University of Portland considering late start to fall semester

Email to prospective freshmen outlines possibilities under consideration due to COVID-19

By Gabi DiPaulo | April 27, 2020 12:34pm

Members of Villa Maria Hall's 2019 Move-In Crew carry luggage and boxes to the dorms in August 2019. In an email brief sent to incoming freshmen and their parents on Friday, the University announced the possibility that the 2020 fall semester will have a late start due to COVID-19.

Media Credit: Jennifer Ng / The Beacon

In an email sent to prospective incoming freshmen and their parents on Friday, the university outlined possible scenarios for how COVID-19 might affect the upcoming fall semester, which under normal circumstances would begin Aug. 24. This is the first official message from the university regarding the fall semester since it was announced that UP would not be returning to in-person instruction before summer. 

The email, which was signed by Fr. Poorman, said the university plans to begin the fall semester with in-person instructions. In order to do so, it is possible that the fall semester will begin later than normal, and that it may be broken into “semi-semesters” to provide greater flexibility. The university is still unsure of when the academic calendar will be finalized, writing that “there are simply too many unknowns to make an informed decision.” 

The email indicated that part of the university’s preparation for fall semester will be developing contingency plans to make it possible to transition quickly from in-person instruction to online instruction in the case of a resurgence of COVID-19. 

The university wrote that it is too early to know if tuition will be discounted in the fall semester if classes remain online. 

Fr. Poorman also wrote that the university is preparing for members of the UP community to contract COVID-19. Efforts to keep campus safe may include modifications to student housing, enhanced cleaning protocols and implementation of classroom social distancing protocol. 

As of noon Monday, current students had not received any mention of these plans for fall from the university. 

The university has made the first session of summer classes, starting May 18, online only. According to UP’s website, the university will decide whether the second session, beginning June 29, will be online or in-person by May 1. 

The email sent to prospective freshmen and their families is below. 

Dear Confirmed Students and Families,

I hope that this letter finds you safe, healthy, and weathering the challenging times we currently face locally, globally, and as a human family.

Please accept my congratulations on your admission to the University of Portland!  Our community on The Bluff is a distinctive place where the values of teaching and learning, faith and formation, and service and leadership guide all that we do.  I hope that you sensed our warmth, our hospitality, and our kindness when you visited campus, attended an information session, or spoke with one of our admissions counselors.  We look forward to welcoming you as members of the Class of 2024!

I know that you and your families are facing uncertainty and loss right now.  You likely had no idea that your high school career would end in this way, and you couldn’t have anticipated that you’d be making your college decision in circumstances like those we are facing.

You also likely have many questions about what the start of your college journey will look like.  With this email, I’d like to provide an update on how we’re approaching our next academic year. We don’t yet know what path this pandemic will take, and we don’t yet have all of the answers.  However, I hope that this note answers some of the questions you and your families are facing at this time. 


What are your plans for the coming academic year?  Will you hold in-person classes, or will classes be held online?

We’re considering many options for how we’ll deliver instruction in the 2020–21 academic year.  At UP, in-person interaction is critical to what we do.  We’re built to be a place in which community members interact with one another face-to-face.  We know that students learn better and feel more connected to one another when they gather together for classes and extracurriculars, and get to experience how special life on The Bluff can be.  At the same time, the health and safety of our students, faculty, staff come first.  In everything we do, we will prioritize the wellness of all members of our community. 

Currently, our goal is to begin classes in the Fall via in-person instruction.  In order to do so, we may be forced to start our Fall Semester later than normal and adjust our calendar for the rest of the year accordingly.  We may also have to split the Fall Semester into smaller “semi-semesters,” which will provide us additional flexibility in the event that we must start in-class instruction very late in the semester or quickly transition from in-person to online instruction.  Of course, we have the capability to conduct some or all of our instruction in an online format if absolutely necessary. 

We don’t yet know which path we will take.  Regardless of the shape our coming academic year takes, we promise to do our very best to provide the personalized, student-centric education that is at the heart of UP’s mission.


When will you make a decision about Fall 2020 classes?

As of today, we’re unsure as to when we’ll make a decision about our academic calendar and instructional format for Fall 2020.  There are simply too many unknowns to make an informed decision.  Discussions about our calendar and instructional format are ongoing, and we will announce a decision as soon as we are able.


Have any decisions been made about New Student Orientation

Unfortunately, the many variables still at play have not permitted us to make any decisions about New Student Orientation.  Our hope is to conduct an in-person New Student Orientation as planned.  We’re preparing several contingency plans in case doing so won’t be possible.


Will registration for Fall 2020 classes continued as planned?

Currently, we intend to move forward with registration for Fall 2020 classes as originally planned.  Further information will be sent in the weeks ahead.


If classes start in the Fall via online instruction, will we receive any discount on tuition?

Until we know more about instruction will be provided in the Fall, it is too early for us make decisions regarding tuition.


In the time since I received financial aid information from UP, my family’s circumstances have changed.  What should I do?

We understand that many families are facing hardships as a result of the pandemic.  Please contact our Office of Financial Aid at to connect with a member of our staff.


What if the pandemic dissipates over the Summer only to return in the Fall?  How will instruction be impacted?

Many public health authorities are warning of the risk of a resurgence of COVID-19 even after this first wave dissipates.  We will design the academic calendar in a way that allows flexibility in the event we must transition quickly to online instruction.  You will have a chance to earn credit and make progress toward your degree.


What if an on-campus member of the University community tests positive for COVID-19 or has the symptoms of COVID-19?  What steps will UP take to reduce the risk of a community member contracting COVID-19?

Many groups across campus, including our Health & Counseling Center and Division of Student Affairs, have prepared detailed plans for addressing positive cases of COVID-19 on our campus and caring for community members who may have symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19.  They are also working with our Academic Division and University Operations Division to develop plans for how UP can minimize the risk of COVID-19 to community members.  Such plans may include modifications to student housing, implementation of classroom social distancing techniques, and enhanced cleaning protocols, among several other measures.  We are also exploring options for testing, contact tracing, and required use of face coverings and other protective equipment. 


As I noted earlier, we don’t yet have all of the answers.  At times, it seems that we’re facing more unknowns than knowns at this point.

But there are a number of things for which I am certain.  I am certain that UP will successfully weather these challenges, just as it has weathered challenges for nearly 120 years.  I am certain that we will continue to be a place where students learn how to lead lives of meaning and purposes in a nurturing environment.  Finally, I am confident that in a world badly in need of grace and hope, UP will continue to be a shining beacon on The Bluff.

If you have any additional questions, I encourage you to contact our Office of Admissions at 503.943.7147 or 

Your admissions counselor can support you in a variety of ways and connect you with a dean, faculty member, or student here at UP to answer your questions.  I also encourage you to take part in a virtual visit to UP.  

Please know that I am praying for you and your family during these difficult times.  I look forward to welcoming all of you to the University of Portland as proud members of the Class of 2024.    



Rev. Mark L. Poorman, CSC

Gabi DiPaulo is the Living editor for The Beacon. She can be reached at