5.6.20: Updated Information on Planning for the Fall Semester from President Simon

A message sent to members of the campus community, families and alumni from President Simon.

Dear Members of the Campus Community, Lehigh Families and Alumni,

As we continue to cope with the COVID-19 public health crisis, I hope you are managing as best you can in these difficult circumstances, and I wish good health and the best for you and your families.

I want to begin by again thanking our students, faculty and staff for their flexibility and resilience as we conclude this semester of remote learning. It was not the semester any of us expected, but our community has responded to the challenge in true Lehigh fashion.

I am writing to provide updated information about our planning for the fall semester. As we plan for the fall, much remains unknown. Our goal is to open our campus as soon as it is practicable. We are closely tracking the availability of adequate testing and contact tracing and developing our internal capacity to isolate and quarantine individuals on campus.

I am optimistic Lehigh will open in some fashion once the state allows us to do so, which may involve a phased opening that encompasses both in-person and remote learning. In deciding when and how to open, we will rely on guidance from medical professionals and public health officials. To protect those who do return to campus, we are working to define our internal protocols for appropriate social distancing and masks, and providing adequate hand-washing and sanitation stations in our facilities. The safety of our students, faculty, staff, visitors and the Bethlehem community will be our primary consideration.

As communicated previously, we have established several task forces that are actively planning for the fall and developing various scenarios for opening the campus. These groups enable the senior leadership and our Board of Trustees to generate a framework with optionality, so that we can respond rapidly to changes that may occur as we move forward.

An Academic Planning task force continues to evaluate what we have learned from the spring semester, exploring how we incorporate what we’ve learned for the fall. The in-person residential experience offers tremendous opportunities for students to learn and grow. As of right now, it is an open question whether we will be able to offer that safely this fall. Faculty and staff are committed to delivering on our educational mission with excellence, whatever mode we adopt, and a Lehigh education and a Lehigh degree will retain its value.

This pandemic has had economic consequences across the world, in our nation and at Lehigh.  A Financial Planning task force is assessing the financial impact on our university and developing actions for how we can best respond.  We have already implemented a number of cost-saving measures, and we will be identifying other areas that may face cuts or be eliminated in order to reduce the overall financial impact. Additional tough budgetary decisions may well be required.  We will keep you informed as events further unfold.

A task force to Safely Open the University is evaluating our work policies and our physical infrastructure and will make recommendations regarding all that needs to be in place to protect our faculty and staff and open classrooms, labs and other spaces on our campus in a way that promotes a safe environment and complies with governmental health guidelines. I would anticipate that a first step, when it is feasible, is a phased opening of faculty offices and research labs with strict guidelines for social distancing and safety protocols. Input from faculty and staff will be taken into serious consideration as we plan in this area.

Finally, a fourth task force for Forward-Thinking Planning Beyond the Crisis will look at how Lehigh can continue to contribute toward our vital educational mission and play an impactful role in the world beyond the hopeful and eventual end of the pandemic.

The work of all of these groups is highly interdependent and will involve gathering and processing information from people across our university, and higher education more broadly.

Our goal is to provide further information by June 15 to students, faculty, staff, and families about our plans for the fall semester. 

While we hope to have a better sense of our future at that time, it is unlikely we will have absolute clarity. Even when decisions are made about the fall, we will do so with the knowledge that we may need to adjust our plans through the semester if the health situation changes. I am confident that together our community will understand the need for optionality in determining the best path forward.

While health and safety must guide our decisions, our commitment to our mission will be unwavering. The excellence of a Lehigh education and a high-quality Lehigh experience for our students, engaging in research that benefits society and serving local, national and international communities—teaching, research and service—defines us as a university. We will continue to deliver on that mission with excellence.

We are all being challenged in ways we could not have imagined just a few months ago. I am confident we will rise to the challenge. The grit, determination and drive to get things done that defines Lehigh University will spur us to come through this extraordinary time an even stronger university and more cohesive community.


John D. Simon ’19P