Fall Semester Update

August 5, 2020

We write to you with difficult news.

Over the last few weeks, St. John’s College has been diligently working to finalize our reopening plans with the Maryland and New Mexico state governments and departments of health. While we were initially hopeful, with low case numbers across the country and a wide variety of preparations in place, we have encountered significant challenges that have forced us to reconsider our plans. Unfortunately, as the pandemic has resurged across the country during the last two months, it has become clear that we cannot provide for the minimum safety needs of our students, faculty, and staff if we begin the academic year in person. We have made the necessary decision to move the Fall 2020 semester online. All undergraduate and graduate classes will be conducted online; special consideration may be given for classes to support visa requirements for international students.

A large number of factors have informed this decision. In Santa Fe, the college is working hand-in-hand with a state government that has one of the most stringent COVID-19 plans in the nation. With case numbers continuing to rise, current state of New Mexico and Department of Health guidelines dictate that the college cannot use more than 25 percent of our classroom and residential hall capacity; no indoor dining is allowed; and students arriving from out of state must quarantine for 14 days, with further testing during that quarantine period. State testing requirements and a lack of testing resources across the country mean that incoming students could face quarantine times up to 24 days, and if at any point five or more St. John’s community members tested positive, the entire campus would be placed on lockdown—requiring 14 more days of quarantine and a pivot to online classes.

In Annapolis, the college faces similar challenges. Infection rates have continued to increase rapidly both locally and regionally. People under the age of 40 now account for more than 55 percent of new cases in Maryland, and infection rates for people under the age of 35 are 93 percent higher than people age 35 and older. In the past seven days, the state of Maryland has severely restricted indoor gatherings and imposed travel restrictions on several states, and COVID-19 test results are now taking five to seven days to process—or longer. Our ability to reopen campus safely has always depended on the availability of rapid and regular testing; we can no longer ensure ongoing access to the systematic testing that we require, and with the strain on the testing system in Maryland, we do not have confidence that we can maintain the testing regimen that would keep our students, staff, and faculty safe throughout the semester.

Most importantly: across both campuses, our greatest priority is, and always will be, the health and safety of every single member of the St. John’s College community. With infection rates growing across the country, an outbreak on our campuses is likely unavoidable, and we are already seeing such outbreaks at other colleges—causing health and safety challenges, and making it nearly impossible for essential staff to provide basic services for students on campus. It has become abundantly clear that the best thing we can do for our students is to conduct the fall semester remotely.

As we prepare for another term of online learning, the college is dedicated to helping our students attain the resources they need to study at St. John’s remotely. Philanthropy plays an important role for Johnnies who need financial assistance with technology requirements, internet access issues, logistical difficulties, and more. If you are able, we hope you will consider making a gift to help students, faculty, and staff work through these difficult times by supporting the Fund for St. John’s or the Student Emergency Relief Fund.

We know that this decision brings with it an incredible amount of disappointment—a feeling that we share beyond measure. At St. John’s College, we cherish the community of learning that we build upon every time we gather around the seminar table. We treasure the thrill of coming together to discuss great works, and the joy of welcoming students—new and returning—to their homes away from home in Annapolis and Santa Fe.

However, what the last six months have taught us is that our community is not defined by where we are, but by the relationships we have with one another; by the care, generosity, and compassion forged everywhere from the virtual classroom to video calls with classmates and peers. We will continue to grow and nurture our community. We will remain committed to discussing, exploring, learning, creating, and questioning ideas across philosophy, literature, math, science, music, and more. We will continue to exchange ideas with passion and integrity. And though we are separated by mountains, by oceans, and by this pandemic, our community will remain connected and close. We look forward to the day we can gather in-person again.

For more information, please visit our fall semester landing page.