition, the scale and complexity of safely quarantining thousands of students from at-risk regions has become increasingly challenging to prepare for with absolute confidence, in part due to the requirements by New York City and State. The isolation of the 14-day quarantine and severe restrictions on campus life now create conditions that we feel would be difficult for most students to thrive in.
This change in our plans is necessary because it is important that Columbia College contributes to society’s overall effort to minimize transmission while upholding our civic responsibility to the communities in which we exist. The collective risk has not diminished enough for us to proceed as we had hoped. At this time, we are unable to assess the outlook for spring term. If we are able to bring students to campus, our first priority will be seniors, who we know will cherish the chance to return to campus in their final year.
Any student approved for only fall housing will have their housing contracts automatically canceled, and will be notified individually by email. Students approved for full year housing due to special circumstances will receive fall housing updates from Columbia Housing later today.
We have continued to hear from our students and families regarding their financial difficulties during this pandemic. We recognize how challenging this time is for many in our community. In response, Columbia will absorb the previously communicated 2% tuition increase, bringing the 2020-2021 undergraduate tuition rate flat to last year's value. In addition, for students on financial aid, the College will waive all student employment expectations for the fall semester, in recognition that students will not have the typical on- or off-campus work opportunities available.The College will review the financial implications for billing, financial aid packaging and more in the coming days and you will receive updates from Student Financial Services and our financial aid office.
Our extraordinarily committed faculty continue their preparations to offer a meaningful learning experience this fall. Hybrid or in-person courses will now be modified to be fully online and faculty are steadfast in their pursuit of enhancing the remote academic experience, as they have been all summer. Course registration is ongoing and students should be in touch with their advisers with any questions they may have.
Our newest students have been engaged in a 7-week remote orientation program series since July, which will be followed by virtual Convocation and a carefully designed virtual New Student Orientation Program in September. Creative approaches to virtual co-curricular experiences for all students are also underway and we will provide more news about those efforts in a few weeks’ time.
All of us at Columbia College feel deep appreciation for your patience as we work quickly to adapt and change with this evolving global crisis, one that has no precedence or roadmap. It has been an extraordinary effort to keep pace with this pandemic, and I am grateful for the shared commitment of faculty and staff to providing students with an outstanding academic experience that can still encourage growth and development in a year where there is so much to learn. It is natural to most immediately feel loss for the sacrifices we are all being asked to make. Yet, the question I ask now is, “What are the opportunities?” They may be hard to see just now, but they exist so let’s keep working together to identify them and make the most of this unusual year.
I feel regret that our chances of meeting on College Walk or by Low Steps have been further delayed. Your campus remains beautiful yet feels desolate without the animating spirit of all of you – our inimitable student body. I look forward to when we’ll be together again and to the stories we’ll share. Let us approach the year ahead with a Beginner’s Mind and most of all, with the Columbia spirit that we carry with us, wherever we are.
Roar, Lion(s), Roar.
Dean James J. Valentini