Letter from President Pollard

June 9

June 9, 2020


Dear JBU Parents and Students,

I wanted to send you the latest information on JBU’s plans for the fall. As you might imagine, we have spent much of the last two months trying to reimagine JBU’s education in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. JBU has developed a set of theological, pandemic, and educational assumptions that will guide us as we make decisions about bringing students back to campus. You can read those assumptions at our JBU Back to Campus webpage.

Arkansas Regulatory Context. JBU is under the jurisdiction of the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) and Governor Asa Hutchinson when it comes to responding to the pandemic. They have the power and responsibility to regulate how and whether JBU can open in the fall, so we take seriously their guidance and directives. They have been pragmatic and thoughtful in their response to date, and we are grateful for their leadership.

Arkansas is still in Phase One of opening up as defined by the Governor’s office. ADH has not yet issued guidance or directives for higher education opening in the fall, but it has issued guidance and directives that affect JBU in areas such as workout gyms, large group venues, overnight camps, worship services, and summer team sports activities. (More on ADH guidance, alerts and directives.) ADH also relies on the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the CDC came out with further guidance for higher education on May 21.

At this point in time, we expect that JBU will be required to adopt policies and practices to encourage social distancing, masks, personal hygiene, testing and contact tracing, quarantining for those exposed and isolation for those who are sick, and more extensive sanitizing practices. We are actively preparing for these expected requirements, and you can read more about our preparations at JBU Back to Campus. Of course, all of us recognize that information about COVID-19 and how to respond is changing frequently and that JBU may well have to change its response throughout the year. We will continue to update our JBU Back to Campus website as new information emerges.

Change in JBU’s Fall Academic Calendar. JBU has decided to change our academic calendar for the fall of 2020. We will start classes a week earlier, on August 17, and end class instruction by Tuesday, November 24, the evening before Thanksgiving break. We will conduct our final exam week remotely from Tuesday through Friday the following week, December 1-4. In order to provide the same number of class days as a normal semester, we will hold classes on Labor Day and will not have a fall break. We will stagger move-in this year, with new and transfer students coming on August 11-12 and returning students coming August 13-16. We will be providing more detailed information on the move-in process by the end of the month.

We came to this decision after much conversation and for several important reasons. Changing the calendar will help minimize non-essential travel during Thanksgiving break when JBU students would go around the country to celebrate the holiday with family and then would return to campus, possibly bringing COVID-19 back with them. There has also been some suggestion by infectious disease experts that there could be a second wave of COVID-19 infections later in the fall as the weather changes, so this new calendar will help us minimize that risk and still achieve our academic mission. In addition, we have had several years in which influenza has spiked on campus following Thanksgiving break, which would also be a complication. Finally, many of the schools in Arkansas and in our athletic conference are likely to adopt a similar schedule, and this decision will help us coordinate with them for athletic competitions.

We know that this decision generates a lot of other questions about dates for programs such as athletic pre-season training, RA training, international student arrival, orientation, and general move-in. These programs may also be affected by the Governor’s direction on re-opening colleges and universities, and JBU’s own efforts to control the spread of COVID-19. We have listed our current expectations for those dates on JBU Back to Campus. We have not decided yet about the date for Fall Commencement. Currently, we are limited to only 33% capacity in any of our large venues, so it would not be possible to host commencement with that limitation. We have also not yet decided on the dates for the academic calendar for the spring semester.

Fill the Gap” Scholarship Fund. We recognize that some students and families have had financial setbacks because of the pandemic. JBU wants to help those students get to JBU this fall. We have established a special “Fill the Gap” Scholarship Fund, and we have already received over $350,000 to support JBU students. We will also be hosting a special appeal for this fund on Wednesday, June 10. We are deeply grateful to the many friends of the university who have generously provided for JBU students in this way. If you have experienced a financial setback and would like to learn more about the fund, please contact David Burney in the financial aid office at finaid@jbu.edu or 479.524.7427 so we can work with you and try to address your personal situation. ‚Äč

Prayer of Lament Service. We are mindful that our nation has been involved in an important conversation about racism, justice, and peace over the last two weeks. JBU hosted a Prayer of Lament service last Friday in response to the unjust killing of George Floyd and its aftermath in our country. The scriptural focus of the service was Isaiah 58:9-10: “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’ If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourself in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” We also partnered with local churches to conduct a prayer walk around campus, asking for God to bring about his justice, righteousness, protection, peace, wisdom, and love in our country and this world. We would ask that you join us in those prayers.

JBU will look different in the fall, but it will still be good. Moreover, I am praying that God will use the limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic to deepen our spiritual commitment to be followers of Christ. As Paul says in Romans 5:3-5, “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” May it always be true of us at JBU.          

I look forward to seeing you back on campus this fall (d.v.).

All God’s blessings,