A Message from President Gash: Pepperdine Restoration Plan

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We are living in extraordinary times. The novelty of the challenges we are facing in every sector of society and in every nation on earth are unrivaled in our lifetime. Those of us in the education sector find ourselves at the intersection of many of the biggest challenges—health and safety, economics, family stability, and employment—just to name a few. At Pepperdine, we also see an opportunity to shine our light in the midst of this storm. As C.S. Lewis astutely observed, Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” I couldn’t agree more.

As more fully discussed below, we are proceeding with plans to resume in-person instruction this fall on our Malibu campus, our campuses throughout Southern California, and our international campuses around the world.

Plans vs. Decisions

My goal in this message is to outline for you our current best thinking about the upcoming fall semester and to highlight our plans while we continue to gather facts sufficient to make final decisions.

I believe that the best decisions are made when the most facts are available. My commitment is for us to make these decisions when we have enough facts. Presently, circumstances are rapidly changing—globally as well as locally—which means that a final decision now is highly unlikely to be based on all the necessary facts, and could be premature.

Consequently, the approach of Pepperdine’s leadership team is to build and communicate our plan based on current projections and then make final decisions as those projections crystalize. In light of that approach, and because we recognize that each of you needs to understand our thought process in order for you to make your own plans, we are announcing today our plans for the fall. I pledge to inform you without delay if our plans materially change in light of the evolving facts on the ground. In any case, we intend to announce our final decisions for the fall no later than early July, hopefully sooner.

As you may have read, the California State University System has announced that it will deliver its fall semester courses primarily online. Likewise, the University of California System has indicated that much of its instruction this fall may be remote. It is, then, natural to wonder whether or how Pepperdine could resume in-person instruction. The answer is that we are differently situated in a number of important ways, including our smaller student populations, smaller class sizes, residential living configurations, and suburban setting for our residential student population. Each of these differences provides us with greater flexibility to adjust our scheduling and classroom environment and to adapt our educational experience in ways we expect will allow us to fully adhere to the public health regulations as we deliver excellence both inside and outside the classroom.

Resuming in-person instruction this fall across our five schools and numerous campuses will undoubtedly be complex. I am convinced our community is fully capable of providing the flexibility, patience, creativity, and resilience necessary to meet this challenge, as has been the case on countless occasions in Pepperdine’s storied history. The grace, encouragement, and cooperation on display every day of this pandemic inspires me constantly. I could not be more proud of how we have collectively responded, and I can’t wait to see the heights we will attain as we ascend this mountain together. 

The Opportunity

Pepperdine is now presented with an opportunity to shine and to lead. Our opportunity is to combine the engine of our University’s brilliant minds and creativity with the fuel of our unshakable faith to develop a plan that is uniquely Pepperdine. To be uniquely Pepperdine, our plan must reflect the guiding principles we’ve shared during this crisis: 1) our faith informs our decisions, 2) the safety and well-being of our people come first, 3) our mission is our priority, 4) our university must stand on solid financial ground, and 5) our communications must be direct and transparent.

With a plan that implements the highest standards of excellence in testing, treating, tracing, operating, separating, and cleaning for the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, and particularly those most vulnerable among us, we believe we can restore our beloved and thriving community to our campuses this fall while still appropriately mitigating the risks presented by this virus.

The Pepperdine Restoration Plan

I shared last week that the University is developing a comprehensive COVID-19 strategic preparedness plan, which we are formally calling the Pepperdine Restoration Plan. This plan is based upon the facts as we know them today and will evolve with changing public health orders and guidance that will be in place in August at the start of the fall semester. The plan is built on the following assumptions:

Classes in Person this Fall

One of the distinctive contributions that Pepperdine offers to higher education and to its students is small classes and direct access to nationally recognized faculty scholars and teachers of authentic faith. There is something very special and exceptional about the learning environment on our campuses. It is, therefore, our current plan to restore in-person classes to our campuses beginning no later than the start of the fall term in August.

Residential Living this Fall

We are blessed with one of the most beautiful and hospitable residential campuses in the world. When classes begin on our domestic and international campuses this fall, we plan to provide on-campus housing in a manner consistent with the health, safety, and distancing recommendations from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, as well as those of the countries where our international programs reside. None of Pepperdine’s residence halls are traditional dormitories with long hallways and large community bathrooms. Instead, the apartment/suite design of our residential housing is much more compatible with social distancing recommendations for mitigating the risk of spreading the virus in residential living environments. Additionally, we are planning on further mitigating risk by utilizing less than full capacity in student housing on our Malibu campus and limiting student occupancy to no more than two students per room.

Health and Safety is Paramount

In conjunction with providing in-person classroom instruction and on-campus housing this fall, we will be implementing rigorous protocols that meet best practice guidelines in the industry. While the precise measures are currently being developed and finalized, they will include appropriate isolation and/or quarantining of individuals within the community who may have been exposed to or contracted the virus, as well as specific protocols for COVID-19 testing, tracing, and treatment. The University is currently in the process of actively procuring all necessary supplies and equipment, including sufficient testing kits and processing units to allow for onsite rapid testing, in addition to preparing the facilities needed to support these efforts. The University will also be adding additional medical personnel to our existing full-time medical staff. Rest assured, the mitigation of risk for the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff is our paramount focus. 

In recognition that our community includes individuals in vulnerable populations due to age, pre-existing health conditions, or compromised immune systems, we are working alongside our community to develop and implement appropriate temporary policies during the pandemic. The University is also making a substantial investment in classroom technology in an effort to equip all classrooms at each campus with the capability of capturing the in-person instruction via recording and/or live streaming to accommodate those who are unable to participate in traditional classroom environments. Further information on the technological capabilities will be provided soon to students and faculty. 

Campus Operations Health and Safety Planning

In order to facilitate appropriate social distancing in the classrooms, the University will be modifying classroom configurations, which will reduce the capacity of each classroom. This may, of course, necessitate adjustments to course and classroom scheduling. Additionally, furniture in our on-campus residences will be reconfigured to comply with public health guidance and better enable social distancing. Likewise, appropriate safety precautions will be taken to ensure safe usage of other common spaces, including libraries, dining halls, lounge spaces, work areas, etc.

The restoration plan will also enact additional sanitation measures, including enhanced cleaning of high-touch areas and modified cleaning and disinfection protocols for workplace and classroom spaces. Moreover, Pepperdine’s interim face-covering policy requiring campus community members to wear face coverings when in proximity to others will remain in place until the L.A. County Public Health modifies its face-covering guidance. Hand sanitizer will also be made readily available throughout each campus.

While an extensive set of health and safety protocols will be provided to the entire community in advance of the fall semester, the key elements of these health and safety protocols for all campuses are briefly enumerated below. More details can be found in the Pepperdine Restoration Plan

Test. Pepperdine will implement an effective testing strategy consistent with health agency guidance and best infection control and prevention practices, which includes securing sufficient testing materials to implement this strategy and respond to changing circumstances.

Treat. Treatment efforts will ensure Pepperdine maintains the ability to address typical health concerns as well as COVID-19 cases. The Student Health Center is being enhanced through the addition of more medical professionals and the procurement of extra medical supplies, including therapeutics and vaccines as they become available.  The Counseling Center will provide services for students experiencing COVID-related anxieties and other mental health concerns.

Trace. Pepperdine’s comprehensive contact tracing program will utilize an expansive, trained response team and technology best suited for our campuses.

Separate. Reduced class sizes, face coverings, grab-and-go dining, and the elimination of large gatherings are some of the modifications that characterize Pepperdine’s readiness for a safe, on-campus experience. Additionally, sufficient space for isolation and quarantine needs is being identified.

Operate. Academic delivery, housing practices, retail operations, student life, and campus infrastructure will be modified to ensure health, safety, and excellence in this adapted environment. This includes an expanded use of classroom technology, contactless transactions, athletic team and fine arts infection control plans, and limitations on crowds consistent with the guidance of public health officials.

Clean. Enhanced cleaning protocols will be executed on Pepperdine’s campuses, addressing increased frequency of cleaning, a focus on high-touch areas, and the use of CDC-recommended cleaning agents and infection control practices. Hand sanitizer stations will be widely available across campus.

Academic Planning

Each of our five schools delivers excellence to unique student populations. In a typical year, the schools operate on slightly different academic calendars. The same will be true this fall. While the current plans for the academic calendar for each school will soon be communicated by the deans of each school, I would like to give you a general overview of our upcoming fall semester.

Seaver College

In anticipation of a predicted second COVID-19 wave late this fall, Seaver College is exploring the possibility of beginning its fall semester two weeks early on August 17. This would enable the completion of the fall semester, including final exams, prior to the Thanksgiving holiday break.

With respect to the spring semester, Seaver College is also considering the possibility of delaying by a few weeks the resumption of in-person classes in Malibu. This potential gap between the fall and spring semesters would be designed to align our academic calendar with the predicted second wave of the COVID-19 virus. (This may also align with projected dates for the wide availability of a vaccine.)

With respect to international programs, we are closely monitoring the situation on the ground in each location and hope to proceed with each opportunity. Due to the uncertainties surrounding these programs, students should not purchase airline tickets or secure visas at this time. Additional information about international programs will be forthcoming from the dean.

Graduate Schools 

At this time, each graduate school is proceeding with its previously announced schedule for the fall. This includes all programs, whether their normal mode of delivery is in person, online, or hybrid. Additional information about the academic calendar, as well as international trips, tours, internships, and study abroad experiences for graduate students will be forthcoming from the graduate school deans.

Athletics, Artistic Performances, and Event Planning

L.A. County Public Health continues to advise that large gatherings will not be permitted throughout the summer and at least through part of the fall. This prevents us from accurately predicting the nature and scope of our athletic competitions, fine arts performances, and all other major events at this time. 

With respect to Pepperdine Athletics, we are closely monitoring guidance from the NCAA and L.A. County Public Health. We are developing plans and protocols to protect the health and safety of our student-athletes and will continue to update the community as more information is available. We expect that competitions in the fall will likely be limited to essential personnel only, absent updated public health guidance.

Other large events and gatherings, including fine arts performances, conferences, symposia, and other academic events will not be held until the state and county modify their guidance. We are greatly disappointed that we will be unable to hold our much anticipated commencement ceremonies this summer, and we remain committed to rescheduling the well-deserved celebrations as soon as we are permitted to do so following the completion of the fall semester. 

A Community United

As we finalize the process of safely reopening our campuses, more detail on each of these elements will be shared in the coming weeks. For now, let me say thank you once again for the contributions you have made to this community in exceptionally challenging circumstances. 

Like all of you, I eagerly anticipate our return to campus. But until that day comes, my prayer is that we continue to support one another and advance our mission using the attributes that define who we are and the work we do: our collective courage, creativity, character, compassion, and conviction, as well as our desire to communicate transparently and Pepperdine’s calling to advance Christ’s kingdom.