Message from Interim President Williams to the Transylvania community (April 24, 2020)

Dear Transylvania Community,

As we conclude our winter term this week, it’s difficult to comprehend all of the changes that have occurred in our academic community since we began classes January 6. The world has changed. The way we operate at Transylvania has changed. All of our lives have changed. Our response to all of these changes has been guided by our constant attention to doing what is best for the health and safety of the entire Transylvania community.

While our winter term is ending, the pandemic is not. Perhaps most challenging is the reality that what comes next is still unknown. My optimism is tinged with realism as we take in the constantly changing information available on the novel coronavirus pandemic and how our society is responding to it. 

Ideally, we want to return to campus this August and resume the type of education Transylvania is known for: individualized, personal instruction by faculty who are just as passionate about teaching as they are in caring for our students’ development. But when we can return, too, is unknown. 

While no decisions have been made about our fall 2020 term, I have assembled a team of administrators, faculty and staff — including myself and President-Designate Brien Lewis — to consider multiple scenarios and offer recommendations on a way forward. It is my hope that we will have further clarity on the health situation in time to make an announcement of our plans in early June. All of our plans for reopening the campus for on-site education must be implemented in concert with public health directives and be approved by Kentucky public health officials.

We are also monitoring the university’s financial health and our plan for accommodating any changes presented to us in the short term. We anticipate that the current fiscal year budget ending June 30 will be in line with the operating budget approved by our board of trustees, but that it will be achieved in a very different way. For example, Transylvania provided $1.3 million in refunds to students for unused portions of winter housing and meal plan fees, but we made those repayments possible through budget reductions by every cabinet member, as well as savings in campus operating expenses. We have prioritized keeping all of our employees on the payroll the remainder of this fiscal year and would like to do so for the future. I commend the cabinet members for their thoughtful leadership.

What the financial future holds beyond June 30 is, however, another unknown. Our annual budget is tied directly to enrollment. Our fall 2020 deposits for first-year students and housing applications for returning students are strong, but we cannot predict what will happen in the 18 weeks between now and the scheduled start of the fall semester. Both President-Designate Lewis and I are committed to bringing our community together to find the best operational and financial solutions to address the challenges we face. 

In these times of unprecedented change, I am proud that Transylvania moved quickly to implement public health measures and embrace remote modes of education to make the best of a difficult situation with campus health and safety in mind. Among Kentucky’s universities, we were one of the first — if not the first — to issue cash refunds for unused room and board fees and to distribute the federal CARES Act grants to students, providing them with resources at a critical time. Academically, our standards will not be compromised, and we are committed to ensuring that our instructional content and support services are of the highest quality.

Ours is a community of thinkers, innovators and doers. Our entire Transylvania community of faculty and staff have demonstrated their dedication to serving our students. Together, Transylvania will do what it does best by using the skills the liberal arts teach us — coming together as individuals to critically think, problem-solve and communicate clearly for the benefit of the whole.  

Be well.

Dr. John N. WIlliams ’74
Interim President