I write with a heavy heart to let you know that despite our hopes and plans, the external health conditions in Memphis do not support an on-campus fall semester. All along, we have known that this was a possibility and we have waited until the last practical moment to assess it. I wish it were otherwise, but I am committed to facing the facts and to sharing them with you.
This past week, our team consulted with public health experts here in Memphis and in our broader national Rhodes network. We asked them to review the current COVID-19 spread in our region, the capacity of Memphis’ health infrastructure, and the trends for a variety of community health indicators. We also asked them to consider the way our health and safety plan would mitigate the potential risks.
Unanimously, these experts expressed appreciation for the plan, agreeing that we and our Baptist partners have a solid strategy in place for returning to campus. Also, unanimously, they advised that no plan could make up for the fact that conditions in Memphis are increasingly severe. They told us that based on the current facts and trends, we should expect that campus outbreaks of COVID-19 would quickly outpace our ability to provide an appropriately safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff.
With the full support of our Board of Trustees, we have made the difficult decision to postpone reopening campus until conditions in Memphis make it safe to do so.
Balancing the need for families, faculty, and staff to plan for the semester with the knowledge that we will not be able to fully populate campus this semester, fall instruction will be offered remotely and students will not be able to return to campus. As we did in the spring, we will make special on campus provisions for international students and others who do not have a place to live. We continue to expect and plan for an on-campus and in-person spring 2021 semester.
Should conditions improve enough to allow limited return to campus at some point this fall, we will invite our first-year students to join us, and provide each student with a single room. We are giving this priority to our first-year students to assist them in their transition to Rhodes.
Since our sudden pivot in March, our faculty have learned a great deal about the most effective ways to engage with students remotely. Over the summer, the faculty have adopted principles for remote instruction that emphasize real-time interaction, individualized support, and relationship building. Our faculty are committed to bringing their whole selves to the virtual classroom—treating their students with compassion and respect—just as they do in our traditional classrooms.
We remain equally committed to supporting the holistic well-being of our students. In the coming days and weeks, we will provide information and resources on how student support services and campus life will be offered in remote formats this fall.
Changes to the fall are particularly disruptive for fall athletes. We intend to offer robust competitive opportunities in the spring for what are typically fall sports. More information on what to expect will be shared with athletes later this week.
While most of our expenses remain in place when we are remote, and while Rhodes is prepared to absorb the majority of the costs of our health and safety plan when we return to campus, we recognize that a remote semester cannot replicate the full on-campus experience. For the fall, we will return to the tuition structure that was in place in the fall of 2017 when rising seniors matriculated at Rhodes. Overall, this represents a 9% reduction in our tuition rate. The effect of this reduction on your charges will vary depending on financial aid awards. By Friday, July 24th, we will post a revision to your student account. As always, if your individual financial situation has changed, you may request a review of your financial aid by writing to email@example.com.
I am sure you have many questions. You can continue to reach out to us through our COVID-19 Question and Comment Form. We will respond promptly, and will update our FAQ site as we move forward. I hope many of you will join me for a webinar tomorrow evening. You should have received a link earlier this week.
There has been much heartbreak on campus as we reviewed the recent data and the recommendations. The Rhodes experience is designed to be residential and our campus is a remarkable place, but we are adapting to circumstances and continuing our traditions of small classes, personalized instruction, and student-centered support. We continue to be guided by values that keep your health and safety foremost in mind.
I continue to keep you in my heart and to reflect on your resilience as you navigate this generational upheaval. The Rhodes community stands with you as well.