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Dear Pitzer Community,
I write to update you on several matters as we are at the mid-point of a most unusual semester at Pitzer.
It has been heartening to hear so many positive comments from members of our community regarding the virtual teaching and learning environment at Pitzer this fall. This is a testament to the thought put in by our innovative faculty as they planned their courses this summer, the care with which they are delivering them now, and the adaptability and perseverance of our students.
Nevertheless, we know that virtual teaching and learning presents many challenges, and that we are all being affected by stress from the pandemic and world events. We will gather information about faculty and student experiences this semester using multiple formats and at different levels. This information will be carefully reviewed and used to help improve our online academic environment in the future, if needed.
I know that many of you are interested in the current thinking and planning for spring 2021. Pitzer’s COVID-19 Task Force, which has active representation of faculty, staff, and students, has been meeting regularly and will continue to meet throughout the semester. Currently the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) is not allowing higher education institutions to house students on-campus, unless it is specifically for housing insecurity reasons. LACDPH is indicating the soonest this will be reassessed is toward the end of November.
Obviously, we need to be authorized by LACDPH in order to bring students back to campus. Recently our Task Force identified and discussed principles for re-opening in-person, which will be a basis for discussion with our Board of Trustees at their meeting later this week, to identify a path to decision. In the meantime, we are preparing to meet the existing public health protocols and safety requirements, and anticipating possible future requirements for on-campus living and in-person instruction. Returning to a residential academic experience safely is my priority. We expect to make a determination about the spring semester in early December at the soonest due to our dependence on LACDPH.
Many in our community have asked about my response to last month’s letter from Pitzer’s Black Student Union (BSU) – which included a thoughtful list of recommendations that the College can enact to “support and foster a successful and well-rounded college experience for our Black Students.” I am proud of BSU for the care and attention they put into this document, and I agree with them that Pitzer College’s record on Black student support has not been what it should be. Soon after receiving the letter I informed BSU of this and my belief that now is the time to dedicate ourselves to making significant progress in these areas.
With that in mind, last month I met with BSU leaders to learn more about the concerns and issues they raised, and subsequent to that the vice presidents for admission/financial aid, student affairs, and academic affairs had separate meetings with BSU members. While there are some issues that we can address immediately, there are several that will require institutional reflection and commitment through our shared governance structure. BSU is aware of this and our interest in working with them and the wider campus community to act on those recommendations that are feasible and financially sustainable at this time.
I will continue to update our community on progress on this important front. In the meantime, BSU representatives will meet with Pitzer’s Board later this week so our trustees can better understand and support the needs of our Black students at the highest level.
I am pleased to note that our ongoing virtual programming around important and timely issues, such as racial justice and the upcoming election, has been meet with very positive responses and high rates of participation. More than 265 individuals watched the inaugural Racial Justice Initiative (RJI) event live last month, and many more have viewed it since.
The next RJI event will be held on October 15. Associate Dean of Faculty Adrian Pantoja will lead a panel discussion on the election featuring other national political experts. The panel will be followed by group discussions facilitated by members of the RJI organizing committee.
Finally, I want to recognize the good work of our Community Engagement Center (CEC) and Office of College Advancement. CEC has developed the People’s Pitzer: Civic Engagement 2020, which offers programming around public policy and social justice issues in our communities. Advancement has introduced Pitzer@Home, a series of virtual lectures, workshops, tutorials and more, which consistently produces interesting and engaging programs featuring members of the Pitzer community.
I look forward to providing additional information and updates in the coming weeks. Until then, best wishes for continued good health.
Melvin L. Oliver