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Return to Campus for the Spring Semester

January 7, 2022

Dear University community members, 

I hope you had a restorative Christmas break and were able to spend time with loved ones and on activities you enjoy.

The changing pandemic realities 

We now turn to face the work of the upcoming term. Unfortunately, as we begin to launch the new semester, the ever-mutating coronavirus continues to surprise, disrupt, and threaten us. 

Over the break, members of the COVID response team were closely monitoring recent data on the Omicron variant, the latest science, and evolving safety recommendations. Team members have been in constant contact with regional and national experts. They have been sharing our successes and learning more about the recommendations, plans, and successes of others. 

On Monday morning, January 3rd, we held a two-hour meeting of the broadly representative University Leadership Council (ULC) to discuss how we should proceed. We began by reviewing the decision-making principles we have consistently followed and that have been the rock upon which our path has been charted. Those principles were summarized most recently when I spoke at the Catholic Studies Centre.

We acknowledged that the situation remains quite disconcerting and that there is no ideal path forward. Each option has its advantages and its disadvantages. None is without risk. And regardless of our chosen path, some community members are certain to be pleased and others displeased. All of this is no different than what we have encountered at any critical decision point since March 2020.

Further, we acknowledged that regardless of when we bring our students back to campus, there is going to be a spike in cases among them. So, we focused on identifying the principles that should guide our actions. By the end of the meeting, we came to consensus that it is best to stay the course. 

Our return to campus 

Next weekend, we will welcome back our graduate and undergraduate students as they prepare for the start of spring semester’s in-person classes on Jan. 18. Our law school and medical school students are already attending face-to-face classes. 

We are returning to our residential campus and in-person instruction because it is our mission to discover, disseminate and integrate the values, knowledge and skills required for our students to transform society — and do so in the spirit of the Gospels. Fulfilling this mission is best done in person within the vibrant SLU community that also serves to promote a positive mental outlook among our students, staff and faculty. 

We are returning to campus because we have demonstrated that we know how to work, teach, and study safely in classrooms, labs, libraries and clinics, and control disease spread in these spaces.

Please get your booster dose now 

This semester, for the first time, booster vaccinations will play a critical role in putting COVID infections in check. If you have not already done so please get your booster dose as soon as possible. The sooner we are a fully boosted campus, the sooner we can ease back on our public health restrictions. 

Throughout the pandemic, our actions have been guided by the University’s strategic objectives, our Jesuit values, data and consensus science, and by the expectations of our University community. Consultation with students, staff and faculty has always been critical to our efforts.

The recent identification and increasing spread of the Omicron variant prompted the ULC to discuss a pause on our plans to return to campus. After reviewing the latest infection data and talking through the best path ahead, our clear view was that we must return to campus and continue to advance our mission. And, do so safely, as we have throughout the pandemic. 

Other public health measures 

For the short term, until we have a better sense of the Omicron wave, additional public health measures will be adopted.

More details about these and other public health protocols will be communicated to you by email in the coming days by Provost Mike Lewis, Vice President Sarah Cunningham and Terri Rebmann, my Special Assistant.

A year ago, we all had hoped we could vanquish this virus and the new vaccines would permit us to return to a more normal life. COVID-19 has proven to be exceptionally opportunistic, taking particular advantage of the most vulnerable of our society. 

Working together as OneSLU, we will continue to prioritize student learning and student mental health, the advancement of knowledge, and the treatment of our patients. By following the recommendations and requirements I have outlined, we will continue to limit the harm and disruption of COVID to both our University community and our neighbors. 

Higher Purpose. Greater Good.

Fred P. Pestello