4.17.20: Lehigh Community and Looking Ahead

President Simon updates the community and provides information on working groups, outlook for fall. 

Dear Members of the Campus Community and Lehigh Families,

I hope all members of our Lehigh community and your families are staying safe and healthy.

Across our country, we see countless examples of sacrifice. We should pause to appreciate how people are helping others and what that says about us as a nation. The Lehigh community is no exception. Members of our community are contributing myriad efforts according to their resources, abilities, and circumstances, from donating materials such as masks to workers who need them, committing acts of volunteerism, to even manufacturing PPE for healthcare workers. Our alumni are contributing important efforts across the country, many through work on the front lines of the crisis. 

Undergraduates in our community are working hard to complete their studies while grappling with the challenges associated with remote engagement. Graduate students are adjusting to the present reality and navigating uncertainties in their professions. We know many are impacted by the economic consequences of the pandemic. This is a stressful time, yet the Lehigh grit is evidenced by the tenacity and resilience you have put forth through your work and studies. Among my hopes for everyone is that you are supported by family, friends, and colleagues. 

Our Health and Wellness Center remains a resource for all students, including those off campus. I encourage you to stay current on how they can support mental health and well-being, and please check the events calendar for virtual events designed to keep our community connected despite our physical separation. 

I extend my heartfelt appreciation to our faculty and staff for rising to the challenge to deliver the Lehigh experience remotely. The pandemic resulted in suspension of research and the cancelling of important campus events. Despite this adversity, you are providing a touchstone for our students, giving them support, comfort, guidance, and sufficient familiarity for them to know that they are still part of Lehigh. I recognize your dedication to Lehigh while you balance this work with your responsibilities to family, friends, and community. 

Lehigh has achieved much together in spite of the many challenges during this time, and yet I believe there is a long road ahead of us. One of my colleagues mentioned that we are now entering the middle stages of a marathon (a stage I know quite well!). I believe a better analogy is a triathlon, and we are just completing the swim. Still ahead of us are a long bike ride and a grueling run. Each phase will require its own adjustments, different capacities, and focused determination to move through it assuredly. As we travel that road, we benefit from our collective strength. Our navigation of the crisis thus far tells me that we were ready and able, capable of focusing on what matters most and what needs to be done while also being adaptable and inventive. This will serve us well going forward as we navigate the uncertainties, plan for multiple contingencies, and look to the future. 

While our hope is for all of us to be back on campus by the fall, we need to be prepared if this is not possible. We are actively planning and aim to provide an update on our approach in June so that students, faculty, staff, and families know what to expect. We are currently recruiting the Class of 2024 through virtual campus visits, presentations, and panel discussions, and in due time we will have a clearer picture of our fall enrollment. 

In collaboration with health professionals, local and statewide government officials and business leaders with whom we have a strong partnership, we are working to understand how the course of the pandemic and government guidance such as the Guidelines for Opening Up America Again, announced yesterday, will impact our operations this fall. 

Understanding all of these factors will also allow us to better assess the economic impact on the university and our families. Earlier this week, we communicated with faculty and staff about immediate actions we are taking to reduce our expenses in the current fiscal year. With so many unknowns, we must be flexible and inventive, at times decisive, and always clear in our institutional purpose. We can never waver in our commitment as a community fully dedicated to education, research and service. The ongoing reaffirmation of our values will be our North Star.

I have tasked several working groups with planning that will enable us to pursue our mission with vigor and excellence in every circumstance. One group is focused on how we can deliver our academic programming on a spectrum of modes from in-person to remote and online learning. The second is dedicated to the financial and operational plan needed to support our academic scenarios. The third is charged to identify ways that Lehigh can remain wholly true to our mission as we determine our path from here to the ever-important role we should play in a post-pandemic world. Our planning must be flexible. We will be prepared to meet the challenges that we will encounter over the next year. We will do so in ways that continue to provide students with an exceptional educational experience and society with a deeper understanding of itself and the world.

I can say that I miss campus life. One of my favorite events of the year, DanceFest, would have taken place in the Zoellner Arts Center exactly one week ago today. As many of you know, this annual event is organized by Lehigh students and showcases dances from around the world, with the goal of expressing and learning about diverse cultural identities. For me, this event is one of many that symbolize what is most powerful about the coming together of our community: the sharing of and learning from one another’s perspectives. I’m sure all of you miss the campus energy, the speakers and events, the intellectual engagement, and the interactions among students, faculty and staff, both structured and free-form. These things attract so many of us to university life and are what keep our dedicated alumni involved with the university. I look forward to the day when we are able to come together in these ways again.

I know the determination that is so deeply ingrained in the Lehigh DNA will continue to serve us well as we move through these challenging times. I admire the constructive approach of our people and am confident we will be able to look back on the response of our community with great pride. It is an easy thing to focus on the negative. The Lehigh spirit focuses on what positive action can be taken in trying times. The weeks ahead will bring new challenges, both practical and emotional, personal and communal. I am confident we will weather and overcome them together. We are all in this together.


John D. Simon ’19P