Dudley tells CNBC ‘we are doing everything in our power’ to bring back students in the fall

Kelly Evans, host of “The Exchange” on CNBC and a 2007 graduate of Washington and Lee, interviewed him on May 13


Washington and Lee University President Will Dudley was interviewed by Kelly Evans, ’07, on CNBC on Wednesday, May 13. Screenshot of the interview.

Hannah Denham

President Will Dudley said in a CNBC interview on Wednesday that Washington and Lee University will do everything it can to welcome students back on campus for in-person learning in the fall.

“We’re offering a quality residential education with financial aid that meets 100 percent of demonstrated need without loans,” Dudley said in the interview. “Students want that and parents want that. And we want them to be here safely, so that’s that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Kelly Evans, host of “The Exchange” show on CNBC and a 2007 graduate of Washington and Lee, interviewed him during a Wednesday morning segment on May 13 and wrote a piece on the questions she had when she read Dudley’s May 8 email on the university’s contingency planning process.

[Watch the CNBC interview here]

Dudley said in the interview the university will comply with government and public health guidance, but that the priorities of the university are educational quality and ensuring employment. 

“We are the largest employer in Rockbridge County. It’s a large and not affluent area,” Dudley said in the interview. “The jobs on our campus benefit directly the families of our employees, but the multiplier effect is critical for every business and every family in the region. We haven’t laid anybody off. We do not want to lay anybody off. And so, having students on our campus safely is best for the whole community.”

Dudley said in his May 8 email to the campus community that he appointed a contingency task force that is developing a plan for campus life during a time of social distancing. The task force is operating in four working groups: academics, student life, admissions and enrollment and finance and employment. 

The task force, which includes members of the Board of Trustees, undergraduate and law faculty, staff and students, is scheduled to give Dudley a comprehensive report and recommendations by early June, he said in the interview. 

“Every dimension of campus life is being scrutinized to make sure that we can be compliant with the prevailing social distancing expectations in the fall,” he said in the interview. 

Dudley said that if students return to campus in August, the university won’t have to enforce pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs for employees. University Treasurer Steve McAllister is chairing the finance and employment group. 

[Read more about the university’s financial contingency plan]

Interim Provost Elizabeth Oliver is chairing the undergraduate academics group and Dean Brant Hellwig is chairing the law school group. Options include an early start for fall term to complete classes by Thanksgiving to prevent students from having to leave Lexington for a week and return. Other issues include how to maintain social distancing in classrooms and labs, as well as resources and technology for faculty in the case that the university has to return to virtual instruction on short notice.

Dudley pointed out during the interview that Washington and Lee is better positioned to follow social distancing guidelines in the classroom because the average class size has 15 students. But class schedule, dining hall protocols, athletic practices, music and theater performances and residential dorms are all other issues that the task force is considering.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sidney Evans is chairing the student life group. The group is also considering how a modified academic calendar will impact student move-in and orientation, disinfecting protocol for campus facilities, access to coronavirus testing and contact tracers to notify COVID-19 patients of recent exposure, and supplemental housing for students who need to be quarantined in case the coronavirus is confirmed on campus.

Evans asked Dudley about student reactions to the university’s changes and policy with remote learning. 

“Did you have to increase the pool of accepted students? What was yield like, as of May 1? Are a lot of people, you think, waiting for a final decision here before choosing where they go?” she asked.

Dudley answered that he hasn’t been surprised by demand for learning at Washington and Lee.

“We have a fully enrolled class [of incoming students],” Dudley said. “It’s got the best academic quality and it’s the most diverse of any in the history of the university. Students and parents, 100 percent of them are saying how much they want to be here. We’ve only had one student even inquire about a gap year.” 

In the May 8 email, Dudley said that Vice President of Admissions and Financial Aid Sally Stone Richmond is chairing the admissions and enrollment group to track the incoming undergraduate and law classes. The incoming undergraduate class of 2024 includes 46 Johnson Scholars, 20 percent domestic students of color, eight percent first generation college students and six percent international students.