Main Takeaways from President Lindsay’s State of the School Briefing
On April 18 and May 9, President D. Michael Lindsay updated advisory council members, alumni and parents on the status of Gordon College during this pandemic and the expectations for the fall. Key points made during these briefings include:
A. J. Gordon wrote about the importance of doing the best we can each day and trusting in the Lord for the future. That’s part of the posture we have been taking as we seek to make the best decisions we can, day by day. Because the situation has been evolving so quickly, we have tried hard not to rush into unwise decisions, but to be thoughtful as we seek to care for Gordon’s students, faculty and staff. Because the College’s resources are limited, many decisions we make come with tradeoffs. Our governing principle has been that when interests conflict, students come first. Our focus since our founding in 1889 has been, again in the words of A. J. Gordon, to prepare the people of God for the work of God. That will not change.
March 4: Decision Made to Pull Students Studying Abroad in Orvieto, Italy
It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time in early March this was a controversial decision. The situation was still evolving very quickly and there was not yet an understanding of how widespread the heath issue would become. We had students and families lobbying us to allow them to stay in Italy, but we made what turned out to be the correct decision of pulling these students home.
March 11: Delayed Student Planned Return to Campus by One Week
As the situation began to ramp up in the United States, the College made the decision to not bring students back to campus immediately following spring break to give further time to understand and vet our options, and to develop a “plan B.” The College used this week to begin preparing faculty to pivot to providing 100 percent of courses online.
March 16: Decision to Remain Virtual Until April 13
At this point, federal and state guidance focused on lockdowns until early April, and Gordon’s employees began working remotely, most from home. Recognizing what it would mean for students—especially graduating students—if the College went fully virtual for the rest of the semester, we sought to keep options open. Ultimately, it was clear that fully virtual has been the right decision. But we didn’t yet know that and didn’t want to make a premature decision out of step with the industry or the nation. At this point, individuals were lobbying the College on both sides.
March 25: Decision to Go Fully Online
With the pace of the pandemic, some felt like it took the College a long time to make this decision. In reality, it was only two weeks from when the pandemic became a real threat to many Americans. In those two weeks, faculty brought 100 percent of courses online—a tremendous feat. Student Life also worked hard to find appropriate ways to offer pastoral care to our students and to make what defines Gordon in campus interactions as meaningful as possible in a virtual setting.
April 15: Financial Adjustment and Credit/No Credit Option
The College announced two extraordinary benefits for current students. First, the College offered a financial credit (adjusted for financial aid) to students to cover the costs of 53 percent of a semester’s room and board. Second, the College offered students the option to choose “credit/no credit” instead of letter grading. Students were able to see their final grade before making a selection, as we tried to offer as much flexibility as possible in an unprecedented situation.
Today, approximately 100 students remain on campus—either because of potential international visa issues or because this is the safest place for them to be. We will continue to have limited housing availability over the summer for students, and we are committed to caring for them well in this season. We are also working hard to care for our students who have returned home. We redeployed a number of staff to assist with student outreach and offer pastoral care and counseling during this difficult season. Most campus buildings are locked down; residence halls undergo a daily cleaning, as do academic buildings with minimal occupancy. Services (dining, library) have been closed during this time. Masks are required on campus if in public spaces.
We are anticipating a significant revenue loss for fiscal years 2020 and 2021. The entire sector is preparing for significant reductions and taking proactive steps to ensure fiscal sustainability into the future. Gordon has been able to avoid a large-scale furlough of staff positions thanks to the PayCheck Protection Program, but we expect to eliminate approximately 20 staff positions on a permanent basis in planning for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts on July 1. Some of these reductions may be achieved through an early retirement opportunity provided to qualified employees. At this time, we do not anticipate needing to eliminate any faculty positions and no reductions to academic programs are in the works. Still, maintaining financial stability in this extraordinary circumstance will be an ongoing and vigilant process for the foreseeable future.
We are planning and preparing to welcome students back to campus in the fall for face-to-face instruction, but there are many important questions that we are working to address before students return this fall. We are forming several response teams to address a number of important academic, residence life and campus life questions. These include plans to reduce density in classrooms, consider possible changes to the academic calendar, create space for students to spend time self-isolating, implement a regular monitoring program (with specifics to be determined), enforce specific health protocols, limit the sizes of gatherings and care well for vulnerable employees. Developing a clear set of protocols and the schedule for bringing students back to campus in August will be among our very top priorities this summer. We are grateful for the medical and higher education communities in Boston, both of which have done a tremendous job sharing best practices that can serve as a model for how we prepare for the fall. As both the status of the pandemic (and any restrictions in Massachusetts) becomes clearer at later phases in the summer, we will share more specific details on the plans for August and beyond.
Admissions results to date are tracking closely to previous years, and the anonymous lead gift to the Faith Rising comprehensive campaign (a commitment of $75.5 million that is endowing scholarships) has allowed us to expand financial aid for incoming students. Several new Fellows programs (which offer unique experiences for cohorts of students with high academic standing or certain shared areas of interest) have shown particularly strong results, and we are encouraged by these signs. At the same time, we are carefully monitoring the situation and will be working closely with families over the summer as we know there are numerous factors that are causing stress and uncertainty.
We are also grateful for some of the tremendous things the Lord is doing in our midst. This fall we launched the School of Education and with it the Richard F. Gross Endowed Professorship and the Margaret Wright Alumni Award. (Editor’s note: Jessica Cochran ’18 was announced as the recipient of the award on May 11. Jessica obtained degrees in early childhood education and biology while at Gordon. She teaches second and third grade at the Pittsburgh Urban Christian School.) We are so proud of the faculty and staff who have developed this country-leading program and are so excited for the tremendous work of our education graduates. We also were very pleased that this semester marked the highest fall to spring progression of students in a decade. In addition, we had some incredible success in Athletics this year, underscored by the fact that Gordon senior Eric Demers led all of NCAA in points per game this season.
We have shared details over the past year about Gordon Global, the umbrella name for new initiatives in the online space, where not only will we be able to serve current students digitally but we expect to bring a suite of offerings to adult learners and to pre-collegiate students and families (such as homeschoolers). We are also expanding the reach of one of our top graduate programs, the M.A. in Leadership—starting a new collaboration with Central University of Ghana and establishing a cohort in Sao Paulo, Brazil (at Mackenzie University, which has been collaborating with Gordon for several years), and introducing a new Classical Christian Educator cohort within this master’s program.
We cherish your prayers on many fronts in this season. In particular, we ask that you pray for the health and safety of the extended Gordon family, for our recruitment efforts and for a generous spirit among those who could come alongside of the College during this season.
As Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker began a phased reopening of state businesses on May 25, as well as a move to a “safer at home” personal advisory, Gordon plans to phase in the return of employees to campus starting June 1 (following the state’s guidelines for the percentage of employees allowed to return to work), with the plan to be as fully operational as possible by late summer. The exact timing will coincide with the phases announced by Gov. Baker. Our web resource remains the best source for updated information.