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Fall Semester Update From President Ensign

Old West

President Margee Ensign has sent the following update on the fall semester to the Dickinson community:

To the Dickinson community:

For the past several months, students, faculty and staff have been meeting non-stop, working through the details of bringing our students back for in-person classes in the fall. Throughout this pandemic, the health and safety of our community has been the primary driver of our decision-making process. In early June, when we announced our decision to bring students back, COVID-19 cases were on the decline across the country, and we expected that testing would be widely available, with results provided in a timely manner.

This unprecedented situation has changed significantly since that decision. Both COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are increasing nationwide, and there is ample evidence to suggest that the pandemic is not subsiding. Our knowledge of how the virus spreads indoors, the role of asymptomatic cases in the spread and the possibility that immunity after illness may be of limited duration has also evolved. Pennsylvania has issued a 14-day quarantine order for those coming to the Commonwealth from 19 states to prevent the spread of the virus, a situation that would impact about 300 of our students. In addition, international travelers would be required to quarantine, according to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We planned to test all students, staff and faculty upon their return to campus to give us a baseline on the virus and to allow us to reassure the Carlisle community. In June, the testing company told us that we would receive test results in about two days. Recently, that time has increased to five to seven days, and company representatives say a further increase is likely.

That testing delay has an impact far beyond the start of the semester. Throughout the fall, any student, staff or faculty member who shows symptoms would need to be tested and isolated at least until we receive test results. Because the symptoms of COVID-19 can mirror other illnesses, and considering the lengthier time period for results, we would be faced with having many in our community isolated for a week or more, even before we know if they are positive.

We also know that if students returned, campus life would look much different. Students would not be able to gather regularly, would need to wear masks any time they were around others and would be required to socially distance from one another. The very heart of our residential campus—coming together with others from around the world to gather, discuss and debate—would be seriously impacted.

Our decision

As a result, we have come to the very difficult decision that the fall 2020 semester will be remote. We will bring back only a small number of students for on-campus residence. Considerations that might qualify a student to return to campus include the following:

  • International students who need to return to campus (permission will be automatically granted)
  • Students with specific basic needs that are not met at home, such as secure housing, food, internet or computer access. (Students with other concerns may share their situation for consideration. We are limiting the number of students on campus, but we will review on a case by case basis.)
  • Special academic projects that cannot be postponed or done remotely—on request of faculty member only.
  • Student workers performing essential functions as approved by Human Resource Services and the divisional vice president.

If you fall into category one or two, please continue to fill out this form if you believe you need to be on campus. Your faculty member or supervisor will be in touch with you if you are included in the last two categories.

I know you will have many questions. We have attempted to anticipate those and have revised our Frequently Asked Questions webpage. In addition, I along with key members of the senior team will hold open sessions as follows—more information to follow:

  • Noon, Monday, July 20. This session will be for students and parents.
  • 1:30 p.m., Monday, July 20, for all employees.
  • Noon, Wednesday, July 22, for alumni.

The academic experience

Classes will begin Aug. 17. In the spring, we were forced to move from in-person to remote learning during a four-day period. Because we knew that we could be forced to go online at any moment in the fall, our faculty have been designing their courses with that reality in mind. As a result, we know our students will have a robust academic experience that is highly individualized and tailored to our useful liberal-arts curriculum. We will be providing information on any changes to course offerings for the fall and to course selection shortly.


As we shared previously, we know many of our families have been impacted by the pandemic, and, in recognition of that fact, we decided this spring to hold tuition steady for this year, rather than moving forward with the planned 3.9% increase. We also will be waiving the fall student activities fee. We made this decision even though we have had to incur increased costs to allow us to respond to this crisis and to provide a strong remote experience. The fall academic experience, while different, will feature the same expert faculty and the same small class sizes, and it will contribute credit to the same Dickinson degree. While many online programs are less rigorous, our approach will maintain rigor and the close student-faculty relationship that characterizes a Dickinson education.

If your family has experienced a financial impact due to the pandemic, please reach out to

In Closing

Again, I want to extend my sincere and heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of individuals working tirelessly on countless committees to develop dining protocols to feed our community safely, testing protocols to monitor the health of our community and academic approaches that would best serve our students. We will continue to benefit from their work, though under different conditions than an in-person, pandemic-limited semester.

I make this announcement with deep disappointment. This is not the semester for which any of us had planned. It is a scenario unlike anything we have experienced, driven by a virus about which much remains unknown. Faced with the scientific evidence, and understanding that the virus spreads easily in locations where large groups of people live in close proximity, we felt we had to make this decision to preserve the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff and the greater Carlisle community.

Published July 15, 2020