News From the President

The official seal of Augustana University

Augustana is monitoring and responding to the outbreak of the respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus. This is the President's latest message.

As of Tuesday, March 24

Dear colleagues and students,

Uncertainty. There has been — and there continues to be — an overwhelming amount of it. When we extended spring break and then decided to modify instruction and move to online courses temporarily, we had hoped that local, regional and national projections regarding the threat and spread of COVID-19 would leave open the possibility of safely resuming in-person courses and normal university operations following the Easter holiday.

Although there is still so much we don’t know, we do know that with each passing day there are more people testing positive for the disease in South Dakota and neighboring states, and we likewise know that many of our students are from other parts of the country and the world where the spread of COVID-19 is even more severe. Predictive models, cited by Governor Kristi Noem earlier this week, indicate that the potential peak of the virus in South Dakota will be in late May or early June.

In such an uncertain environment, yet with such stark predictions and trends reflected in the public health analysis to date, we have made the difficult decision for Augustana faculty to continue delivering curriculum online to students for the remainder of the spring semester. Together with dedicated colleagues across campus — most of whom will be working remotely — we also will continue to provide other services to students through virtual meetings using online platforms (e.g., academic advising, tutoring, counseling, campus ministry, etc.). It is our intention to host a creative, virtual commencement ceremony in May to celebrate our graduates, followed this fall by special activities and recognition during Viking Days.

I know this decision is disappointing to hear, even if you started to anticipate that such a decision was likely, but we assure you that we are exercising our best judgment based on what we know today. Above all else, we are prioritizing the health and safety of our entire Augie community while doing our best to think through the weeks ahead and work through short-term institutional implications.

Consequently, with the support of Board leadership we’ve determined that it’s best, on balance, to eliminate at least some of the uncertainty that our students, staff and families are currently facing by making a decision about the semester at this time, in the hopes of diminishing some of the anxiety that can result from a wait-and-see approach. We are committed to fulfilling our educational mission, albeit through non-traditional means, in service to students and the university community each remaining day of the semester.

Just as with prior decisions and recent announcements, this message will prompt many questions related to coursework and exams, timing of refunds or credits for housing and meal plans, work study and campus employment, the retrieval of personal belongings from campus, specifics regarding commencement, priorities and planning for student organizations, and many more. I assure you that dedicated and hard-working faculty and administrators are sharing and analyzing extraordinary amounts of information to drive decisions, answer questions, and exchange innovative ideas for ensuring continued student learning and for facilitating effective student engagement over the next two months.

I respectfully request your understanding, support and patience over the next three days — everyone is working as hard as we can. There are many details and specifics to finalize and communicate, and we look forward to answering your questions, reaching out with more information, and responding to your needs. More information and updates will follow this message tomorrow, Thursday and Friday. In addition to emails that you will receive, please continue to check augie.edu/coronavirus.

Certainty. That Augustana is committed to our students’ success. That there will be lasting positives in the midst of this abrupt change. That this shared experience will deepen and strengthen relationships. That imagination, ingenuity and compassion will save lives.

Thank you, and may God’s love light the way,

Stephanie Herseth Sandlin
President