Message to Students, Faculty, and Staff (March 27, 2020)

To students, faculty, and staff,

Fortunately, there is a limited amount to report today on the COVID-19 front at Bowdoin and in the area, although an increasing number of you are dealing with family and friends who are affected, and we all know from the news that there are very serious issues in many places.

We do not know of a new case of the disease within our campus community. It was reported last evening that there are currently four individuals hospitalized at Mid Coast Hospital for COVID-19. So far, they have treated eight patients and admitted six of them, with two having since been discharged. None of the six has required a ventilator. The state continues to confirm additional cases every day (up to 168 today), with the majority (92) in Cumberland County. And today, the Maine CDC reported that a man in his eighties is the first COVID-19-related death in the state. Whether here in Maine or elsewhere, it remains vitally important that we keep observing social distancing and the other preventative measures recommended by health officials.

The resumption of classes on Wednesday via remote learning went well, which is a direct result of the considerable time and effort invested in this by our faculty and their staff partners, and the engagement of our students, who connected from as far away as Hawaii, the UK, and several other countries. The launch was not without some bumps, which we will continue to work through—including getting students the necessary technology, working with faculty to provide multiple approaches and the right tools to fit individual and class needs, and other issues that are bound to crop up. My great thanks to all of you for all of the work and patience that has been essential to successfully begin the remote learning experience.

With remote classes underway, we are focusing on the budget. The impact of this crisis on College finances will be significant, with—in particular—a substantial decline in the value of our endowment. We’ve begun a close reexamination of operating budgets for the current fiscal year, given the new reality, and the budget in process for the following year. Until we have a better understanding of what’s ahead, I am implementing a freeze on new hiring (with a handful of exceptions). As we move forward and deal with the new financial reality, the preservation of jobs will be my number-one priority. It is important to remember that, notwithstanding the serious issues we are facing, we have worked through periods of crisis and financial stress in the past and emerged strong, and we will here as well. There will be more to come on the financial issues in the days ahead.

As Tama Spoerri noted in her message to employees on Wednesday, the College has adopted additional COVID-19-related medical coverage provided by Anthem, which applies to all three medical plan options available to faculty and staff. Importantly, please be sure to read the other part of her note that describes coverage for eligible family members who lose their insurance elsewhere because of layoffs or other reasons. Her message is available on the human resources website.

In the coming days, we will have news on pending questions about summer research, the availability of summer employment and housing for students, and the status of summer programs and events. These deliberations involve many people across the College, and the outcomes can have a significant impact on both the College and our larger community.

In addition to coursework, students are also taking advantage of the various tools available to stay in touch, including using Zoom for College House meetings. The Orient is back in business, and I will resume office hours for students next week. Have a look here for more information and to sign up. Also, check out Bowdoin’s Instagram feed—my favorite post from yesterday was Professors Connie Chiang and Matt Klingle testing various Zoom backgrounds. Speaking of which, we’ve received some requests for Bowdoin-related Zoom backgrounds. Here’s a selection, with more to come. If you don’t already know how to use them, you can find instructions here.

In the “really excellent news” category, we learned today that Zoe Dietrich ’21 and Anneka Williams ’21 have each been named Goldwater Scholars for 2020 by the Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation. This is a very impressive achievement, a reminder of our students’ talent and dedication to academic excellence, and great news to start the weekend. Congratulations to Zoe and Anneka!

Please take care of yourself and stay safe.