The new semester and 2021 begin at a time of both hope and continued trial for the country. It is a time of crisis that will echo for generations. Our students need us, and our country urgently needs the citizen-leaders we are preparing. If any of us needed a jolt as to our sense of purpose, the terrible, chaotic scenes last week in Washington, D.C. offered it. We understand viscerally now in ways we could have never expected or imagined that democracy is fragile. The work of American higher education altogether must center more and more on strengthening the civic fabric of the nation.
Meanwhile simply in terms of dire practicalities, until vaccines can help end this pandemic, Covid-19 is by no means behind us, so our precautions here on campus of course remain fully in place. We know we will have cases on campus, as we did in the fall.
But we also have confidence in the system we have built and refined through experience. It is a system to mitigate spread through masks and social distancing, to contact trace, support students who need to quarantine or isolate, and continue to maintain a healthy workplace where the virus is not transmitted. These steps are effective, and we will continue them as long as we must. To keep our students on track to their degrees, to maintain their essential in-person connections with one another and with mentors, and to provide resources and support for those in isolation and quarantine --- all of these tasks amount to vital contributions to public health and the common good. We are in close touch with state officials and the Virginia Department of Health at all times, in recent days discussing the vaccine roll-out in detail along with Virginia’s other colleges and universities.
For this new semester and beyond, our other urgent work will be ensuring Longwood’s strength and stability for the future. As you’ve heard from me before, the financial crisis brought on by Covid-19 is like nothing American higher education has seen. I know many of you are understandably worried what all this means for Longwood, and for you, and I want to give you an overview of where we stand.
The good news is that by operating successfully in the fall and maintaining our enrollment strength, we are doing what matters most financially. But Covid is hitting hard in many ways --- one-time expenses, pressures on the Commonwealth, and sadly by knocking many families that have been aspiring to college off-course financially. And more broadly, we still face a reckoning with the demographic challenge of the diminishing number of college-age students that all of higher education is facing, and which will last decades.
Against that backdrop, I know many of you also are wondering about salaries. Classified salaries have been fully restored now, as planned, and we continue to envision restoring faculty and AP salaries on the timeline announced last spring. In a way that differs markedly from so many institutions, our shared sacrifice has allowed us to manage the expenses associated with Covid this year without wide job losses across the University.
But I will not mince words about the deeper future. To sail through this current storm and prepare for what comes next --- and to invest in strengths that will attract students --- we simply must find ways to be smarter, savvier, more focused and more efficient.
What does that mean in practice? It means the vice presidents and I have intensified our focus on areas where the University can work more productively, both within divisions and across them. The budgeting around any hiring we do will be scrutinized extremely carefully at the university level, and hiring will be focused on public safety and other essential concerns or paths to enhanced funding. Over time, some job descriptions will naturally change or shift as we shape the services and responsibilities on campus into what we most need, looking to the far future.
As 2021 begins, we face the challenges of the year with the most important things in place --- the camaraderie and strength we all share, the college-town spirit of Farmville, a sense of deep purpose for the work we do. We are in a defining moment in Longwood’s long history, and will emerge stronger for the challenges we will have met together.