Whittier College Moving Forward


President Oubré Outlines Whittier College Moving Forward Plan

When we launched our planning for the 2020-21 academic year—more than two months ago—we were optimistic that the COVID-19 pandemic would be waning as we headed into the fall. With the goal of welcoming students back to campus, we began to reimagine our academic calendar, classroom and residential life spaces, dining services, athletics, and student life in general. At the same time, we’ve been assessing other tactics we need to deploy to ensure a safe campus environment for our campus community. 

Despite all the hard work taken by our faculty and staff to welcome students back in person, the current data shows that COVID-19 remains a major public health threat and does not support a full return to campus. The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LADPH) released draft guidelines for the reopening of institutions of higher education (IHE). LADPH is adopting a staged approach—based on science and public health expertise—to allow IHE to slowly reopen. However, due to recent increases in COVID-19 cases and related testing and hospitalization rates in Los Angeles County, LADPH is urging colleges and universities to "have plans in place to continue with distance learning.” Moreover, in the absence of updated state guidelines, colleges and universities in Los Angeles County are not yet permitted to open for in-person learning or housing of students.

With the goal of providing clarity for students and families to adequately prepare for the quickly approaching academic year, College leadership has announced that for fall 2020 all courses will only be offered remotely (with possible exceptions—see the FAQ for more information). Additionally, on-campus housing will be extremely limited.

(Updated 8.4.20)

As mentioned, we have been closely monitoring the data and public health decisions concerning the COVID-19 pandemic. The following factors, among others, have led to our decision:

  • The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health currently estimates that 1 in every 140 persons in L.A. County is infectious. A month ago, the estimate was 1 in every 400.
  • The recent spike in cases in L.A. County shows a significant increase in younger people being diagnosed—more than 50% of new cases in the county are people ages 18 to 41.
  • COVID-19’s resurgence has slowed L.A. County’s reopening. This delays the later stages of California’s phased reopening plan until the end of July, at the earliest.

Planning for remote learning in the fall allows Whittier College to move forward with what we believe is the best plan for our students and allows us to focus our energy over the next few weeks on delivering an individualized and interactive education and student life opportunities that are the essence of the Whittier College experience. 

The areas of focus include: 

  1. Developing and refining our approach to remote education. This includes additional training and technical support for faculty, staff, and students. 
  2. Taking additional steps to support students remotely–including providing academic counseling, career coaching, IT support, health and wellness services, and campus life activities. 
  3. Working as a community to continue our work around issues of equity and inclusion.  
  4. Preparing for the spring semester, with the possibility of having some students return to campus.

Our goal is always to provide a deeply personal and individualized education. Navigating the transmission risks of the pandemic necessitates that the faculty, and the institution as a whole, adopt new strategies and techniques for engagement. At the same time, we remain committed to fostering deep mentoring relationships between faculty and students and to providing the engaging and dynamic learning experiences students expect.

Whittier’s faculty have worked all summer to reimagine how to best engage with students given the disruptive impacts of the pandemic. Faculty have reviewed feedback from students and received extensive training focused on new ways to structure courses and assignments, new methods for evaluating student work, and how to best deploy tools and technologies for hybrid and remote instruction. As a result, all courses have been tailored to be adaptable to physical distancing requirements and to provide high-quality instruction in a remote format.

Moreover, we have taken the bold step of reconfiguring the academic calendar for the next academic year into five seven-week modules. We know from student feedback that in the spring, juggling four to five courses in a remote format was a daunting challenge for many students. The Module System will allow all of us to focus our attention on fewer courses with more intention and intensity. As we’ve shared with you previously, we believe that this format will be particularly helpful in accommodating high-quality remote instruction.  

The fall semester will begin as planned on September 9, (see the revised academic calendar). Returning students have already begun transitioning their course schedule to the module system. New students will have the opportunity to enroll in classes in late July. 

Faculty advisors will continue to help students navigate changes during the next academic year. Moreover, we plan to make laptops and internet hotspots available to those students who need them. 

For the entire 2020-21 academic year, students will be able to access all courses remotely if needed or desired (even when the College is allowed to have on-campus, in-person instruction). Our promise is always to meet you where you are.

For questions regarding academics please email restart2020@whittier.edu.

Student Life

Individualized and interactive engagement is a hallmark of the Whittier experience. In the fall, we will return with dynamic remote programming, support and advising services, advocacy and learning opportunities, and more. At this time, following the current health policy regulations, we will not be hosting any in-person events. This may change as the guidelines evolve over the coming months. Nevertheless, we will continue to stay connected using available mediums.

Our recently adopted COVID-19 Student Code of Conduct is in line with Los Angeles County and statewide health guidelines that require every individual to wear a face-covering at all times while in public. Physical distancing will be enforced throughout campus, especially in classrooms and residence halls. Paths on campus will be one-way. Buildings will have separate entrances and exits. Offices will see decreased traffic as many College staff members will continue working remotely in the fall (more details are forthcoming). 

As we announced last week, Whittier has made the difficult decision of not participating in Fall 2020 intercollegiate athletic competition for football, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball, and men’s water polo with the aim of safeguarding the health and wellbeing of our students. We have not made a final decision on the status of other fall, winter, and spring sports.

Residential Life

Housing will only be available for international students and students who anticipate facing housing insecurity in the fall. Students who have not previously reported anticipated housing insecurity may request on-campus housing by completing this form by August 9. Whittier College expects to house approximately 50 students on campus this fall.

Questions about Residential Life may be directed to residentiallife@whittier.edu.

Please keep in mind that this is a fluid situation.  

These are difficult times for everyone. The pandemic has had a disruptive effect on all of our lives—with some communities bearing the brunt of the burden. Many of our students are facing challenges—financial, emotional, and social—that go beyond what happens in the classroom. This summer has also been a time of much-needed social and political unrest. It is difficult for faculty, staff, and administrators to not be physically present with our students as they face so many challenges. I want to reassure you that as a campus community we are here for our students. We may not always see eye-to-eye on every issue, but the wellbeing and success of our students is our number one priority. 

As was announced in January, Whittier College is not increasing tuition this year, keeping it at the 2019-20 level. Our goal for the coming year is to continue our fundraising efforts to secure additional scholarships and fellowships for our students. 

While we continue to be optimistic about what the future holds, we know that this pandemic is here for the long-term. We will need to continue to adjust to this evolving situation. This is truly a defining experience for our society, our campus, and especially for our young people. We are looking for your cooperation, support, and leadership as Whittier College moves forward in the coming academic year. 

We will continue to provide updates as they become available. Please check your email regularly and visit the Whittier College Moving Forward site for the latest COVID-19 updates—we will be updating FAQs and other content on the site regularly.