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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As the spring semester comes to a close, I congratulate the Class of 2020 graduates from each of our five schools with my greatest pride and admiration. Once students at the Caruso School of Law finish finals this week, all five schools will have completed the spring semester. To every graduate, you have endured much and you have prevailed. The completion of a rigorous, world-class Pepperdine degree program is a monumental achievement in life. I would also like to offer my thanks to our tireless faculty, staff, and administration for supporting our students in achieving their academic aspirations.
Now, just like our graduates, we are all looking to the future and wondering what the rest of the calendar year will hold. The general direction that we have received from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health is its hope that schools, colleges, and universities can be open in the fall with in-person classes and on-campus housing. We anticipate that safety measures will continue to be in place to safeguard against the spread of the virus and to protect those most vulnerable, and L.A. County Public Health has indicated that these measures will likely include appropriate distancing, face masks, and no large gatherings. While the University still does not have enough information to make final decisions for the fall, we are encouraged at the likelihood that we will be back together on campus in August.
Presently, University leadership is completing a comprehensive COVID-19 strategic recovery plan to bring the Pepperdine community back to our campuses for fall classes. Deans are meeting with the faculty of each school to incorporate faculty feedback into our planning, and we will continue to work closely with L.A. Public Health and keep you updated as we finalize this plan over the next couple of weeks.
Summer 2020 Planning
As I mentioned in my President’s Briefing this week, I want to inform you of our plans for classes, housing, and safety as we turn our attention to the summer and fall terms at Pepperdine. As we have previously announced, the Seaver College May summer session—a newly designated Session A just for this year—will be held online. Additionally, based on the latest information the University has received from L.A. County Public Health, Seaver College announced this week that Session I in June will be held online, and all four graduate schools have also made the decision to hold their summer programs online. We plan to make a decision in early June regarding Seaver College Sessions II and III, which are scheduled for July.
Fall 2020 Scenario Planning – In Person
As I shared in the President’s Briefing on April 27 and again this week, University leadership is intensely engaged in scenario planning for the fall semester, and the COVID-19 strategic recovery plan to re-open for the fall semester will keep the health and safety of our faculty, staff, and students as our highest priority. To fulfill that objective, our plan must include clear and robust measures for testing, treating, tracing, separating, operating, cleaning, and delivering academic excellence. This plan will also presume an ability to hold classes in-person on all of our campuses worldwide unless or until there are public health restrictions that prohibit us from doing so. We plan to announce our proposed fall schedule within two weeks—once we have completed our scenario planning and vetted our plan with the Steering Team, faculty, staff, and members of the Board of Regents.
Fall 2020 International Programs
A significant factor in determining whether our international campuses will be open this fall will be the orders of the countries where our properties are located. At this time, we are making plans with the intent to have study abroad programs for all schools operating this fall while we await formal guidance from foreign governments or global agencies to inform final decisions. We will, of course, be working diligently to understand what each of these countries plans to allow this fall, and we will continue to provide information to students as it becomes available.
Fall 2020 On-Campus Housing
The scope of social distancing regulations in the fall and how those measures will impact university campuses is still evolving. Pepperdine is in regular communication with L.A. County Public Health and, based upon their guidance, we are planning, once again, to offer on-campus housing to all or nearly all of the incoming, returning, and graduate students who seek to live on campus. We are preparing the proper protocols to make this residential living experience as safe and enjoyable as possible under the current circumstances. If the guidance from L.A. County Public Health changes to require us to restrict or reconfigure our residential housing plans such that we would need to reduce the number of students living on campus, we will immediately notify those planning to live on campus. We continue to evaluate and plan for various scenarios that we may encounter in order to be prepared for whatever public health guidance may be provided to universities.
CARES Act Funding
As we announced last week, we are grateful that the University expects to receive $3.6 million of CARES Act funding. All of this funding will be directed toward supporting our students, with $1.8 million allocated for payments to be made directly to students through an application process. The University began accepting student applications for CARES Act funding on May 1 and will continue the application process through May 31. We received nearly 500 applications on the first day alone totaling more than $2.2 million in requests, and we are mindful that this crisis has impacted many of our students in a variety of different ways. CARES Act funding is designed to address those hit hardest by COVID-related losses or hardships, and as we evaluate applications, we intend to help as many students as possible with the funding we have received.
Celebrating the Academic Year
In the midst of trying times, pausing to celebrate victories along the way has never been more important. As a community, we should be proud of our response to this urgent crisis and commend the impact our servant-leadership has had around the world. So many people worked tirelessly to bring this spring semester home. Faculty have spent countless hours transferring their courses online. Staff have spent sleepless nights reinventing schedules, scenarios, and student support. Students have moved home, set up shop, and figured out how to learn remotely. Each of these efforts is truly amazing, and you all are worth celebrating. I am so thankful for the heart, perseverance, grit, and service of our Waves family. Our Pepperdine community is truly special.
The Emergency Operations Committee (EOC) and University leadership remain grateful for the support and cooperation of the Pepperdine community as the University responds to the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. The EOC will continue to monitor the pandemic and its potential impact on University operations and the health and safety of the community. As new developments arise, the EOC will provide guidance and recommended actions that are responsive to rapidly changing circumstances due to COVID-19.
Safer at Home Order Compliance
Community members are encouraged to continue complying with the Los Angeles County Public Health Safer at Home Order, which is in effect through May 15. In compliance with the order, the University has implemented a Social Distancing Protocol (which largely formalizes the measures the University has already implemented) and a Face Covering Protocol requiring University critical support personnel interacting with others to wear face coverings. Additionally, campus homeowners and critical support personnel are advised to wear their face covering prior to checking in at campus entrance booths as outlined in the county order.
All faculty and staff should continue to work remotely when possible. Faculty and staff may access campuses to facilitate remote distance learning or perform essential functions if that work cannot be accomplished remotely. Supervisors should ensure the minimum number of Critical Support Personnel are reporting to work to maintain essential University operations.
Seaver College International Programs Update
Seaver College announced the suspension of the international programs planned for summer, including those in London and Fiji. This suspends all Seaver College summer international programs for 2020. This decision was made based on all information available to the University, including the spread of COVID-19, travel warnings from national and international organizations, commercial flight availability, academic programming needs, feedback from program directors and other personnel responsible for leading these programs, and our care for the student experience.
President Gash is holding weekly online President’s Briefings for faculty, staff, and students each Monday at 9 AM while the University maintains modified operations due to COVID-19. Live and archived viewing for each briefing 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.
As this week comes to a close, the EOC and University leadership remain humbled by the responsiveness and steadfast support this community has demonstrated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The EOC continues to monitor the impact of COVID-19 developments and will provide guidance and recommended actions that are responsive to rapidly changing circumstances due to the pandemic.
Safer At Home Order Extended
Los Angeles County Public Health extended its Safer at Home Order through May 15 and requires essential businesses to develop and implement social distancing plans and provide face coverings for critical employees by April 15. Due to the order’s extension, the University has taken the following actions:
- All of the University’s COVID-19 response measures including interim protocols for telecommuting, travel, and campus visitors are extended through May 15.
- All in-person University events have been suspended through May 15.
- All faculty and staff should continue to work remotely when possible. Faculty and staff may access campuses to facilitate remote distance learning or perform essential functions if that work cannot be accomplished remotely. Supervisors should ensure the minimum number of Critical Support Personnel are reporting to work to maintain essential University operations.
Guidance for Face Coverings
The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued guidance for wearing cloth face coverings when in public spaces to obtain essential goods or services as an additional tool to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Face coverings are not intended to be a replacement of other evidence-based measures for preventing illness, including frequent hand washing; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; and practicing physical distancing, especially by staying at home. Community members should also follow any orders issued by local authorities.
To comply with the updated Los Angeles County Public Health Safer at Home Order, Pepperdine University is developing an Interim Face Coverings Protocol and is now requiring University Critical Support Personnel interacting with others to wear face coverings.
Graduate Campus Access and Mail Delivery Services
As the University adjusts operations to match the rhythm of the current working environment, graduate campus staffing, access, and mail delivery are temporarily changing. Beginning Monday, April 13, the Calabasas, Encino, Irvine, and West L.A. campuses will be closed with no graduate campus staffing. Critical support faculty and staff may continue to access these campuses to do essential work that must be completed on-site and can refer to the access instructions document for additional details. In addition, Mail Services will deliver mail to the graduate campuses on Mondays and Thursdays, instead of every weekday, starting next week.
Pepperdine Community Case Update
This week the University learned of an employee who received a positive COVID-19 test result and is currently hospitalized undergoing treatment. The University has notified all individuals known to the University to have been in contact with the individual. The University community is encouraged to keep this individual in its prayers.
As the University continues with remote operations for faculty, staff, and students, the EOC will be providing general updates when it learns of newly reported COVID-19 cases within the community. The University will continue to provide potential exposure notifications to impacted community members as appropriate.
President Gash is holding a special online President’s Briefing for faculty, staff, and students each Monday at 9 AM while the University maintains modified operations due to COVID-19. Live and archived viewing for each briefing 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.