Planning for a Return to Campus in the Fall
Dear Goucher students,
I wanted to provide you an update with the latest information from the Fall Re-Opening Task Force, a 30-person team that has been hard at work this past month figuring out how we can resume instruction on campus in the fall in a safe and responsible manner.
There is still quite a bit of work to do given the changing dynamics of how this pandemic is playing out. However, I wanted to apprise you of decisions that have already been made as well as those areas where we continue to investigate.
Most importantly, a number of you have written to me to express your concern about safety, so I wanted to let you know the specific steps the taskforce has already identified to help ensure the health and safety of our entire community. As we prepare for the fall, we will continue to seek the advice and counsel of local and state public health officials as well as follow the guidance issued by the American College Health Association and the CDC.
This is a lengthy email, but I encourage you to take the time to read it in its entirety. If you have specific questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly. I will do my best to get you an answer, or direct you to the appropriate person on campus who can provide you with an answer.
First, you might ask: why return in the fall? Shouldn’t we just wait until a vaccine is developed and distributed before returning to campus? Wouldn’t a better course of action simply be to continue to offer remote instruction online in the fall?
These are valid questions to ask, questions the task force has raised as well. To answer them it is crucial to remember that it is extremely unlikely that a vaccine will be developed, manufactured, and widely available in the U.S. until sometime in spring or summer 2021, if not later. So, we will be living with the SARS-CoV2 virus for some time. That means any decision we make for the fall will likely last for the entire 2020-21 academic year.
It’s also critical to remember that while the SARS-CoV2 virus does pose a threat to everyone, the population least at risk for serious complications are individuals 18 to 30 years old.
Next, it is crucial we take into account what you, our students, want. In a quick, albeit flawed survey we sent out last week, a majority of you told us you would prefer to return to campus in the fall, 25% said you would prefer to continue to study online, and another 15% said you might just take off the semester or the entire year.
It is for all these reasons above, and more, that the College feels the best course of action to pursue is how we can safely return to on-campus face-to-face instruction in the fall while at the same time providing a limited number of options to serve the needs of our international students as well as students with pre-existing medical conditions who may not be able to return to campus in the fall.
Our Fall Academic Calendar
Perhaps the most significant change we will be making in the fall is to alter our academic calendar and course schedule. Over twenty years of epidemiological data has shown that colleges can significantly reduce the community spread of influenza on campus by reducing the number of mid-semester breaks. Students leave campus and go home and when they return to campus they bring with them the influenza virus. We see no reason to think the SARS-CoV2 virus will play out any differently.
So, we have made the decision to start the semester a few days early on Monday, August 24, modify the class schedule slightly, and by eliminating some holidays and fall semester break October 15-16 finish the fall semester November 25, the Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving. This will significantly reduce the potential for community spread on campus and keep our community safer. Expect to hear a lot more about this change and what it means next week.
Face Coverings, Physical Distancing & Testing
While the task force has yet to complete all its work in developing a comprehensive set of guidelines that will govern how campus will function this fall, a few requirements are already very clear. For example, over the next two weeks we will be publishing new guidelines on the mandatory use of face coverings on campus — when they should be worn, by whom, what type, and how to wear them. We will also be posting new guidelines on physical distancing that in large measure are being adopted nationwide on all college campuses this fall.
This will force us to reassess all our academic instructional spaces, athletic programs, and other activities on campus. We will need to determine maximum, permissible class sizes for each room and in some cases reassign classes to other larger rooms on campus. We will also need to determine which athletic activities can continue to happen on campus in the fall and under what guidelines.
We are also investigating a variety of testing options — including saliva-based testing similar to 23andMe that would allow us to test everyone — faculty, staff, and students — before they return to campus, as well as intermittent
testing throughout the semester, as needed. We will let you know in the coming weeks
if this proves to be feasible.
Residence Halls & Dining Facilities
One of the major changes we will be making for the fall will be to provide single rooms for every student in residence on campus. This change from double-room to single-room occupancy will require us to conduct a completely new “room draw” over the next two weeks so we can be sure we can accommodate all of our incoming as well as continuing students who will be joining us on campus this fall.
To ensure we have enough rooms for everyone, we are investigating a variety of options including possibly bringing back online all of the houses of Stimson Hall and the 193 single rooms that could provide us in the fall. We will need to invest in upgrades to the heating, cooling, and plumbing systems in those buildings, not to mention completely painting and sanitizing the entire complex so it is ready to be occupied. We will also be making significant upgrades to the heating and air-conditioning systems and lighting in our residence halls to further reduce the likelihood of community spread of the virus.
Likewise, we are working with Bon Appetit to modify our existing food preparation and service so we can provide a safer dining environment. We will still provide multiple menu options, but there will also be major changes with the elimination of buffet style dining, a reduced number of indoor seats spaced much farther apart, and potentially staggered lunch and dinner shifts to dramatically reduce the number of people in Mary Fisher Dining at any one time. One thing will not change: our commitment to providing menu options for our Kosher, vegan, and vegetarian students. Expect more information in the coming weeks.
As you can see, we have already made lots of decisions about the fall. We’re excited at the prospect of having everyone back on campus this August, even as we continue to deal with the ramifications of the coronavirus pandemic in our day-to-day lives in the coming year.
We will be adding two additional student representatives to our Fall Re-Opening Task Force starting next week to make sure we have student voices at the table. Expect weekly emails from me or the task force as we continue to keep everyone updated with plans for the fall and solicit your input.
Until then, be safe, stay healthy, and please plan to join us this Thursday, May 28th at 4:30 PM ET for our Convocation celebration where we celebrate the achievements of many of your classmates. Last week, close to 1,500 people joined us for the Baccalaureate celebration. This week’s Convocation celebration also will be livestreamed on Goucher’s YouTube channel at: https://www.youtube.com/gouchercollege
I hope you can join us!
Kent Devereaux, President