The following message concerning our plans for the fall went out to the Wesleyan community this week. As we said some time ago, we’ve been aiming at an announcement about activating our campus for early July, but we thought an update on our points of focus would be helpful at this point. Shortly after the July 4th weekend, we still intend to release much more information about our plans for residential life, hybrid classes, athletics, testing and other health precautions.
We understand that many families will wait until they see those details, and the public health conditions unfolding this summer, before making a definitive commitment about attending the University in the fall. Our request below about deferrals is just to give the planning team some idea of students’ thinking at this point, as we have shared our thinking now.
Recognizing this is an evolving situation, we will continue to provide updates on our plans.
What a spring it has been! The specter of bigotry has been viciously apparent in the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, and the energy of anti-racism has swept across the nation in demonstrations in large cities and small towns. At the same time, much uncertainty remains as the pandemic continues to increase in intensity in several states. Amidst all the pain, anger and anxiety, we have continued to plan, and I write now with an update on our thinking thus far. Given the current public health trajectory for Connecticut, we are hoping to welcome most students, faculty and staff back to Middletown in safe conditions in late August. One thing we are certain about: it will be good to be together again—safely—on campus.
Our abiding priority is the health and safety of every member of our community, especially the most vulnerable among us, and the realities of the current pandemic mean that this coming semester will be unlike those of the past. Wesleyan is developing protocols in accordance with the expert guidance that best suits our particular situation.
Our contingency planning workgroup is proposing for the 2020 fall semester classes to begin on campus August 31 (one week earlier than initially scheduled) with the possibility of finishing online after Thanksgiving (when there would be just one more week of classes). We will limit visitors to and excursions from campus, and we have more time together during the warmer months of the year. We are developing plans for science labs and art studios, and we expect to offer our athletes on-campus programs. Food services and residence halls will be organized with safety in mind, as will our classrooms and co-curricular activities. For those students unable to return to campus at all this fall, distance- and hybrid-learning options will be available.
We will release much more information about the fall term in early July, but here are some of the key elements in our plan for campus reactivation:
- Health and Safety—The planning workgroup is working out details for testing, monitoring and contact tracing in close adherence to CDC guidelines. We will implement thorough protocols to limit and document visitors to campus (including tours, lectures and events), as well as to notify the campus community of confirmed cases and community members who may have been in contact with someone who tests positive. Additionally, the University is meticulously following state and federal guidelines for personal protective equipment (including wearing masks in public places), indoor air quality and disinfection protocols.
- Return to Campus—The workgroup has created a phased approach for reactivating campus that prioritizes student-facing and faculty-support positions to meet the demands of the scheduled August 31 start of classes. This approach allows ample time between phases and employs proper social distancing protocols according to State of Connecticut guidelines. The University will explore telecommuting as an alternative to traditional work arrangements for appropriate positions, and we will make the greatest possible accommodations for staff in high-risk categories. Alternative work arrangements for faculty will include teaching in a variety of in-person, hybrid and distance pedagogies. We continue to work through all available options for critical services for our community—child, family and dependent care prominent among these—and we will provide updates as soon as we have them.
- Travel–Once students return to campus, we are asking that they not make excursions to any areas where the incidence of COVID is increasing. Our current expectation is that University-funded travel will remain suspended for the fall semester, and members of the campus community who have personal travel scheduled may be asked to take additional precautions before returning to campus.
- Deferrals—We hope it will be a traditional semester, but we also expect to offer robust remote alternatives, should they be helpful for some students. If you intend to ask for a leave for any part of the academic year, for planning purposes we ask that all students notify Student Affairs of their plans for the fall semester by June 30.
- Student Accounts and Financial Aid—As the University continues to refine its plans for the upcoming academic year, we are delaying the release of the fall semester bill and the financial aid award notices related to it. We will provide an update on charges and financial aid immediately following the announcement in July. In related news, Wesleyan is in the process of upgrading its online Student Account Center to a simpler and more user-friendly online student account management portal. Details of the new system are available on our website.
Wesleyan will take the necessary precautions and abide by available guidance from medical experts to keep our campus and the surrounding communities safe. But we cannot do it alone. Each of us must play a role and adhere to safety protocols, and we expect to issue specific guidelines to that end which all returning students, faculty and staff will be required to follow.
In closing, it’s important to note that all of these plans are contingent upon the public health context. We will continue to provide updates and additional information throughout the summer, and we encourage you to attend the Zoom forum tomorrow, June 16, for faculty and staff at 10 a.m., where I will be available to answer questions. As we continue to work through the details of reactivating campus, we will send another email update in July to address our plans with greater specificity.
Though we have proven time and again that Wesleyan is much more than buildings and classrooms, there is no denying that learning together in these spaces, in person, amplifies our mutual understanding and the impact of our work. I look forward to our return.