Statement on ICE Change Impacting International Students

July 7, 2020

Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced changes to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program for non-immigrant students on F-1 and M-1 visas for academic and vocational study. The changes would force international students to leave the country or transfer to an institution offering in-person classes if their colleges and universities are offering classes entirely online during the fall semester. We are baffled by what we consider a terrible decision, and we condemn it. The announcement goes so far as to suggest that if institutions offering a mix of in-person and remote classes go completely remote during the semester, international students would then have to leave the United States. 

Because Amherst will offer a combination of in-person and remote-learning opportunities, we can and will have our international students on campus and enrolled in classes that involve in-person teaching and learning. However, many

Important Supreme Court Decisions and Our Community

June 23, 2020

Dear Amherst College Community,

Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States announced a number of decisions, two of which were particularly important to students, faculty, and staff at Amherst—one affirming protections for the categories of sexual preference and gender identity under Title VII and one rejecting the effort to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) immigration policy. We celebrate these decisions on behalf of our students, staff, and faculty as well as the College as a whole, consistent as they are with the value Amherst places on equality and fairness. Along with a groundswell of activism on behalf of anti-racist work in all areas of our society, I hope these decisions mark the beginning of a transformation toward a better future for us all. 

I write today to provide some detail about the decisions and to catch you up on developments this week.

June 13, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Families,

You may have noticed that I’ve fallen off the weekly schedule with these messages, now that much of the country is beginning to open up. I will continue to stay in touch, on a looser schedule, and will provide updates as we reach decisions about how the fall semester will look. I thank all of you who have replied to these messages over the weeks, sharing your stories, reflections, criticism, news, and words of support. Although I have not been able to reply to each of you individually, I have appreciated your messages and been moved by what you have shared. It says a lot about our community that you have been so forthcoming and have stayed in touch yourselves.

Two weekends ago, we gathered virtually from around the world to celebrate the class of 2020, who showed exceptional resilience and a strong sense of purpose in completing their degrees despite the interruption of their on-campus studies by the global pandemic. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a visitor to campus last

Racial Justice: Resources and Support at Amherst

June 3, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,

On Sunday, I wrote on behalf of the College to condemn the killings of George Floyd and so many other Black men and women by police. The peaceful protests that continue across the country and the engagement of so many people give reason for hope that an ongoing movement will succeed in ending institutionalized racism and white supremacy in the United States.

Update on Planning for the Fall

June 2, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Families,

Since we last wrote to you, the semester has come to a close and, on Sunday, we honored the class of 2020 in a virtual celebration that is available to view. We have reached this point because of the perseverance, sacrifice, and creativity of the Amherst community—all of you. We are grateful for your extraordinary achievement.

We continue actively planning for the fall, and we are writing now to give you another update on our effort to bring as many students as possible back to a safe learning and living environment on campus. As you know, there are many hurdles involved, some in our control and some not. You will probably have read announcements from other colleges and universities, some announcing decisions to bring students back to campus for the fall semester, but all with a warning that those decisions could change. We do not believe that kind of announcement will be very helpful to you. We are focusing intensive efforts on making it possible to bring our students back to this beautiful campus while also preparing to enhance significantly what we offer remotely, knowing that some members of the community will teach and learn at a distance.

Racism, Truth, and Responsibility

May 31, 2020

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, and Alumni,

This morning‘s celebration of our graduates offered a reprieve from the horror, deep sadness, and rage I feel about the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and the much longer list of unarmed black men, women, trans and nonbinary people whose lives have been taken by police officers or apparent vigilantes. The virulent anti-black racism in this country has never NOT been obvious, and yet there are those who continue to deny it. And there are clearly those who propagate it. Over the past several years, overt avowals and defenses of white supremacy have been more frequent, having been given license by statements and tweets at the highest levels of government. When I say that the pandemic has made racism even more glaringly obvious, as I did at this morning’s event, I am making a plea, to white people, in particular, to acknowledge the reality of anti-black racism, its long history, and its current force; to recognize how embedded it is in our institutional structures, social systems, and cultural norms; and to assume our responsibility for ending it.

May 23, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, and Families,

Usually at this time of year and this time of day, seniors and their families would have heard presentations by honorary degree recipients and some would be gathered on the lawn at the president’s house or attending department events to celebrate their majors. All of us would be looking forward to tomorrow’s glorious Commencement ceremony. We have just finished a Zoom Board of Trustees meeting, the May meeting that usually begins a weekend of festivities in honor of our seniors and the families of the soon-to-be-graduates. I am thinking of our seniors and their families. I look forward to next Sunday when we will honor graduates with a virtual event that will include the conferring of degrees. Next spring we’ll host the class of 2020 for a celebration like no other. Thanks to all the many alumni and families who have contributed and continue to give to the COVID-19 fund that will, among many other things, help make it possible for the class of 2020 to return.

May 16, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Members of the Amherst Community, 

My short Friday notes are turning into Saturday missives.

The spring semester is coming to an end. We continue to work hard on planning for at least three different scenarios for fall, each with variations, and doing everything we can to prepare for each eventuality. But the purpose of my weekly notes is not to provide updates on fall planning. You will receive an update in the next couple of weeks—though, as you know, there will be no decision until the end of June.

May 9, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni, and Families,

As of late Friday evening, I had not yet found a single theme for my weekly message to you. There is a lot on my mind. Classes are done and reading period ends tomorrow. Faculty members are reading thesis work and papers; they will soon be grading the exams for which students are preparing. I always look forward to reading students’ thesis work and hope to find time for it in the next couple of weeks. 

Ordinarily, we would be looking forward to senior assembly, senior week, and Commencement, but there is nothing ordinary about the circumstances that have robbed our seniors of those experiences. I feel terrible about the activities and events seniors are having to forgo. I’ve been finding it difficult to rise above my sadness at the many kinds of loss

Financial Challenges and Measures We Will Take

May 7, 2020

Dear Staff and Faculty,

We are writing today about the financial challenges that COVID-19 has brought and to provide you with an initial list of the measures we believe it is necessary to take. Before we launch into this update, we thank you for your resilience and dedication in the face of this pandemic and its impact. We hope you are taking good care of yourselves. 

Commencement Plans

May 7, 2020

Dear Class of 2020,

I am writing about Commencement. Let me begin by thanking you for sharing your thoughts and preferences in light of the circumstances that prevent us from celebrating in person this year. You expressed an overwhelming preference for postponing the in-person celebration until the spring of 2021. You also have a clear preference for keeping the class of 2020’s celebration distinct from that of the class of 2021’s. So, in the spring of Amherst’s bicentennial year, we will joyfully celebrate not one, but two commencements, a turn of events we could not have foreseen a few months back but one that will prove to be a fitting way to commemorate Amherst’s 200th birthday. We are looking at late May and early June 2021 and will be in touch as soon as we have confirmed the date of your in-person Commencement. In the meantime, we will hold a virtual celebration later this month at which your degrees will be officially conferred, some details of which you will find below.

May 1, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Families,

When Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz ’64, H’74, was asked during our first COVID Conversation webcast on Tuesday what he missed most about Amherst, he first recalled a world history course that focused on what the course called “encounters,” an early version, he noted, of what we now call globalization. “So when I started to write about globalization,” he said, “I reflected a lot on what I'd learned in my Amherst class, as a freshman and sophomore, about encounters, about globalization over time. And it really did shape my mind in a very important way.”

Running throughout Joe’s remarks about the economic implications of the pandemic was an emphasis on the importance of higher education as a sector and the benefits of liberal arts education, in particular, in thinking through the complexities of a response. “What we need,” he said, “is science, but not only science; we have to think about the

Updates on Fall Planning and Financial Assistance for Students

May 1, 2020

Dear Students and Families,

I know that some of you have struggled with COVID-19 infections, including at least one entire family. I hope you are recovering, if you have been ill, and that most of you have stayed well through the second half of the semester. I have no doubt that you have also learned a lot—from your courses, your professors, one another, and also from life under difficult and uncertain circumstances. These very challenging conditions have made learning harder for many of you. I admire your resilience and determination.

You understandably have questions about the fall semester and also about the support for students facing financial hardship through the CARES Act. Let me begin with what we know and are doing to prepare for fall.

April 24, 2020: Staying in Touch

Dear Students, Faculty, Staff, Alumni, and Families,

This week the ravages of COVID-19 came closer to home. We learned of our first confirmed case on the campus when one of our custodians tested positive for the virus. As you may have read in an earlier message I sent, the staff member is at home and has been doing well. 

Also this week, a close friend and colleague lost her mother to COVID-19. Like so many others, she has had to forgo the in-person rituals that help us care for those we love and, when we suffer a loss, to grieve. Today I learned that yet another friend has symptoms that may well be early signs of COVID. She is not able to get tested and I have spent much of today feeling for her and also noticing my own pent-up anger about the lack of adequate testing, not only here, but across the country. I think of the lives that could have been saved—and still could be—with widely available, reliable testing, how much less suffering there could have been among physicians, nurses, and other essential staff.