Dear Students of Seminary of the Southwest,
Grace and peace to you. I write to you in a time of growing alarm about the surge of COVID-19 cases in Austin and as we continue our planning for resuming our life together in August. Thank you for all you are doing to care for yourselves, your families, and your classmates to “walk the pandemic” one day at a time.
Intensive collaborative work among administration, staff, and faculty – with close attention to our recent survey of student opinion – has led to a plan for phased reopening of campus and a plan for instruction in the fall semester. We have sought to adapt how we fulfill our mission of formation for leadership to the restrictions imposed by the public health emergency. We have sought to attend to the need for embodied formation while slowing the spread of COVID-19.
I write today to inform you of what we have planned for the fall.
First, we have made the decision to offer most Fall 2020 classes remotely. Making this decision now allows time for the faculty to develop high-quality online instruction and time to investigate and purchase technology that will support this work.
Second, we recognize that in-person instruction is a high priority for many students. Because of this and because we highly value formation in community, a number of courses will be taught in a model of ‘mixed attendance’ – allowing students in those courses to opt for in-person or fully online instruction. These classes will be chosen as ones that maximize the formational development and connectivity among various cohorts across our degree programs. We will announce soon what these classes will be.
While the specifics of ‘mixed attendance’ are still being determined, maintaining strict social distancing guidelines as set forth by the CDC and Austin Public Health will be the highest priority. We will announce the details of how classes will meet in this mode in coming days, but they may include:
- Requiring all persons in attendance to wear masks and remain socially distant from one another
- Dividing the in-person attendees into multiple sections to avoid large gatherings
- Delivering all of the significant course content online while saving in-person class time for discussion
- Meeting in larger or less conventional spaces to accommodate social distancing
Alongside these plans for academic programming, we will offer in-person, co-curricular formation experiences. While these plans are still being developed, I want to share with you some overarching goals we are working to achieve during the fall semester:
- Maintain a community of in-person worship. The Worship Committee is working in concert with various departments to creatively use our outdoor spaces and online worship modalities to maintain a rhythm of daily prayer and worship.
- Maintain a community of formation beyond the classroom. We will be experimenting with ways to create in person community experiences together. This summer the Prayer Vigil of Vision, Witness, and Justice and the Iconography Workshop Retreat exemplified student leadership and creativity even with restrictions.
- Maintain a Library experience and environment appropriate to support your studies. Quiet study space and access to information resources are an important part of your formation. The library staff is developing a service plan that will address those needs in the safest way possible.
The above is by no means a comprehensive list of the potential challenges we may encounter as we navigate the fall semester. Like many of you, this administration is watching closely the data reported by Austin Public Health to determine our course of action. Should conditions change, we may revisit or redefine some of these options.
I am very grateful to all who have collaborated to develop this plan and for the effort to implement it. Although we cannot predict exactly what the fall semester will hold for us in terms of the pandemic, I am confident that we will live into our values of hospitality, respect, conversation, mutuality, rootedness, and celebration and will learn and grow in the process. I invite you to stay in conversation with me, your professors, and each other as we navigate these times.