Dear Prospective Southwestern Students,
We hope you are doing well, staying healthy and safe, and enjoying the summer as much as possible during these highly unusual times.
With First-Year Orientation six weeks away, I am writing with an update on our plans for reopening our campus and delivering instruction this fall.
Our Philosophy: Safety First
When it comes to reopening our campus and holding fall classes, Southwestern places an absolute priority on protecting the health and safety of our community. We would of course like to return to on-campus classes and other activities as soon as possible. But we will not do so in any way that we believe poses an unacceptably high risk of COVID exposure to our students, staff, or faculty.
Our campus has two six-floor academic buildings: the historic Bullocks-Wilshire building and the Westmoreland building. Our classrooms are accessed by several elevators or stairwells. Similar to many other multi-floor buildings at university campuses and other facilities, these and other physical features of our campus pose challenges when it comes to complying with the physical distancing, ventilation, sanitization, and other precautions necessary to manage exposure risks for a student body of more than 700.
Fall 2020 Instruction: All First-Year Classes Remote
Given that the incidence of COVID-19 in Los Angeles County remains high and that the local public health authorities have not yet announced a timeline for the reopening of college and university campuses, we have made the very difficult decision to deliver fall 2020 instruction for 1Ls remotely. All first-year courses this fall—including Civil Procedure I, Contracts I, Criminal Law, Foundations of Law & Practice, Legal Analysis, Writing and Skills (LAWS) I, Property, and Torts—will be delivered online either synchronously via the Zoom platform, asynchronously via Canvas (our learning management system), or through a combination of the two. The particular blend of synchronous and asynchronous instruction will vary depending on the course and the professor.
I want to assure you that we are thoroughly equipped to deliver a first-rate educational experience online. Even before the recent transition to online teaching, Southwestern had extensive experience and capabilities for online teaching and community building. The past several months have further fortified our nimbleness to maximize student learning and success regardless of the setting. This summer, Southwestern faculty are hard at work further retooling their courses so they will be optimized for online delivery – including being particularly sensitive to the learning needs of first-year students.
We intend to hold as many final exams as possible on campus this December. If the COVID situation has not resolved to the point where that will be possible, final exams will be administered remotely. More information regarding final exams will be provided in the fall.
Building Community – Hopefully On Campus Too
We will make sure that you feel well integrated into your Southwestern home. Starting even before Orientation and continuing thereafter, we have a multitude of social, professional, and academic programs that will help you acclimate into law school and set yourself up for success.
In particular, we know that small group meetings and office hours held outside of formal class sessions and led by faculty or teaching assistants are an important opportunity to review, apply, and practice with the material you will be learning in your classes. You will not miss out on these critical gatherings and sessions. Via effective online platforms, they will be a regular and integrated part of your first-year experience. All of our student services and offices will also be one hundred percent available to you and deliver extensive programming and resources.
Also, assuming our campus is permitted to reopen, or to be used for some purposes, our hope is that it will be possible for certain small group meetings—e.g., TA sessions, faculty-led review sessions, sessions led by Dean’s Fellows (successful upper-division students), etc.—to take place on campus this fall, subject to important safety measures like physical distancing and the wearing of masks at all times. In the coming weeks, we will be deciding, based on a number of considerations, whether such small group meetings will be able to take place. We will apprise you of these decisions as soon as they have been made.
Campus Reopening: Not Yet
We know that many students want and need to use the library and other campus amenities and we would love to be able to make them available. However, we cannot do so by law until the Safer at Home Order issued in March by the County and City of Los Angeles has been lifted or modified. Under the Order, all college and university campuses in the City and County have been required by law to be closed to all individuals except those school employees necessary to maintain distance learning. In the meantime, we have made and are continuing to make the necessary physical and logistical preparations for reopening portions of our campus. For example, we have redesigned and rearranged our beautiful law library to ensure the minimum six feet of physical distancing between all of its occupants. Once the authorities give the go-ahead, our first goal will be to safely reopen the library, as we know that having a quiet place to study is an important unmet need for many of our students. We are also actively considering making available additional spaces that you could use subject to careful adherence to physical distancing and other precautions.
Upcoming Town Halls
In the coming weeks, we will be holding two virtual Town Hall meetings to discuss the fall term and answer students’ questions to the best of our ability given the available information. We will let students know of the dates of these Town Halls soon.
I so look forward to welcoming the entering class of 2020. Let us know if there’s any information that you need or if there’s something we can do to help you prepare for your law school journey. Contact our Admissions Office (firstname.lastname@example.org), and they’ll make sure to connect you to the right person or office.
All the best,
Dean Susan Prager