Thomas Fire Letter

Dear Members of the Westmont Community,

Since the beginning of the Thomas Fire, we have been monitoring its developments closely and posting updates to Westmont’s website. Having experienced the ravages of the 2008 Tea Fire, we know first-hand how fast and how destructive wildfires can be. At no time has the fire itself been a threat to campus, according to the timely and daily updates we receive from the Santa Barbara and Montecito fire departments. It remains more than 10 air miles away, and fire officials anticipate it moving north and east away from Santa Barbara and, specifically, Montecito.

That said, the air quality on campus has been significantly compromised. Although it improved considerably yesterday, it has deteriorated further today with ash falling on campus on a consistent basis. Because we place such a high premium on the health and safety of all members of our community, we have released the students through the weekend and excused staff and faculty from campus who have needed to address fire-related preparations for their home. We also are striving to balance these health and safety concerns, which are our first priority, with maintaining the credibility and integrity of our academic program.

Throughout the weekend, we have been weighing our options. Some students have requested alternatives to the established finals schedule. Other students have expressed a desire to maintain the schedule as planned. Still others have reminded us of their need to stay eligible for sports or remain qualified for their scholarships and financial aid and need the semester to conclude as scheduled with as little disruption to the academic program as possible. While weighing each of these options and trying to balance a variety of competing commitments, we have reached the following conclusions.

After consulting with several faculty and meeting with Provost Sargent and the Faculty Council as well as hearing from students and parents, we have determined that we will not hold final exams on campus. We fully realize that this will create some complexities for faculty and students alike. Thus, we are asking that all faculty members make alternative plans for their final exams. For many of you, that will be a take-home exam. For some smaller classes, that could include a phone or Skype conversation to replace a presentation. For still others, that will mean an alternative assignment. If appropriate to the course, faculty can allow students to take the grade they have earned prior to the final. In short, we are placing the prerogative and responsibility in the hands of faculty who know what is best for their courses and most fair for their students.

In addition, classes originally postponed from Friday to Monday are now cancelled.

We have asked all faculty to notify their students by Monday at noon what the alternative plan for their final exam will be, including when they will distribute their final exam or final assignment. Second, faculty will also indicate the official due date. Under no circumstances will the due date extend beyond December 19 at noon. Our faculty do an incredible job of balancing individual needs with academic integrity, and we know they will continue this commitment now.

Obviously, our policy of granting exceptions and accommodations to students with medical conditions or family emergencies continues. Some students have been affected negatively and directly by the fire, including one student whose home was destroyed. Each situation is unique. Students who believe they have a compelling situation or circumstance that requires special accommodation beyond what is being outlined here need to contact their professors immediately to make alternative arrangements for completing the course. Students should contact their faculty instructor, their faculty advisor or the Provost’s Office if they have questions about incompletes, withdrawals, or other issues that could affect their academic standing.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide updates four times daily (9:00 a.m., 12 noon, 3:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m.). About 400 students remain on campus, and others will need to return to campus after the weekend. We will post additional details as we meet to resolve these unique challenges. Unless otherwise indicated, all administrative and student services on campus will continue as planned. We encourage you to consult the home page of our website for updates and any new information. Let’s continue to pray for all those affected and displaced by the California fires.


Gayle D. Beebe


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