Dear Furman Community,
Last week I asked you to share your questions about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on Furman University and our community. I received an outpouring of encouraging messages, inspirational stories and thoughtful questions, many of which I have attempted to answer in this video.
I’ve also shared a handful of your stories in the video as a small way to recognize the many wonderful ways in which our community has come together during this challenging time.
Be well and be safe.
Hello Furman Family. Last week, I wrote to you asking for your questions about COVID-19 and its impact on Furman. While I won’t have time to answer them all in this video, there were several common topics that I’ll address. The administrative team also responded to many of your questions as they came in, and will answer the rest in different communications, including on our COVID-19 website.
In addition to your thoughtful questions, many of you shared words of encouragement and wonderful stories about our fellow Paladins. It’s clear that you care deeply and are engaged in so many ways on behalf of your students, your faculty and staff, your classmates, and your university. For that, I am so grateful. This crisis is challenging, but I’m confident that we’ll get through it with your support. That’s the Furman way.
Regarding your questions, the most common of which were about Commencement and the fall semester, I want you to know that all of our decisions are driven and guided by our educational mission and core values. And they are made in the interest of the safety and health of our students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community.
First, let me tell you about our plans for Commencement. On May 9th, when we would have held graduation exercises, we will virtually but officially confer degrees and recognize our graduating seniors and their accomplishment with a tribute video and with special messages from fellow students, faculty, staff, and alumni that will be shared on our website and in social media. In the fall, we plan to hold an in-person Commencement ceremony during a weekend that will include many of our graduation traditions and related events. We want to do this during a time when other students and the rest of campus can join the celebration. We expect to announce a date for this by June 1.
Regarding the fall and when we’ll return, we’re looking at several options and carefully following the guidance of state and local health officials, including epidemiologists on our faculty and the director of our health clinic. We share your eagerness to return to campus and it is our hope that we can do so as soon as the health and safety conditions support such a decision. Whenever we return, we will put in place measures to mitigate and monitor future infections. Recognizing that the situation is in flux and conditions may change, our goal is to share our intended plans for the fall semester by mid- to late June to give you time to plan.
While we’re still developing our plans for fall, we have decided to conduct summer school remotely, given the current state of the pandemic, and have shared information on registering for summer classes with students and their families. Summer orientation and many of our summer research and internship activities will be conducted remotely, as well. Our Center for Engaged Learning is working to ensure that these experiences are robust and productive.
As you may already know, all campus events have been canceled through June 3. We plan to decide by mid-May about hosting events after that date. We have encouraged the organizers of summer camps and conferences to plan accordingly, understanding that the situation continues to evolve.
A number of you also asked about remote learning. While many of you lauded the efforts of our faculty and staff and told wonderful stories of how we are creatively engaging with students, others expressed concern about the challenges of this learning environment. I want to assure you that all of the academic support our faculty and staff provide on campus is available remotely, and we’re doubling our efforts to engage all students and check in with those who may need extra help. Academic Affairs and Student Life have created websites to support this and other virtual engagement opportunities, and we encourage students to take advantage of them.
A handful of questions revolved around how we are providing financial support to students who may have increased need due to the crisis. Furman has been offering and will continue to offer assistance to students through its Student Emergency Fund, and we are applying for additional financial aid funding through the CARES Act for those students who need the most help. In addition, we have launched the For Furman Fund to which you may donate to provide additional support for students and the university programs that help them. You may find more information on this fund on our COVID-19 page and Alumni site.
Finally, we received a few questions about the financial impact that COVID-19 is having on Furman. As I have shared with faculty and staff, this crisis has had a dramatic impact on our revenue and the value of our endowment, as is the case for universities across the country. We remain committed to our academic mission, and are focusing our budget planning on continuing to support this at the highest level. We have already implemented many cost-saving measures to reduce our losses, and that has helped. But we know we still have many difficult decisions ahead of us as the financial fallout from this crisis continues to unfold.
Now let me end on a hopeful note. You also sent many touching stories, way too many to tell here. Allow me to share just a few.
I heard from students who are embracing the challenge of staying engaged online. Senior Marina Cox shared how she’s been finding ways to cope and stay connected, holding a “Zoom Formal” with her sorority sisters, along with virtual birthday parties and other events. Freshman Jonah Dill talked about the personal connections he’s maintained with his professors, faith group, the outdoors club, and track team, including a daily live Instagram segment with his coaches. Freshman Scott Johnson has adapted to virtual vocal instruction sessions with professor Grant Knox, who mentored Scott as he competed for and won the mid-Atlantic regional competition of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, just two weeks ago.
I’ve also been impressed with the ingenuity and creativity of our faculty and staff who are making sure our students stay engaged. When we first transitioned to remote learning, Spanish Professor Angelica Lozano-Alonso worried about how her students would practice speaking Spanish outside the classroom. So she created a virtual language and cultural exchange program by connecting her students with her college-aged nieces and nephews who were also stuck at home in Mexico. The students and Professor Lozano-Alonso’s family have had several rounds of conversations, not only enriching their language skills but connecting them with people at a time when personal connection is difficult, but so important.
We’re also proud of our alumni, who continue to distinguish themselves in their communities and in their professions. I was especially moved by a story about Anna Downs, a 2016 Furman graduate who is now a fourth-year medical student at the University of Louisville. In early March she contracted COVID-19. The future-physician-turned-patient suffered from a high fever for almost two weeks. After she was released from intensive care, Anna demonstrated grace and humility and a profound appreciation for what it means to be a care provider by writing an open letter thanking the nurses who provided her care. Her letter went viral on Facebook, and the Today Show even did a story about her. Best of luck, Anna, as you pursue your residency in internal medicine and pediatrics at Ohio State. You make us all very proud.
One final thought as we look forward to returning to campus: As beautiful as Furman is, a Furman education is more than a collection of buildings on a picturesque campus. It’s the community we build among ourselves. Our faculty and staff, students, and alumni are working every day to maintain and strengthen that community, even at a distance.
Wherever you are, we’ll be there with you. Wherever our Furman family is, we are together.
Be well and be safe.