Dear Members of the Southwestern Community,

All of us at Southwestern University are excited to be on the brink of our 180th academic year. However, while we look forward to welcoming back faculty, staff, and students, we have decided to wait a little bit longer to begin the semester. Working hand-in-hand with the Campus Readiness Taskforce, the University has been planning for months to prepare a campus environment that is consistent with CDC guidelines while also abiding by the advice and counsel from faculty, public health officials, epidemiologists, and local health care providers. With all of this in mind, the start date for the fall 2020 semester will be moved back two weeks to Monday, September 7, 2020.

At this time, we are confident in our ability to offer an outstanding Southwestern University liberal arts education, along with expanded services and co-curricular experiences. We are not alone in altering our academic calendar as several other institutions in the Associated Colleges of the South consortium have adjusted their semesters as well. In addition, the local schools in Georgetown, Round Rock, Leander, and Austin are doing the same. Because the children of many of Southwestern’s staff and faculty attend these schools, the concurrent scheduling will help ease the child care strains faced by our workforce. Supporting our staff and faculty in this way is something that I am committed to as a professional, community member, and working mother.

While coronavirus positivity rates are currently high in Texas, the number of new cases reported in Williamson County has declined over the past several days, as has the rate of new infections. We are heartened by this but want more time to track what we expect will be a continuing trend. Thankfully, the new statewide emphasis on wearing masks and practicing social distancing appears to be having its intended effect. 

Over the past few weeks, I have heard from many Southwestern parents and students. I appreciate that so many joined the recent video conference calls to discuss the institution’s plans and ask detailed questions. This short delay in our start date will allow all of us to better prepare for next semester. 

Here is what we will be accomplishing over the next few weeks.

First, Southwestern will require that all students present a negative test at the beginning of the fall semester. Students should be tested no more than 14 days before returning to campus. While we prefer students take their tests before arriving on campus, we will offer tests on campus for students unable to do so. We will also assist students who need help finding a testing facility or need financial assistance. 

Second, we have increased the ability and staffing of the SU Health Center by establishing the Pirate Assessment Triage and Containment Hub (PATCH). Students must go to PATCH if they experience COVID-19 symptoms. PATCH healthcare professionals will ensure that each student is examined, tested, and treated. We are also expanding our mental health counseling options for students during this anxiety-inducing time and will hire an additional mental health professional. 

Third, we are working with our dining service provider to ensure adequate food availability, quantity, and quality for students. I am pleased to share that we have expanded our food service hours. Mabee Commons will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Fourth, as I have recently discovered, the summer weather in Texas is intense! Pushing our start date back two weeks moves us closer to more temperate weather and opens up the possibility of using the outdoors for more practical purposes. The facilities team is exploring ways to provide more outdoor seating and convening spaces across campus. 

The health and safety of the entire Southwestern community is my top priority. This shift in the start date of the fall semester will enhance our ability to deliver the best in-person experience for our students while also safeguarding their health and the health of our staff and faculty.

From an academic perspective, the revised semester start date provides the same number of days and instructional hours as the regular semester and meets the requirements of our accreditation agency. Classes will begin on-campus and in-person on September 7, 2020, and the semester will continue in-person until November 24, 2020 — just before Thanksgiving. All students will be required to move out of their residence halls at that time, permitting us to clean and sanitize the facilities in preparation for the spring semester. After Thanksgiving break concludes, we will have two full weeks of remote instruction followed by two days for remote review, music juries, and capstone presentations. Final exams will be conducted remotely from December 15 to December 19, 2020. Assuming this schedule remains in place through the end of the fall semester, current fees for room and board will apply. If the University must close due to worsening pandemic circumstances or an external mandate, Southwestern will apply an adjustment for unused room and board, as applicable, to spring 2021 charges. Tuition will not be discounted.

I understand you may have a number of questions regarding exact dates, deadlines, and logistics. To address these questions and concerns, I have included key reopening details below. In cooperation with all offices on campus, we have designed a webpage that will provide a great deal of additional information.

Students, this is a time for you to demonstrate your leadership, your empathy, and your commitment to our community. If you do not follow our masking, social distancing, and handwashing guidelines, please realize that the virus will find you. It is imperative that you observe our new health protocols. If you do not show caution and care for yourselves and those around you, we will all go home.

We appreciate your patience and goodwill. Please understand that while we are making preparations and will do everything possible to maintain the health and safety of the campus community, we are still vulnerable to external circumstances. If need be, we will act appropriately and swiftly, with full communication to all of our community members. 

I am grateful for your continued commitment to Southwestern University, and I have confidence in our ability to have a rewarding and memorable fall 2020 semester.


Laura Skandera Trombley

  • Remote Instruction: While Southwestern recognizes that in-person instruction aligns with our mission and goals, the pandemic requires a new level of flexibility for both students and faculty concerning the delivery of the University’s academic program for the fall semester. All Southwestern students have the option of engaging in remote learning. Although there is not an application or approval process for remote learning, students should proceed as follows:
  • Students who need to pursue remote learning due to their personal health-related circumstances should reach out to Jennifer Smull, associate director of academic success (
  • All other students planning to pursue remote learning should contact Dave Seiler, director of academic success ( 
  • In both cases, students should send an email to their fall semester faculty to inform them that they intend to engage in remote learning.
  • Faculty Availability: We expect faculty members to be available in-person or remotely at the time of each scheduled class. Class time can be used for lectures, class discussions, problem-solving, or office hours.
  • First-Year Seminar and Advanced Entry Seminar: Both seminars will start at the same time as other courses and run throughout the semester.
  • Housing Density: We are flexible regarding housing exemptions and cancellation requests. Our goal is to de-densify the residence halls and create more opportunities for students who want single rooms. Our current residence hall occupancy rate ranges from 68% to 96% across our various residential buildings.
  • Housing Move-in Dates: Students will be contacted by the housing office to schedule their new move-in appointments. Due to the postponed fall athletic season, athletes will not have an early campus return. The new move-in dates are as follows:
    • First-Year and Transfer Students: Thursday, September 3, through Friday, September 4, 2020
    • Returning Students: Friday, September 4, through Sunday, September 6, 2020
Welcome Week
  • Welcome Week Programming: The first nights of arrival will allow for residential meetings and community-building. We will also review protocols, procedures, and policies. Many of the previously scheduled Welcome Week events have been moved to a virtual or small-group model. There will be opportunities for social interactions throughout the weekend. The rest of the programming elements will still happen but have shifted to the first few weeks of class. This shift will allow students to set up their rooms and self-quarantine prior to the first day of class.
  • More detailed information on the Welcome Week schedule can be found here. 
  • Hours: Dining hours have been significantly increased to de-densify the dining space and allow in-person dining for those who choose this option. Mabee Commons will be open Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • Service: There will be no buffet or served stations For those who desire to order meals to go, there will be an app to facilitate the order and provide pick-up details. For those who would like a grab-and-go option, that is available at the Cove.
Health Care
  • Testing, Masking, Washing Hands, Physical Distancing, and Tracking: Students, faculty, and staff are required to be tested, wear face masks, take responsibility for proper hand hygiene, and practice physical distancing to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Additionally, the University will conduct randomized testing and contact tracing to further contain the number of positive cases on campus.
  • Testing: The starting date modification helps with implementing a COVID-19 testing plan for students, faculty, and staff. The extra time will allow our community to be tested before they come back to campus. Here are some of the specifics about our testing process: 
  • Students: All students are required to present a negative test for COVID-19 prior to their arrival on campus. The preferred polymerase chain reaction test (PCR); antigen or antibody (serology) tests will not be accepted. Upon arrival, students must take another COVID-19 test at a designated time and place on campus. Any student with COVID-19 symptoms will be tested at PATCH and quarantined until their test results come back. In order to ensure that there is not a high percentage of asymptomatic cases on campus and to monitor infection rates, randomized testing will be conducted on campus throughout the semester. Students will be required to self-quarantine until the results of any COVID-19 test are received.
  • Staff and Faculty: All staff and faculty on campus during the fall semester are required to be tested prior to students returning to campus or as designated by Human Resources. Human Resources will contact all staff and faculty about testing options. The preferred polymerase chain reaction test (PCR); antigen or antibody (serology) tests will not be accepted. Any staff or faculty member with COVID-19 symptoms will be required to remain off campus until they have received a return-to-work release from their physician and are approved to return by Human Resources. In order to ensure there is not a high percentage of asymptomatic cases on campus and to monitor infection rates, randomized testing will be conducted on campus throughout the semester.
  • Isolation and Quarantine Process: Students who have been exposed to or tested positive for COVID-19 will be asked to quarantine/isolate at home or off campus for a period of 14 days. University care coordinators will assist students through either process. If a student is unable to go home or off campus to quarantine, they will do so in their assigned residential space with precautions. If a student is unable to go home or off campus to isolate, they will be provided, as available, a designated isolation room on campus. Currently, 5 percent of University housing beds are designated as isolation beds.
  • Face Masks: Face masks are required on campus at all times, except when in a residence hall room or one-person office or while eating. Two reusable and washable face masks will be provided to each student, faculty member, and staff member. Hand sanitizer stations will be present in all classrooms and throughout all campus buildings. Extra masks will be available in classrooms in the event a student has forgotten theirs.
  • Hand Washing: Students will receive a refillable bottle for hand sanitizer to carry with them. The container may be refilled at designated locations, and hand sanitizer stations are located across campus.
  • Physical Distancing: All campus spaces, except residential spaces and other designated areas, are arranged to accommodate a six-foot space between individuals. Classrooms are also arranged to allow six feet between students and eight feet between the faculty member and students.
  • Symptom Tracking: All students, faculty, and staff must self-monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Any individual who is experiencing these symptoms or who has come into contact with someone exhibiting these symptoms must immediately isolate themselves and contact Health Services (students) or their medical provider (faculty and staff).
  • Health Center: The SU Health Center has increased its ability to assist students by establishing the Pirate Assessment Triage and Containment Hub (PATCH). Students must go to PATCH if they experience COVID-19 symptoms. PATCH healthcare professionals will ensure each student is examined and treated.
  • Counseling: To increase mental health counseling options for students during this anxiety-inducing time, we are adding a mental health professional. 
  • Care Coordinators: The University has appointed two care coordinators to coordinate the isolation and quarantine of students, ensure that the basic needs of quarantined/isolated students are met, and manage contact tracing on campus. They will be the primary point of contact for all departments as it relates to a student’s isolation, quarantine, and contact tracing. They will work with staff from Residence Life, the SU Health Center, Facilities Management, and Academic Success as well as additional contact tracers on campus.  
Travel Policy
  • Non-Essential Travel: Students, faculty, and staff should limit all non-essential travel starting August 17, 2020. After that, any non-essential travel will be highly discouraged.
  • Travel Registry: Students, faculty, and staff should log all travel with the University through the appropriate travel registry.