Dear Siena Community,

It was a truly extraordinary week. Despite our fears and doubts, we learned, taught, and provided services in a new modality with relatively few problems – kudos to all. We validated what we already knew; Siena is a learning community. 

Unfortunately, the severity of the crisis also became evident. We can no longer reasonably hope that the threat presented by the coronavirus will subside by the Easter holiday. Even the most optimistic projections forecast the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 to rise in New York well into April. We have no choice but to continue with our distance learning model for the remainder of the spring semester and pursue unconventional arrangements for Commencement and Senior Week. 

I know this is extremely disappointing news for all of us, especially the Class of 2020. Each member of the community has been asked to sacrifice, to adapt, to make the best of a situation unimaginable just a couple of months ago. We will emerge from this temporary reality stronger because of it. Our resilience has already proven that. The Siena campus will be reenergized with all of the life and activity we cherish so much. The time will come for all of us to celebrate a new beginning together. But right now, I must ask for your continued patience.   

I know you have many questions, and it will take time to carefully work through every answer. For now, we have developed a basic framework that addresses the most pressing issues. Further details will be forthcoming.  

  • Distance Learning: We have exceeded all expectations in the transition to remote learning. I am grateful to our incredible Information Technology Services team for paving the way. The execution by our faculty and the adaptability of our students has been inspiring. We will continue with remote instruction and support services through the remainder of the academic year, and I’m certain we will find new and creative ways to thrive in this environment. Your adaptability and patience have been phenomenal.
  • Commencement and Senior Week: It would not be responsible, and likely not even permissible, to host commencement exercises as planned. Receipt of degrees will be official as of Sunday, May 17 for all students satisfying the requirements; graduates will be able to tell employers and graduate schools that they have completed their bachelor’s or master’s degrees as of that date.  We will find an appropriate way to honor and celebrate this significant accomplishment on that day. Meanwhile, Academic Affairs and Student Life will work closely with members of the Class of 2020 to plan alternative commencement and senior events. We are tentatively targeting Saturday, August 15 as the new date for commencement with corresponding social gatherings and festivities taking place on days before or after, with the understanding these dates may need to change as this pandemic evolves. We are in the preliminary planning stages and details – including the venue and time of the ceremony and other events – will follow as they become available. These celebrations belong to the seniors and our master’s graduates, and we will work with their representatives to determine the best way for them to celebrate their accomplishments and friendships together.
  • Residential Students: In coordination with Department of Health and social distancing protocols, arrangements will be made for students to return to campus to move out of their housing. The current New York State directive on public gatherings prohibits students from retrieving their belongings, en masse, at this time, and there is no end date to that order. We will announce a schedule as soon as possible, and we will work with each student to accommodate specific needs.   
  • Room and Board Compensation: Siena intends to make a partial refund of room and board costs. Fair and equitable adjustments will be made for each student to compensate for time not lived on campus and for unfulfilled meal plans. Individual circumstances are different, so there cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. Our work will be completed before the end of the semester and we will reach out to you with details in the coming weeks. We understand the importance of these adjustments and very much appreciate your patience as the College works through this process.
  • Financial Hardships: The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everyone, but some Siena families are facing particularly acute hardships. These challenges should not impede a student’s opportunity to continue their education at Siena. The College has formed an emergency task force to study the needs of students and families experiencing financial distress brought about by the current crisis. Emerging federal and state legislation may help address changes in financial circumstances, but we do not have those answers at this time. If you would like to receive updates as they become available, please email
  • Summer Courses, Events, and Programs: All summer courses will proceed, remotely if necessary, but we cannot yet predict when the campus will reopen for on-site classes. International travel programs this summer have been cancelled. All on-campus events through May 17 will be cancelled or rescheduled. We will review events scheduled for after May 17 as the situation unfolds.
  • You Are Not Alone: We are offering services to assist you academically, personally, and spiritually. Online peer tutoring, advising, sessions with mental health and wellness counselors, and facilitation of virtual social gatherings have been developed. The Mission Office introduced the You Are Not Alone series last week, and I encourage everyone to take a moment to reflect on these vignettes and remain connected with the soul of the Siena community. Additionally, the Siena friars will continue to live-stream their Sunday Mass on their just-launched Facebook page.

Our eagerness to restore normalcy to campus cannot supersede our commitment to do what is necessary for the well-being of our community. We’re all in this situation together. To the best of our ability, let us lift up our colleagues and our classmates. As Eleanor Roosevelt is often credited with saying, “It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness.” Let us be thankful for what we have, and let us look out for our friends and loved ones most severely impacted by this pandemic. As a community, let us exhibit the Franciscan values of care and compassion to others in this time of need as every Siena Saint is called to do. In these challenging times, I am grateful for your patience, kindness, and empathy.


Margaret E. Madden, Ph.D.

Interim President