August 17: Message to Faculty and Staff - Return to Work Update

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We are excited to begin a new academic year.  Obviously, this year we will be doing things differently.  Wearing masks and keeping a proper social distance are essential and mandatory for all.  However, there are also opportunities for us in doing different things.  We have some innovative new ideas for engaging our students, including expanding freshmen orientation to emphasizing community and personal responsibility, while having fun and building teams.

You may recall early spring when many higher education experts were predicting dire circumstances for traditional residential liberal arts universities, including as much as a 15% decline in enrollment.  We are pleased to report both Saint Benedict’s and Saint John’s are anticipating very strong student retention levels. Saint John’s is anticipating an incoming freshmen class larger than last year, and our college and university are both expecting increases in transfer students.  Our campuses are going to be alive with students very shortly.

How truly remarkable. Despite a pandemic, students - a lot of students - are eagerly looking forward to getting back to our academic community. Everyone on campus has a hand in making this happen. Our students are intent on returning because of their respect and affection for our amazing professors. The student athletes value their coaches as mentors. The staff at Saint Benedict’s and Saint John’s put students first, academically, emotionally and spiritually and our students are grateful for those who clean, serve, and maintain our remarkable campuses. Each of you is so important to our students.

Our goal now is to match our students’ enthusiasm for community with similar enthusiasm, energy, commitment, and passion. Our great challenge is to help students understand how important safety is to our efforts and success. Safety is our highest priority, safety for our students and safety for all of us.

The scenario planning group has been working all summer on policies and protocols that seek a high level of safety and responsibility on campus. Our faculty has adopted the block schedule to assure both student and faculty safety in the classroom. Dining Services has adopted the highest industry standards for preparing and serving food, and custodial teams have the most up-to-date practices. The Physical Plant team has been working with air circulation, making sure we get the most out of our equipment. We have clearly established protocols for contact tracing, quarantine and isolation. The most significant of these is to send students who may be sick home immediately, if they live within 150 miles. We think this will prove to be the most important step we take. 

Earlier this summer, Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, the Senior Epidemiologist at the Minnesota Department Health (MDH) responsible for higher education, visited both campuses to evaluate our procedures and policies. She acknowledged the good work we have done and offered a few helpful insights. She did not find any problems or shortcomings in our plans. Indeed, Dr. Kenyon returned last week to answer faculty and staff questions via a webinar. Both of Dr. Kenyon’s visits were very reassuring and affirming. We expected that response because throughout all of our planning and policy development we have used MDH and Center for Disease Control (CDC) policies as our minimum standards.

Many administrators and staff have asked about when they should return to campus.  

Effective the week of August 17th, every department is expected to resume campus operations and staffing in preparation for the start of the academic year. Please also plan to attend the Community Forum online on August 25th.

Our expectation for returning to campus is not business as usual. We will continue to monitor and adjust as necessary. Please note:

  • Employee and Community Safety

Each department manager/department chair is to adapt staffing and workspace furniture configurations for required social distancing. Staggered shifts and rotating schedules with a combination work on and off campus is acceptable, if applicable to the position responsibilities.

Each employee will be issued two CSB/SJU masks in the near future. Until then, employees must bring a personal mask to wear on campus, covering both nose and mouth. Masks are required except when working alone in an office, when working alone in a cubicle with high walls or when a documented health condition prevents use of a mask (requiring an alternative form of protection).

Social distancing of 6 feet or greater is required. Since name tags will not be readable, your CSB/SJU mask will help to identify you as a community member.

Please review the important safety and resource information on our website at:

  • Accommodations

You may request an accommodation if you or a member of your household has a health condition with potential of increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Approved accommodations will be granted through fall semester and reassessed during the academic year.

  • K12 and Working Parents

We recognize the challenges our working parents face due to the uncertainty of K12 operations in the coming year, as well as the corresponding impact to childcare and extracurricular after-school activities. Staff with concern about the ability to perform their job responsibilities are encouraged to speak with their supervisor or an HR representative regarding their needs; Faculty should speak with their Department Chair and Dean of Faculty. We will be as flexible as possible in supporting family needs balanced with managing operations and service to students.

The COVID pandemic is an extraordinary challenge.  We have succeeded in the face of far greater challenges.  Each of us serve as a role model for safety to our students. As colleagues, we also have a responsibility to hold each other accountable to safety for the well-being of our campus and monastic communities. We know our community will respond with dedication, determination and hopeful hearts as our students return to campus.  Thank you.


Laurie Hamen, J.D.                                                                 Eugene McAllister, Ph.D.

Interim President                                                                     Interim President
College of Saint Benedict                                                         Saint John’s University