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July 10, 2020

A Message from Lehman College President Daniel Lemons

Dear Lehman Colleagues:

I trust you remain well, and that your summer, unusual though it is, still feels like a season for some relaxation and respite. For the campus staff and administrators, the summer's three-day weekends have been welcome. Despite the season there is much happening at Lehman and I want to update you on a number of recent campus developments.

Student Exchange and Visitor Program

A question that is on many minds is the status of, and the potential impacts of, the US Dept. of Homeland Security's modifications to the rules governing the Student Exchange and Visitor Program that were announced last week.

I echo CUNY Chancellor Felix Matos Rodriguez's statement earlier this week condemning the federal rule change that could potentially impact close to one hundred international students at Lehman College, and thousands more throughout the CUNY system. Modifications to the rules governing the program require students who are in the US on an F-1 visa to take at least one in-person course – an outrageous and senseless shift in policy, given the likelihood of most higher education in the US taking place online for the foreseeable future. Hundreds of thousands of students across the US are affected.

Harvard and MIT have sued the US government over these new regulations, and that suit is joined by key organizations of which Lehman College is a part, including the American Council on Education. There will be other legal actions from other states, including requests for injunctions against the implementation of these rules. It is our hope that these legal challenges will prevail.

Lehman College unequivocally supports every individual in our community, regardless of their immigration status or country of origin, and we will continue to do so. We will work closely with the Chancellor as his administration pursues measures to help the international students, who are a vital and vibrant part of our community, to continue their educations online and mitigate any adverse impact the rule changes may have on their education and their ability to remain in this country.

Fall Term 2020

You may know that yesterday evening the Board of Trustees of The City University of New York approved a resolution giving CUNY the flexibility it needs to plan for a successful fall semester, contingent upon the changing pattern of the pandemic. That will mean delivering the large majority of courses offered throughout the system using an online mode of delivery. Certain courses that are considered highly experiential, such as labs or clinical studies, and support services such as food pantries, will be offered in person. The Board also voted to conditionally extend this arrangement to Spring 2021.

This decision aligns with our long-standing intent to effectively manage the ongoing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic, with our top priority being to keep the students, faculty and staff safe and healthy, as we maintain academic progress. The most effective way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 is to keep campus occupancy as low as possible. Maximizing online instruction serves that purpose.

We have been preparing for a largely online fall semester since the spring. Approximately 90 percent of our fall course offerings will be delivered online. We continue to distribute laptops to students who need them, and we have an ample supply to ensure that all students are prepared to take online courses in the fall. For the approximately 10 percent of courses that will be offered in person, classes will be significantly smaller and will be arranged with adequate ventilation, physical spacing, and face masks; together these precautions will make viral transmission highly unlikely.

Fiscal Year 21 Budget

As we have planned for the coming academic year, we have grappled with a challenging and uncertain budget situation. Through the enormous efforts of the administration, deans, chairs and departments we have arrived at a preliminary budget that sees us through the fiscal year and leaves us in a reasonable position for the following fiscal year when budgets could be even more challenging. Over $2 million in OTPS spending has been eliminated, $4.5 million in vacant positions will remain open, and there is some reduction in Temp Services and Adjunct Faculty appointments. Together, these reductions have moved us closer, but not to, our budget target. Perhaps they will be sufficient, depending upon what the US Congress approves in the COVID-19 relief bill now being debated. We are unlikely to know for certain until late summer or the fall.

Some have argued that the non-reappointment of some adjunct faculty and part-time staff would not be necessary if the College utilized its fund balance or directed CARES Act funding to cover its budget reductions. These sound like great solutions, but unfortunately, they are not grounded in reality. First, as I have discussed on numerous occasions, the fund balance we have is already earmarked for upcoming, unavoidable expenses in the next two to three fiscal years. It is fully accounted for, and sizeable as it is, will not alone be sufficient to keep the College's budget balanced in the coming years.

Second, legally, CARES Act funding must be used for specific COVID-19-related expenses, not the appointment of part-time faculty. We already know that our costs of moving to distance education and compensating for losses during the spring, summer and fall terms will exceed the funding that will be available to Lehman. Fortunately, the CARES Act funding that directly supports students--nearly $7 million—and other ways it supports the College with COVID-19 costs, has the indirect effect of enabling more students to enroll, and thus results in more adjunct faculty members being reappointed to teach those students.

For the small number of adjunct faculty members who have not been reappointed for the fall, there are a number of possible reasons: more teaching by full-time faculty members due to a return of a record number of full-time faculty members from fellowship leaves, hiring of new full-time faculty members (17), and rearranging how some courses are delivered; under-enrolled courses; and in a few cases, performance issues. These decisions were the most difficult of all, but because of the extraordinary times in which we are operating, they were critical for the College's short- and long-term viability. Despite concerns that have been expressed, as best we can determine, none of Lehman's adjunct faculty members who were not reappointed will lose the health benefits they had via their CUNY employment. Thank you to the department chairs who worked so hard to accomplish this.

Response to Issues of Race, Racism and Equity

On another major front, Lehman is fully engaged in the critical issues of race, racism, and inequality that have been so glaringly apparent during the pandemic, and in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and many others. We see these issues across our country and around the world, but we also recognize that we must look at ourselves and identify where we need to make changes. Over the past academic year we had already begun to examine curricula, personnel practices and other aspects of our life as a college where we need to recognize our shortcomings in promoting equity and inclusion along the numerous axes, including race, ethnicity, gender, gender-identity, age and others. Students have been key contributors to this discussion, and whole departments are actively examining their programs and practice. I have just established The Presidential Task Force on Campus Climate and Inclusion that will meet for the first time next week and will work through the fall to recommend specific steps to accelerate these efforts. Next week I will send out an announcement of the Task Force members and its charge.


We are grappling with more major issues than I have ever experienced at one time, but in the midst of that, we have much to celebrate.

  • The faculty, staff and administration have together contributed nearly $70,000 for the support of students, and the Campaign for Lehman has so far raised nearly $1 million since the spring for that purpose. Thank you to everyone who has contributed to make this such a significant initiative. This is Lehman at its best!
  • Earlier in the spring, we shared with Excelencia in Education some of the ways Lehman College has been helping support and prepare Latinx students for success in college and in the workforce. Some of these have been included in a new report, TAPPING LATINO TALENT: How HSIs are Preparing Latino Students for the Workforce, that was released on Thursday. The report, in which Lehman is one of four colleges featured, is covered in Inside Higher Ed.
  • City Councilmember Andrew Cohen has secured a capital funding request in the amount of $1.4 million to help us construct a new Teaching and Learning Commons that will serve as a Center for Innovation in Research and Pedagogy for staff, faculty and students, and which will also allow continued construction on the School of Social Work space. It was unusual for any senior CUNY college to receive City Council capital funding for the new fiscal year.

There have been no easy solutions throughout the pandemic, the budget process and the equity crisis we have faced, but we have been guided by our determination to keep our campus community safe, to uphold our stellar academic programs, and to continue to serve as a catalytic anchor institution for our community and borough. I believe we have made sound choices in a difficult, ambiguous environment, and I know we will emerge from this time of upheaval a better and more resilient campus community. It is a terrible time, but it is also a time with great promise. We are Lehman Strong!


Daniel Lemons

Previous messages from President Lemons can be found here.