Photo of CWRU signage covered in snow with Adelbert Hall in the background

State of the University 2020

Editor’s Note: After consultation with the Faculty Senate in 2014, the president’s annual State of the University report transitioned from a spoken address to a written account. Below is 2020’s edition.

Photo of Interim President Scott Cowen
Interim President Scott Cowen

To the Case Western Reserve University Community:

The year 2020 has brought challenges, loss and disappointment to our campus community, the nation and the world. Throughout it, the faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends of Case Western Reserve University have demonstrated their resilience, creativity and compassion. 

Our faculty continued to teach and conduct research. Our students took classes and participated in extracurricular and co-curricular activities. Our staff kept our university running. Our alumni and friends provided support and participated in virtual events. I am thankful for all of you. 

On September 30, 2020, Barbara R. Snyder completed 13 years as president of Case Western Reserve. We are grateful for all President Emerita Snyder accomplished during her remarkable tenure, and to recognize it, our community of supporters raised more than $27 million for student scholarships in her honor. I want to thank her for her extraordinary leadership, including the excellent policies and protocols she developed in response to the pandemic.

While far from a normal fall semester, we welcomed just over 1,300 first-year undergraduate students. They are from 950 high schools and represent 45 states, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia. 18% are from outside of the United States. Learn more about them.

We began the fall semester with nearly 1,750 students living in our residence halls—about a third of our normal capacity. Faculty spent the summer preparing to deliver their courses in-person and remotely, and students participated in classes and labs in-person and remotely—from their residence halls or apartments near campus and from around the nation and the world. Find some reflections on those early days. 

More than 200 faculty and staff worked nonstop to return faculty, staff and students to campus, then to ensure their health and safety while meeting the university’s academic and research missions, and are now planning for the spring semester. I am proud of how our community readily accepted and affirmed our community commitment, a pledge to think for the good of their neighbor, their health and their community. 

Dr. Sara Lee, Executive Director of University Health and Counseling Services, leads our testing program, which evolved over the course of the semester. Through consultation with internal and external experts, I am grateful to Dr. Lee for developing first-rate symptomatic and surveillance testing protocols and to Ms. Megan Koeth, Director of Resiliency, for leading our efforts to administer these tests. While I wish our positivity rate remained at zero, our cumulative positive rate did not surpass 1.6%. Find our most recent COVID-19 Testing and Case Data

In response to the pandemic, the School of Medicine formed a Coronavirus Task Force, led by Professors Refick-Pierre Sekaly and Jonathan Karn. They brought together researchers from across campus—virologists, immunologists, basic scientists, clinicians, engineers, behavioral scientists, and epidemiologists, among others. Find examples of exceptional research taking place across campus on COVID-19.  

Like communities across the United States, Case Western Reserve faculty, staff and students found themselves once again grappling with issues around race and justice after the death of George Floyd in May and the subsequent protests across the nation and here in Cleveland. I am proud of how our campus responded—through university statements, two Days of Dialogue, the university’s observance of the Juneteenth holiday, and the formation of the student-led For a Better CWRU Task Force. I encourage you to visit our Race and Justice Webpage to learn more about all of these activities.  

Members of our campus community continued to earn remarkable accolades. There are too many to list, but I will mention a few. Professors Scott Bruder and Anant Madabhushi were named fellows of the National Academy of Inventors. Some of our staff members received honors for their service to the university. Dean of College of Arts and Sciences Joy K. Ward and the School of Medicine’s Dana Crawford were named fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Professor Maggie Popkin from the Department of Art History and Art won the 2020-21 Andrew Heiskell Rome Prize. The National Academy of Medicine named Professor Ronald Hickman from the Frances Payne School of Nursing to the 2020 Emerging Leaders in Health and Medicine Scholars. Weatherhead School of Management MBA students took first and second place in the ACG Cup Competition. 

On October 29, 2020, Board of Trustees Chair Fred DiSanto announced that former University of Minnesota President Eric W. Kaler will be Case Western Reserve’s next president as of July 1, 2021. President-elect Kaler is a renowned chemical engineer and led the University of Minnesota’s extraordinary growth in research, fundraising and graduation rates. We look forward to welcoming President-elect Kaler and his wife, Karen, to campus in the coming months. 

On a personal note, it has been a great privilege to serve as interim president, especially during these challenging times. I look forward to continuing to work with the university community over the next six months and helping President-elect Kaler have a smooth transition. 

I wish you all a relaxing, peaceful and safe winter break. 


Scott Cowen
Interim President