Christopher Newport University administrators and health and safety experts are monitoring COVID–19 developments, meeting regularly and following the university’s policies and protocols. We receive frequent updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Public Health (VDH).

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This year, we are beginning a journey like no other.

There is good news about recent successes and accolades of all kinds – even in these difficult times – but first, I want to talk about what lies immediately before us.

Why are we working so hard to bring our students back to campus and to instruct them in person?

Well, our students want to be here and they are excited to be back on this beautiful campus. Indeed, our fall enrollment is essentially the same as last year – only 82 fewer students than last fall.

Moreover, in-person instruction and the on-campus experience is who we are. At Christopher Newport, we have gifted professors who instruct and inspire our students, face to face, in small classes.

I am very grateful for our faculty. Almost 70% of our classes this fall will be taught in person. No other public college or university in Virginia approaches that number.

Furthermore, lessons about leadership, honor, and service, and respect and tolerance for others are best learned by living in an academic community.

So my profound thanks to all of you for all you do every day. There are about 1,300 of us. Everyone works hard and contributes mightily to making this place precious. The plan for our return to campus has been crafted by many good and thoughtful colleagues and it must be executed by all of us.

Here are some of the key elements of what we have done thus far:

We’ve staggered the residence hall move-ins to reduce the number of visitors at any one time and we have screened the health of each student as they arrive on campus.

We are all required to complete daily symptom screening. In the next few days, we’ll roll out an improved version of this screening process in an app called Campus Clear.

We have reduced the density of common spaces in the student union and library and in our classrooms, dining facilities, offices and residence halls.

We’ve moved our largest classes online and moved others into much bigger spaces.

We’ve increased cleaning and sanitizing of high-traffic areas.

We’ve cancelled athletic events, performances and conferences.

We’ve eliminated University-sponsored travel, but will continue to support virtual conferences and presentations.

We are extending the hiring freeze. Exceptions will only be made in extraordinary cases and only with my approval.

Our campus is closed to the general public and we will welcome only those visitors and contractors expressly invited. For example, the Admission Office will bring prospective students to campus but all visits will be scheduled and tours limited to one family per tour guide.

Other rare exceptions to these strict visitation limits may be granted by the Provost or appropriate Vice President but only for compelling reasons.

We are able to isolate and quarantine students and assist the Virginia Department of Health in tracing contacts to prevent the spread of the virus.

This week, we launched a Dashboard on our website which reports the number of students and employees who have tested positive for the COVID–19 virus, been on campus in the last 14 days, and are in isolation.

Much uncertainty remains, but one thing is certain, if this is going to work, we are going to have to do it together.

Here are the simple rules we must all follow:

  • Wear a mask– when you’re on the way to class, in class, on the Great Lawn or Trible Plaza, outside your office or residence hall room, in the Library or the David Student Union or any of our buildings.
  • Physically distance – stay at least 6 feet from others
  • Do daily symptom screening – it only takes a few seconds each morning
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Don’t leave your room or your home if you have a fever or feel sick
  • Beware of social gatherings on and off campus – no large parties – no gatherings more than 20 - and follow the rules – wear your mask and physically distance.
  • Participate in contact tracing should the need arise
  • Follow directions for isolation and quarantine when instructed to do so

The severity of this virus and its impact on people’s health and lives requires us to honor these measures. These rules will be enforced.

But let me say this. The wellbeing of this campus community is all-important and we will change course if necessary and send our students home and pivot to online instruction if there are cluster outbreaks or significant non-compliance with our requirements.

So, we must all be the very best versions of ourselves and care about others. If we resolutely take these simple steps, we have a really good shot at remaining on campus until Thanksgiving. More importantly, we will protect each other, demonstrating once again the kindness and compassion - the heart - that defines a Captain.

In a world, that seems too often consumed by self, by money, by fame, by power and even darkness, this mission is more important than ever.

That’s what makes Christopher Newport special and that’s what makes Christopher Newport an irresistible force. And, even in these difficult times, we have much to celebrate.

Our freshman class is only a bit smaller than usual – about 1,150 students and the academic quality of our students remains impressive, with an average high school GPA of 3.8. Our PLP class numbers 460, our largest class ever, with a 4.1 average GPA and 1287 average SAT.

Our 124 students in the Honors program earned a 4.28 average GPA and 1375 average SAT.

23% of the freshman class are students of color, an increase over last year.

151 students are legacies including 84 siblings.

Our freshmen to sophomore retention rate is 87.8% - 3 points higher than last year. Our four-year graduation rate is 69% (v. 66% last year) one of the highest graduation rates among the 572 public four-year colleges and universities in America and our 6 year graduation rate is 80% (v. 78% last year).

Presidents Hall - our newest student residence - has opened – and houses 79 juniors and seniors.

The Fine Arts Center is quickly taking shape and will be completed in spring 2021.

The Fine Arts Center will bring an explosion of color and creativity to our campus and contribute powerfully to the cultural and economic success of our community and Commonwealth.

Success in our community and Commonwealth also requires equity and social justice. Sparked by the killing of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery, this has been a summer of pain and protest. Many of our students have marched and many of us joined them in the call for deep and systemic change.

We have a duty to hear our students’ voices, see their fears and help in their struggle.

I am pleased that Dr. Angela Spranger has agreed to serve as Christopher Newport’s Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer. She will work with students, faculty, staff and alumni to ensure that all members of our university community “feel seen, safe and valued” and that together we implement the University’s Strategic Plan for Diversity and Inclusion.

There is much more to say, but let me bring these remarks to an end by looking to the future and the close of this academic year.

On May 1st and 2nd, 2021 we will celebrate the graduation of the Class of 2020. Even though these students have already earned their degrees, we will honor them on the Great Lawn with their classmates, faculty and families.

The following weekend, we will honor the Class of 2021 with all the ceremony and celebration that is our tradition.

On commencement day, these students will toss a penny into Saunders Fountain for good luck. When they signed the Honor Code as freshmen, they received a lucky penny.

As I shared with our freshmen, these are the words that accompany each penny, written by our beloved professor Dr. Tracey Schwarze.

This penny is but a small tribute to the spirit of honor of all those who learn and lead here.
To give your word and keep it as a person of integrity;
To treasure the life of the mind and the spirit of intellectual inquiry;
To value richness of character over richness of purse;
To give, because to you, much has been given;
To seek important work – and to do it with all your heart
Keep this faith as you become a citizen of CNU, of the nation, and the world
And one day
As you remember
The grandeur of the Ferguson Center,
The beauty of the Great Lawn,
The tranquility of the James, and
The friends and mentors of your youth,
You will know that you have lived a life of honor and significance…

These words beautifully express why our work is so important and why it must go on.

So - in the face of many challenges - let us all begin this year committed to doing all we can and doing it with all our hearts and minds, together.

Go Captains!

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