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.

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.

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.

Make-up Days, End-of-Semester Work, Exams

April 30, 2020

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,

With the end of classes nearing, and spring on its way, we write to announce the following make-up days to cover classes that were canceled during the spring semester, due to the preparation for the transition to remote learning:

  • On Monday, May 4, Thursday classes may be held at the regularly scheduled time.  These meetings will be held to make up for classes that were canceled on Thursday, March 12.
  • On Tuesday, May 5, Friday classes may be held at the regularly scheduled time.  These meetings will be held to make up for classes that were canceled on Friday, March 13.

First Confirmed Case of COVID-19 in Our Community

April 23, 2020

Dear Amherst Students, Staff, Faculty, and Families,

I’m writing to let you know that we have the first confirmed on-campus case of COVID-19. A custodial staff member received the news of the positive test results yesterday and is in isolation at home and doing well. I know you will join me in wishing this individual a complete and speedy recovery. The staff member’s last day on campus was April 18; at that time, they displayed no symptoms, wore a face mask while working, and did not engage with any students. 

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.

April 17, 2020: Staying in Touch

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

Thank you for your warm responses to last week’s note. The gratitude you expressed to and for our staff and our frontline workers was remarkable. One alumna has offered to host any Amherst College staff members who find themselves in Poland once we are able to travel again. Another has volunteered to help with the “cheering up” efforts on campus by joining Val staff in writing encouraging notes to students. 

Grading Policy This Semester

April 15, 2020

Dear Students and Faculty,

I hope this email finds you well.

We have heard from some faculty and students who feel strongly that the college should consider a shift to a mandatory pass/fail system for this semester.  The Committee of Six recognizes the compelling arguments both for and against taking this step, many of which center around justice and equity.  In response to ongoing conversation within the community about this topic, the committee wants to provide greater clarity about whether another change in our grading policy should be considered at this time.  I write now to inform you that the members have recommended that no further changes to the grading policy be made this semester and to explain the reasons for this decision.

Anti-Asian Racism

April 7, 2020

Dear Members of the Amherst Community,

In a letter I sent to you last week I wrote about incidents of COVID-19-related anti-Asian racism that are increasing across the country as the pandemic spreads. These incidents of harassment, verbal attacks, and physical assaults are doing tremendous harm to individuals and to Asian and Asian-American communities. Estimates from days ago suggested that at least a hundred or more incidents are reported each day, including physical violence of the kind that occurred recently in Texas, where three people were stabbed, including two children. These hateful acts represent the worst forms of ignorance. I am writing again today to express what I imagine is our collective horror at this surge in racism and to ask that you join me in openly condemning it, and in doing everything you can to help end it. I also want to encourage reporting and provide information about resources.

Staying Connected

April 6, 2020

Dear Students, 

For weeks, I have been filling your inbox with information about the transition to remote learning and now as we start the third week of classes in our new format, I want to pause and take stock.

In less than a month, everything that we had planned for the semester was uprooted and dismantled.  On top of that shift, we are all faced with the reality and uncertainty of COVID-19 - not only the illness but what the measures needed to mitigate spread mean for us, for our families, for our neighborhoods, and for the world.

Reflections on Learning, Distance, and Bias

April 3, 2020

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

I am writing to provide you with some reflections at the end of our second week of remote learning. But, first, I want to extend my best wishes to each and every one of you. I hope that you and your loved ones are well and safe and that you are finding workable and even meaningful ways to spend this difficult period of social distancing.

Rising to Meet the Challenge

March 31, 2020

Dear Amherst Family,

In my current role as Chair of the Board of Trustees, I have had the distinct privilege to meet and speak with so many of you, all over the world. What do I know from these conversations? You care deeply about Amherst. Our students inspire us with their promise, and our alumni and families with their compassion and courage, now more than ever.

Process for Investigation, Communication of Potential COVID-19 Symptoms

March 29, 2020

Dear Amherst Students, Faculty, Staff, and Families,

I’m writing to keep you apprised of our ongoing effort to be aware of and track any member of our community who may be experiencing any symptoms that could be related to COVID-19. At this time, we have not been advised of any presumptive or confirmed cases in our College  community. (A “presumptive” case is one that has been tested and confirmed by the state. A “confirmed” case is one  that has been tested and confirmed by the CDC.) We remain in close consultation with the Amherst Department of Public Health and share information with them about reports and investigations.

Student Employment

March 27, 2020

Dear Students,

Below is information about student employment during this remote learning period. As more details and opportunities are known, they will be shared with you. In the meantime, if you have direct questions about student employment, you may email the Office of Financial Aid at finaid@amherst.edu.

Grading, Thesis Extension, and Moose on the Loose

March 27, 2020

Hello students, 
Yesterday Provost and Dean of the Faculty Catherine Epstein sent out a message updating the grading policy for the spring semester.  If you haven't had a chance to read the message, please do so.  Below are the two major changes but the full message provides specifics about how the change will work.  
Also, attached to this message is a video of a moose roaming the campus a couple of nights ago.  The video was captured by a member of the ACPD.  The campus is very strange with only a handful of us on campus.