A Message from President Gash: Online Instruction for Fall Semester

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Since shifting to remote instruction in mid-March, Pepperdine leadership has been carefully monitoring the activity of COVID-19 and closely evaluating the evolving governmental guidance with a goal to reopen our campuses for in-person instruction as soon as it was safe for our Pepperdine community. Although it is still forthcoming, Governor Newsom’s long-awaited guidance for colleges and universities is expected to closely mirror the recently issued restrictions imposed last week for California’s public and private K-12 schools. This guidance, when applied to California’s four-stage reopening plan, effectively prohibits in-person instruction beginning in the fall for much of California, including in Los Angeles County.

This leaves uncertainty for colleges and universities, but little confidence that campuses will be allowed to reopen for the start of the fall term with in-person instruction in a way that reflects Pepperdine’s standards of excellence.

Online Instruction for the Fall Semester

Given these circumstances, we have decided we can best protect the health and well-being of our students, faculty, and staff by conducting our fall semester online. As you know, this was not the decision we had hoped or planned to make. Our faculty and staff and regents have worked tirelessly throughout the summer to prepare us for safe in-person instruction and on-campus housing. Although we are extremely disappointed that the renewed safety concerns are taking us in a different direction, we all believe this is the right decision for the health and safety of our Pepperdine family.

Therefore, even while we have been vigorously preparing for students to return to our campuses safely, we have also been preparing aggressively to provide a robust and excellent online educational experience just in case circumstances dictated that campuses could not reopen this fall. To that end, our faculty have also spent the summer preparing to provide world-class academic instruction online. Consequently, online classes will begin on the previously published schedules for each school.

On-Campus Housing

Our ability to house students on campus is also directly impacted by state and county restrictions. We are not presently permitted to reopen our Malibu campus for normal residential life. However, we expect to receive permission soon to house students who can demonstrate a compelling hardship which necessitates residing in on-campus housing this fall. The deans of each school will be outlining, in subsequent communications, the application process for seeking a housing hardship exemption.

In the event the government’s guidance changes during the semester, we may revisit our options for potentially broadening our on-campus housing availability.

Pepperdine Restoration Plan 

As we begin to return students with hardships to on-campus living, and if and when a broader return to campus can occur, our extensive summer planning efforts have positioned us to be fully prepared. Our Pepperdine Restoration Plan is complete and ready for implementation. We have instituted robust protocols to make our campuses safe environments. These protocols required significant investments in testing equipment, tracing resources, sanitation supplies and schedules, technology enhancements in our classrooms, plexiglass protection, and extensive changes and additions to our campuses to accommodate social distancing.

Looking Ahead

We have not tried in this communication to answer all of your specific questions because many of the detailed implications of this decision are school-specific. You can expect, therefore, to receive a detailed communication within the next 24 to 48 hours from the dean of your school that will specifically address the issues of housing, registration, schedules, and other important information. Pepperdine faculty and staff should expect a detailed communication from Human Resources this week.

Thank you for working together with us to make this fall a memorable and meaningful semester despite our challenging times. Pepperdine is an uncommonly strong community and we are equal to the task of taking on these challenges together and advancing our high calling as leaders in higher education.

Important COVID-19 Community Update – July 17

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Pepperdine’s highest priority is to preserve and protect the health, safety, and well-being of every current and future member of Pepperdine University while keeping our commitment to delivering an exceptional educational experience during the COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, we continue to closely monitor all guidance issued by local, state, and federal agencies. The purpose of this communication is to inform our Pepperdine community about a significant shift in California’s guidance for educational institutions released today by California governor Gavin Newsom that may impact the start of our fall semester.

Governor Newsom Update

At a news conference this afternoon, Governor Newsom provided guidance for K-12 schools that casts serious doubt on the ability of the vast majority of these schools to begin in person instruction in August. And while this guidance was not specifically directed at colleges and universities, it provides clear evidence the state is taking an increasingly aggressive approach to addressing the spread of COVID-19. During this news conference, Governor Newsom indicated that further guidance for colleges and universities, which was expected to be delivered no later than today, will be issued next week for all California colleges and universities.

Pepperdine’s Response

Pepperdine’s decision-making framework alluded to above remains consistent, and will remain consistent, as we adapt to the fluctuating environment caused by the virus’ unpredictable course. We understand that faculty, staff, students, and their families will be impacted by any revised decisions the University may be compelled to make about in-person instruction and on-campus housing for the fall term.  Pepperdine is committed to keeping the community informed as new developments occur.

In the meantime, students and their families are advised to defer the purchase of travel and lodging and making off-campus housing arrangements until Pepperdine, after receiving and evaluating Governor Newsom’s directives, provides further guidance to our community. For those seeking on-campus housing this fall, the University will suspend its current housing deadline until further notice. Additionally, the information regarding move-in date and housing assignments for new students that was expected to be sent out today will be delayed.  

Pepperdine Community Case Update

The University was notified this week of five new confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the Pepperdine community, including three staff members, a Graziadio student, and a GSEP student. All were reported to the Student Health Center and investigated through the University’s contact tracing protocols. Close contacts were notified. 

One of the staff members is a Mail Services employee who last reported to the Malibu campus on July 10. Although this staff member’s risk of spreading the virus while in the mailroom was low, and although no close contacts were identified for this case, the University is taking extra precautions and has closed the mailroom for today through Monday to allow for a deep cleaning and disinfection of the space. During this time, Mail Services will not be operating. If you have any questions related to an expected delivery or need for service, please contact Stan Jones, manager of mail and automation services, at 310.506.4293.

Although the CDC states it is unlikely the virus will spread from mail or packaging, the University has implemented additional precautionary measures. Additional details are available on the Mail Services Community page.

The University will continue to keep the community informed on COVID-19 developments as new information becomes available. The latest updates can be found on the University’s COVID-19 website and Emergency Information Page. For additional questions, please contact the COVID-19 Information Line at or 310.506.8111.

COVID-19 Community Update – July 10

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The University continues its planning, studying, and monitoring of the evolving COVID-19 updates in Southern California, throughout the nation, and around the world. For many in the Pepperdine community, the University leadership team recognizes these summer months have created an extended period of uncertainty around future planning, especially as the pandemic persists and new cases have continued to rise in the Los Angeles area. 

As the fall semester approaches, the University is communicating regularly with the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. While the University is hopeful that plans currently being developed and announced will not require further revision, the flexibility of all students, faculty, and staff is deeply appreciated should conditions surrounding the pandemic dramatically change over the next several weeks. University leadership continues to be grateful for the patience, understanding, and resilience that the Pepperdine community has shown in the last several months.

Seaver College Fall 2020 Semester Update
Seaver College announced significant updates to its plans for the fall 2020 semester yesterday afternoon. In a message to the Seaver community, Dean Feltner shared important information regarding instructional format options, the suspension of all international programs, international student guidance, the 2020–2021 academic calendar, housing options, and tuition and fees. The full message is available on the University’s COVID-19 website, and questions about the message can be directed to the Seaver dean’s office.

Graduate School Updates
Like Seaver, each of the four graduate schools continues to finalize plans for the fall semester in line with current guidance from Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Students enrolled across these schools have received updates from their respective deans regarding academic operations and program options for the fall, and the deans will continue to share additional information as the academic year approaches. Frequently asked questions are regularly updated on each school’s COVID-19 School Updates page, and additional questions can be directed to each school’s dean’s office.

Interim Protocols
Interim protocols restricting University-sponsored travel and campus visitors have been extended through at least July 24. Guidance around all University interim protocols is regularly updated on the COVID-19 Interim Protocols page.

Pepperdine Community Case Update
This week the University learned of three employees who received a positive COVID-19 test result, and two are currently hospitalized and undergoing treatment. The University has notified all individuals known to the University to have been in close contact with these individuals. The University community is encouraged to keep these employees in its prayers.

As the University continues with remote operations for faculty, staff, and students throughout the summer and into the fall, the University will continue to provide potential exposure notifications to impacted community members and general updates on the University’s COVID-19 website when it learns of newly reported cases within the community. 

President’s Briefing
The next President’s Briefing for faculty, staff, and students will be held Monday, July 13 at 9 AM Pacific Time. As a reminder, live and archived viewing for each of these special briefings are available on the President’s Briefing website.

The University will continue to keep the community informed on COVID-19 developments as new information becomes available. The latest updates can be found on the University’s COVID-19 website and Emergency Information Page.

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.