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A gradual return to campus and some of the things we have missed

Dear Students, Staff, and Faculty,
Once again, I write to you from the middle of Kingsmen Park, hunkered down in the camping chair that has become my most important and heavily used “school supply” this year. The sky is blue, the winds are calm, and I am thankful that we live in a place where we can hold outdoor meetings during most of the year.
With November fast approaching, I want to update you on where the members of Cabinet and the Emergency Operations Committee are in terms of our phased-in repopulation plan. Here are some key points:

  • Ventura County remains in the state’s red tier, or Tier 2, and is moving toward the less-restrictive orange tier, or Tier 3. As allowed in the red tier, several classes have switched to an in-person format indoors at up to 25% of room capacity.
  • Those of us at the Thousand Oaks and Oxnard campuses are traveling a cautious and gradual path to repopulating our offices. Starting on Monday, November 2, we expect that half of an office’s staff, including faculty members with administrative roles, will work onsite. Please know that office occupancy for higher education is not bound by specific percentages as is classroom occupancy. Instead, universities are permitted to bring staff back at the levels necessary to provide mission-centric services. Universities are required, however, to adhere to physical-distancing protocols. Those regulations can be found here, and additional information from our Department of Human Resources is forthcoming.  

    I hope that none of the above catches you by surprise. VPs have been communicating with staff about this next phase of repopulation for at least a couple of weeks. I also hope that all of us can keep the following fact top of mind as we continue to navigate these unprecedented times: Cal Lutheran’s Thousand Oaks campus has never been designed to be a virtual university. To make good on our mission and our promise to students, we must return to an instructional- and service-delivery model that corresponds with our mission. The level of virtual instruction and service delivery that we have maintained over the last seven months is simply not a part of that mission. We cannot survive or thrive if we stay in our current mode.
  • Los Angeles County remains in the purple tier, or Tier 1, and in-person instruction is not currently permitted at the Woodland Hills or Westlake Village centers.
  • Berkeley is in the orange tier, or Tier 3, but the city’s public health officials have imposed more restrictive regulations on higher education that affect Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary. As of October 20, the city allows 10% of a college’s student population to receive in-person instruction.  

For those of you who have not been back to campus for a long while, please know we have worked hard to make it as safe as possible. There are hand-sanitizer stations located throughout campus, many common areas have been outfitted with plexiglass, building access is limited to those with active key cards, and students and employees are overwhelmingly adhering to the face-covering requirements. The changes and protocols might seem a bit unusual at first, but once you get back into the swing of being on campus, you will quickly adapt to the new normal. We are eager to see more of you here; indeed, we are excited for your return.
Speaking of seeing more of you on campus, I am pleased to relay the latest student housing numbers. So far, 661 traditional undergraduate students have completed spring housing contracts, and we had to start a waiting list for first-year students. This compares favorably to the 388 residents we have on campus this fall. There is still some space remaining for upperclassmen, so if you are interested in living on campus next semester, I encourage you to reach out to reslife@callutheran.edu. Along with movement in residential life, Admission is developing a campus visit program that will allow small groups and families to explore our beautiful space. It sure will be nice to have a little more activity and vibrancy, and I send a hearty “welcome” to those of you who will be moving here in January.
On-campus housing numbers are not the only thing on the rise. A good number of faculty have already submitted their spring requests for outdoor classroom space or for larger indoor space. In both cases, these spaces will allow options for faculty to teach their spring classes in person. Within the next couple of weeks, students will be informed about course delivery modes. Students who wish to continue their studies in a virtual environment will be able to do so, but those who want to have at least some type of face-to-face instruction should be able to arrange their schedule to accommodate that interest.
As you can see, we are continuing to make the best out of the current situation. We thank all of you who have helped us design creative ways of serving and teaching our students. We can do this. … We are doing this, and so many of you have played a key role in the go-forward plan.
With appreciation,

Lori E. Varlotta, Ph.D.