Dear Clemson Family:
Happy New Year!
Our students have begun moving back to campus and we’re excited about the beginning of the spring semester, which starts tomorrow. As I shared previously, we plan to offer more in-person classroom opportunities this semester, while still keeping our focus squarely on providing a safe environment for our students, faculty and staff.
I am immensely proud of how our faculty, staff and students have risen to the occasion. In addition to completing a successful fall semester and keeping our promise to offer in-person commencement ceremonies to our 2020 graduates, we enjoyed a number of milestones last year, such as:
- We continue to strengthen our position as a research powerhouse, including being awarded some of the largest research contracts in Clemson’s history. In the last two weeks of the year alone, the University was awarded an $18 million contract to work with the U.S. Army to develop next-generation technologies to support creation of self-driving combat vehicles and was named as one of five university partners to work with Battelle to operate the Savannah River National Laboratory under a 10-year, $3.8 billion contract from the U.S. Department of Energy.
- The Clemson Family also continued to show its confidence in the University through unprecedented philanthropic support: In October, we unveiled the Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business, made possible by a $60 million gift from Billy and Ann Powers. Part of the gift, the largest in University history, honors the memory of Billy and Ann’s grandson, Chandler Burns, and will provide transformational support for how Clemson educates students for careers in business for generations to come.
- Despite the uncertain environment, Clemson continues to be an attractive option for talented students across South Carolina and the nation. In fact, at a time when many universities have experienced sharp enrollment declines, we saw our total enrollment increase 2.3 percent from the fall of 2019.
- And, although things didn’t go as we had hoped last week in the Sugar Bowl, Clemson football capped another great year for Athletics with its sixth straight trip to the college football playoffs. Our men’s soccer team also brought home the ACC title this fall and our women’s softball team was off to an amazing start last spring before the pandemic canceled the second half of the season. And both our men and women’s basketball teams are performing very well so far this season. I am extremely proud of the dedication shown by our student-athletes under these difficult circumstances, as well as by the commitment of our Athletics staffers.
More testing, more in-person classes expected this spring
As I have mentioned before, our commitment to aggressively testing our students and employees made it possible for us to complete the fall semester as planned and with a COVID-19 prevalence rate of under 2 percent for the last two months of the semester.
As result of the great work of many staff and faculty, I was honored to be one of just three university presidents nationwide to be asked to share best practices related to our COVID-19 work with Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, Public Response Coordinator for the White House Coronavirus Task Force, in a national call just before Christmas.
As we move into the new semester, we continue to closely monitor the COVID-19 situation in South Carolina, and although the development of multiple vaccines brings great hope, we expect the next few months to remain challenging.
At the same time, our experience in the fall has shown us that we can provide a safe environment for our students and employees through aggressive testing and adherence to common sense interventions, such as social distancing, hand-washing and wearing face coverings.
Our approach in the spring will be consistent with what we did last fall – with an even greater emphasis on testing. As we did last fall, all students and employees will need to provide a negative test result or provide proof of a positive test result from the past 90 days. Beyond that, we will require that all students and employees working on campus be tested weekly for the remainder of the spring semester.
Our approach is logistically challenging, labor intensive and expensive. It’s also the right thing to do for our students, who are craving increased on-campus education and activities, and for our faculty and staff who make it all possible.
The challenges presented by the pandemic are far from over, and now is not the time for any of us to let our guard down. We will continue to approach the situation as we have from the earliest days — by making decisions informed by science and data, and with a focus on providing a Clemson experience for our students in a safe environment.
Like all of you, I can’t wait for the day we can return to something that more closely resembles our pre-COVID way of life. Until that time comes, however, know that Clemson remains committed to moving forward and fulfilling its mission as one of the country’s premiere land-grant universities.
We couldn’t do it without the support of our employees, alumni, donors and friends across South Carolina and around the country. My deepest appreciation, as always, to all those whose support makes our work possible.
Here’s to a great 2021 — and Go Tigers!