COVID-19 Update to Faculty and Staff from President Brown

Dear Colleagues,

I hope this email finds you and your family safe and well.

March 2020 seemed like an eternity from beginning to end, as we settled into the strange new routine of teaching remotely and working on an almost deserted campus. Unfortunately, it appears this rhythm will be with us for at least another month and possibly longer, waiting for the virus to run its course.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our staff and faculty for making the enormous transitions of last month with determination and creativity. I know everyone is doing their best to serve our students and keep the important parts of the University running, while dealing with the far-reaching uncertainty created by the COVID-19 epidemic and its impact on our families.

I want specifically to acknowledge the staff members who are caring for the nearly 1,000 undergraduate students who are still living in our residences and eating take-out from our dining halls because they cannot go home. The BU Today article highlights the dedicated service of our custodial staff.

I also want to thank the staff of Student Health Services and the Occupational Health Center for their tireless efforts to help our students and staff through this very difficult time.

We are working diligently to ensure that the University operates smoothly through this challenging period and that it is well positioned for the time when we can resume normal operations. Importantly for our future, the undergraduate recruiting season is off to an excellent start. Our colleagues in the Admissions office admitted outstanding applicants to make up our fall freshman and spring College of General Studies cohorts. The traditional April recruiting process has been moved online, anchored by events hosted by the University and our schools and colleges. Our schools and colleges are applying the same effort and creativity to recruiting for their master’s and doctoral programs.

But we are coping with a great deal of uncertainty around the duration of the epidemic and regarding its direct impact on the operation of our residential campuses, the extent of the damage to the nation’s economy, and the ability of families to afford a Boston University education. Our decision earlier this month to freeze staff hiring and stop capital spending for projects that are not already underway is meant to preserve financial flexibility as we watch how the summer and fall unfold. Our decision to continue with faculty hiring reflects not only the unique role that faculty play at a university but also the nature of faculty hiring—the cycles of hiring are long in planning and slow in execution. Continued faculty hiring is essential to our ability to accomplish the core functions of the University—teaching, research, scholarship, and creative work.

What do we know now? We know that we will be reimbursing our undergraduate students for unused room and board for this spring and that we have other unexpected expenses associated with the pandemic. We plan to use our reserves at the end of this fiscal year to cover these costs, knowing that this will severely limit any new funding for the coming year.

Our contingency planning has begun with studying various scenarios for the summer terms, as it is unclear whether our campuses or our Study Abroad programs will be open for normal operations. Projections for changes in summer enrollment will have a significant impact on next year’s budget. Governor Baker’s announcement extending mandatory closure to May 4 is indicative of the unpredictability of the timing of our return to normal operations.

We also know that many of you are worried as you see friends and loved ones either contract COVID-19 or experience the economic fallout associated with the pandemic. For our staff, it is only human to wonder what that means for you and your place as valued members within the Boston University community. I cannot make any predictions or promises today; too much is uncertain about the future. But let me tell you what is uppermost in my mind: that your well-being, your service, and your place in the BU community is something we will do everything in our power to protect and preserve. That is our goal. I wish I could make it a guarantee, but at this point, I can’t.

What I can make is a promise that we will pursue that goal in a thoughtful and sensitive way, keenly aware of the disruption that our decisions could have on you and your families. We will share our thinking as we come to better understand what the future will bring and, in the meantime, we will try to do everything we can to listen and hear what you have to say. We are a caring community and we act accordingly.

Finally, in the midst of all the anxiety caused by the epidemic, there are some great examples of individuals leading in the fight against the virus. These BU Brink and Boston Globe articles highlight one of the several research projects in the NEIDL on understanding and finding cures for COVID-19. The compassionate efforts of our faculty and staff to donate personal protective equipment (PPE) from our laboratories to healthcare workers at Boston Medical Center and other hospitals also deserve mention.

And at Boston Medical Center our colleagues from the School of Medicine are on the front lines of this fight every day; putting themselves at risk while treating COVID-19 patients. No one is doing more for our community.

Even as we cope with the change in our daily lives and plan for the future, we must deal with the painful human toll of the epidemic. The physical and emotional levy on all of us is significant. I do take heart in the strength of the Boston University community and our faculty and staff. I know that you, as do I, long for the day when our sidewalks and halls are again crowded with the bright and ambitious students who we now see only on Zoom.

Standing and working together, we will get through this unprecedented time and again walk on our vibrant Boston University campuses. Please follow the guidance on social distancing and other measures to protect yourself.

Be safe and well.


Robert A. Brown signature
Robert A. Brown