Summoning the energy for important work

The last few months have been a time of extraordinary change on our campus and in the world.

On the most immediate level, the threat of COVID-19 led us to restrict student presence on campus to fewer than 700 students for the fall semester, with all classes being offered remotely. The effort required for faculty, students, and staff to adapt to this new reality has been enormous. At times, that effort has felt exhausting, even overwhelming. At other times, the community has been energized by new possibilities. We have tried as a community to encourage flexibility and patience with each other, recognizing that none of us are having the classes, semester, or life we signed up for. I have been very proud of the way in which our community has managed to summon the energy and commitment to make this semester work as well as it has, and I believe that we are ready for a spring semester in which we expect to welcome back the majority of students.

At the same time, our community and our nation have been deeply engaged in the urgent work of understanding the impact of racial injustice on many institutions, including Lafayette College, and actively pursuing change. This has been a time of intense engagement and activism on the part of students, faculty, staff, and many alumni. At a time in which all communication is virtual, many alumni voices have come through as strongly as those of students. I do not recall a time in which we have heard from so many alumni about their hopes and aspirations for the College. Statements that I have released over the last several months outline actions the administration is taking to address issues of racism and injustice, and many groups and departments on campus are actively engaged in seeking solutions. Some of the articles in this issue will give you a sense of the many ways in which the community as a whole is responding to this critical moment.

As a college, we have had to make some difficult choices to address the immediate budget pressures brought about by this crisis, and we will need to look at many aspects of our structure and operations for the coming years as we work to bring our expenses back into alignment with our resources. We are fortunate that Lafayette entered this crisis in a period of historic strength, with growing enrollment and a strong endowment. Nevertheless, the coming months and years will require us to focus our attention on our highest priorities to ensure that we continue to thrive and advance in an increasingly complex and competitive environment.

The presidential search now underway in anticipation of my planned departure at the end of this academic year provides an important first step in this new phase of strategic planning. Community-wide discussions about what Lafayette seeks in its next leader are a way of asking how Lafayette seeks to define itself in the years ahead. The College’s core identity as a distinctive liberal arts and engineering college has been broadened through the Affordability and Distinction Through Growth initiative to include a commitment to becoming more accessible to students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. As part of that commitment to greater diversity, we also are working toward greater equity and inclusivity. Beyond that, the development of new areas of academic inquiry, the pursuit of a championship culture in athletics, and work in other important areas of focus will also compete for attention and resources.

It will be important for the community to engage in active dialogue about how to balance Lafayette’s existing ambitions and goals. The experiences of the current crisis also may offer new insights and opportunities that will change the College’s course in the coming years. While this next phase of the College’s journey will no doubt present challenges, it is exciting to think of the possibilities that have been opened up by the rapid changes that have taken place over the past year. We have proven that Lafayette can respond nimbly and effectively to truly unprecedented circumstances. That alone should give us great confidence that Lafayette is well equipped to handle whatever challenges may come next.

Thanks to all of you for your support of the College and of me. I look forward to our continued work together in the months ahead.

Alison Byerly Signature

Alison Byerly