Of the many gifts bestowed on Seton Hall by its founder, Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, one of the greatest is our motto. Adopted from the Seton family, Hazard Zet Forward reminds us that creating a successful future involves a measure of risk and a dose of courage. And it teaches us that worthwhile goals are achieved only through sacrifice and determination.
Since 1856, Seton Hall has delivered on its Catholic educational mission through wars, economic depressions, political and social unrest, and even prior pandemics. During those challenging times and these uncertain days of 2020, our motto has served as more than a reminder.
In such moments, Hazard Zet Forward — whatever the peril, go forward — acts as a beacon to light our way and a standard against which we measure our response to a crisis. It compels us to take action, motivates our preparations, and reassures us that no matter the circumstances, Seton Hall will always continue to move forward.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Seton Hall was among the first universities to respond to the outbreak — well before guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, executive orders, or government efforts to flatten the curve of infections.
By late January and early February, we had established a Health Intervention and Communication Team to advance pandemic response recommendations for campus operations and safety. The executive cabinet served as the COVID nerve center, with seven teams reporting at four meetings each day.
In early March, we moved to cancel study abroad, including destinations not yet classified as “high risk.” We reduced density, began physical distancing, transitioned instruction to remote settings and safely moved almost all students out of residence halls.
Simultaneously, we began preparations to reopen our campuses and begin the 2020-21 academic year. As early as May, the overwhelming majority of students were telling us they wanted the option to return to campus for the fall semester.
It was clear from the outset the virus would introduce high levels of uncertainty into our decision-making. So we set about developing a Restart Plan that would provide maximum health and safety for everyone in the campus community while envisioning multiple contingencies and building extraordinary flexibility and student choice into our approach.
Through several committees and planning groups, we enlisted the creativity and organizing prowess of 140 members of the University community — faculty, staff, administrators, clergy and students. The comprehensive Restart Plan they developed met or exceeded state and CDC guidelines for screening, testing and contact tracing. We were among the first universities in New Jersey to submit its plan to the state for review, and one of the first to receive confirmation.
One of many considerations was determining an in-person class schedule for the fall semester. This effort was challenging due to the size of our campuses and the many places Setonians call home. While New Jersey’s COVID-19 transmission rate fell throughout the summer, the opposite was true elsewhere. Moreover, we knew flare-ups could occur at any time. We also needed to plan within the reopening guidance issued by the State of New Jersey. While we recognized these challenges, we also knew they could be addressed.
Seton Hall implemented a hybrid, flexible approach known as HyFlex to classroom instruction to maintain our signature educational experience. HyFlex ensures in-person, reduced-density learning while offering students the choice to pursue their studies entirely in a remote fashion.
Students choosing on-campus study experience a blend of in-person and remote live instruction that achieves physical distancing. Those choosing off-campus learning receive entirely remote live instruction.
Our efforts to stage a safe and healthy year have given us the opportunity to be together on campus. And thanks to the uncommon cooperation of hundreds of Setonians, the University has been cited for planning and executing a successful return.
Some skeptics and critics still say that on-campus instruction in a pandemic cannot be done, and that college students are incapable of adjusting their daily routines to protect themselves and others.
Yet our students, by and large, have demonstrated a level of concern for the well-being of our campus community that is admirable. Everywhere I look, I see symptom monitoring, mask wearing, social distancing and appropriately sized gatherings — Hazard Zet Forward.
It is impossible to know what the coming weeks and months will bring. As we move through autumn and the annual cold and flu season, the risk of outbreaks has increased significantly. Regardless, our HyFlex approach allows us to meet and overcome whatever
the coronavirus throws at us.
We have urged everyone on campus to maintain their focus on health and safety not only through the end of the in-person portion of the semester, but each and every day, on campus and off. And of course, we also have been preparing for a successful winter and spring.
Regardless of what happens, Seton Hall will exhibit the extraordinary perseverance on which it was founded. No matter the circumstances, we will continue to move forward — in health and safety. We owe it to our community — students, parents, faculty, staff, administrators, clergy and alumni — to do no less.
I am heartened by the many notes and calls of gratitude and support so many of you sent over these past several months. One of the characteristics that attracted me and my family to Seton Hall is its caring Catholic community. Your words and actions help sustain all of us as we navigate through the pandemic to the bright future that awaits us.