Dear Campus Community,
The past few months have been anything but conventional for Ursinus and our community of learners. Yet as everything else remains in a constant state of change, we’ve stayed true to our mission, never compromising in our commitment to our students. In many ways, the very spirit of Ursinus Quest and the four open questions has helped shape our approach to the fall semester—an approach that has been simultaneously contemplative, focused and actionable.
I’m proud to share the details of our fall reopening with you today while once again reaffirming our commitment to the well-being and academic growth of our students. We are fully invested in their success, and our goal is to provide them with a residential and academic experience that reflects the very best of Ursinus, just as we have throughout our long history, while engaging with them in meaningful discussions. To that end, a small campus community like ours has its advantages—it allows us to be agile, to communicate quickly and to utilize our facilities in untraditional ways. We’ve incorporated each of these strengths into a reopening plan developed by our COVID-19 task force, in collaboration with faculty and staff across campus, and approved by the college’s leadership.
The following is a lengthy email, but I feel it is important to communicate what we know at this moment.
After careful consideration and continued discussion with both state and Montgomery County health officials, we have made the decision to begin fall semester classes in person on Thursday, August 20—earlier than normal—by welcoming only first-year students to campus for an intensive Common Intellectual Experience. First-year students should expect a phased move-in process and to be on campus just prior to August 20. The remainder of the student body will begin classes on Monday, September 7. This plan allows our first-years to get acclimated to campus in smaller groups while allowing for a phased return to campus for our sophomores, juniors and seniors. More information about fall move-in, which will look substantially different than our traditional move-in, will be shared in July.
It is our intent to continue on-campus instruction without break until Thanksgiving. Because travel tends to increase the risk of bringing the virus back to campus, we plan to significantly lower the density of the campus after Thanksgiving by completing fall semester classes via remote instruction from November 30 through December 15. Online exams and final projects will occur from December 16-22 to conclude the fall semester. However, we will continue to remain flexible in our planning, and should the public health situation improve, we may decide to resume in-person instruction on campus after Thanksgiving.
Because this plan is centered exclusively on our people, we will also offer a hybrid approach to coursework wherever applicable that can accommodate student requests to learn remotely and faculty requests to teach remotely. And though we won’t specifically address this in today’s communication, we will also work with staff who are high-risk or immuno-compromised and need to continue to work remotely.
We understand that this will spur a number of questions. In the spirit of collegiality and transparency, we hope to address many of those questions during two special town hall discussions, which our students and their families are invited to attend virtually. Please mark your calendars:
- Wednesday, July 8 at 7 p.m.: First-year students and their families
- Thursday, July 9 at 7 p.m.: All returning students and their families
These forums will give you an opportunity to learn more about our plans for the fall, and key staff who support our students will be on hand to explain the process and walk through important timelines. We’ve also created a series of webpages, “Bears Return,” that provide key details and guidelines for our community. Those pages will be updated frequently and should become your go-to reference guide for information about the semester. Visit https://www.ursinus.edu/BearsReturn.
The commitment to a residential experience for all students could not happen without the tireless support and preparation of all faculty and staff. This has been a true campus effort, but one we all have a stake in. As we look towards the fall, it is important to remember that the COVID-19 pandemic remains prevalent around the nation and world. We cannot promise that we will not have positive cases on our campus this semester, but we are committed to undertaking efforts intending to create as safe an environment as feasible for students, faculty and staff. We each have a shared responsibility to follow best practices, including safe hygiene and physical distancing. Anything less may alter the trajectory of the semester and result in an unfortunate change of plans.
Below is an overview of those preparations, and guidance documents will be shared with faculty, staff and students on our website.
A Hybrid Academic Classroom
The academic experience has been the very heart of Ursinus for more than 150 years, and we intend to carry that tradition forward. Our experience has always been highly personalized, relying on the strong relationships between faculty and students. That will not change. We have completed a thorough inventory of all classrooms and facilities on campus to facilitate physical distancing while students are in class. This requires us to think creatively about our physical environment: some faculty may be asked to hold classes in the evening, while also using space not regularly reserved for traditional classrooms. Our library and information technology team has assessed technology and is equipping these classroom settings to be as accessible as possible. And though it may require some unconventional thinking, our academic affairs office is working hard to embolden research across campus and find ways for faculty mentorship to blossom.
Many important decisions have yet to be made surrounding our return to intercollegiate athletics participation and competition. At this time, we do know that all student-athletes will be returning to campus as part of the scheduled return plan for incoming first-year students (August 20) and returning students (September 7). We will not be bringing any student-athletes back to campus early for pre-season practices for fall sports. Presidents and athletic directors are working together within the Centennial Conference to address questions, and it is expected that further decisions will be made during the first week of July and will be communicated to all student-athletes at that time.
A Campus that Promotes Physical Distancing
Our campus is only as vibrant as those individuals who inhabit it. Ursinus is more than a workplace or a network of academic buildings; it is a second “home” and a place of pride, and we should always treat it as such. That is why, after carefully analyzing whether our residence halls have the capacity to allow for necessary physical distancing, all students who registered to live on campus this fall will be able to do so. We will closely monitor our students’ well-being, and if a student tests positive for COVID-19 or is directly exposed to someone who tests positive, they will be asked to leave campus if their home address is within 300 miles of campus in order to isolate or quarantine.
Preparing for Our Community’s Health and Well-Being
As I indicated earlier, this is truly a collective campus effort in which each one of us has a role to play. We are a selfless community that looks out for one another. That is why we are requiring all students, faculty and staff members to be tested approximately two weeks prior to their return to campus. Those who test positive for COVID-19 will not be allowed to return to campus. We are working closely with LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics and others on this process, which will be clearly outlined in a future communication from the Wellness Center. Some other related developments to note:
- Basic PPE (personal protective equipment) will be provided to all students upon their arrival.
- There will be some upgrades to our physical spaces as well. Special signage and markers will make sure that physical distancing is top of mind, and plexiglass barriers are being installed in areas where a higher level of face-to-face interaction occurs.
- We are working with Sodexo, our food services partner, on dining experiences that respect physical distancing and discourage the shared use of food stations and other services.
- Similarly, we are coordinating an aggressive campus cleaning plan with Olympus, our cleaning services provider. While every academic building, residence hall bathroom, office environment and every in-season athletic facility will be cleaned daily, it is important once again to emphasize our shared commitment to hygiene and cleanliness. We must all do our part. It will be expected that students and employees regularly clean their personal belongings and office spaces.
The Priority Is Our Campus Community
Our focus is on your health and well-being, so gatherings that cannot abide by strict physical distancing measures should not be scheduled, or will be postponed or canceled, and on-campus events traditionally rented or hosted by external parties will not occur this fall. Students will not be able to register events. However, while we are discouraging larger gatherings, we understand that mental and physical well-being is often tied to fitness and recreational activity, so we are exploring ways for small groups to interact in ways that allow for enjoyment and health. These include new protocols for the use of the fitness center and the field house.
We Understand Your Concerns
The Wellness Center has done a terrific job at sharing ideas on how to overcome anxiety, frustration and anger resulting from the pandemic. We place a high priority on your physical and mental well-being, which is why the Wellness Center will continue to provide services this fall semester. There will be a few prudent changes, however. Medical services will be provided by appointment only, and telehealth appointments will also be available, when appropriate. Counseling will continue to provide all current services but will do so virtually.
We Need to Minimize Your Time Off Campus
Because we are a small residential community with close physical proximation to one another, students will be strongly discouraged from leaving campus. This may be difficult to hear, but it is incredibly important: the less travel off campus, the less risk of exposure—and the better chance we have to keep our small community protected. Faculty and staff will be encouraged to continue to work remotely and all discretionary travel (to professional development conferences, for example) will not be permitted this fall.
Though this represents a comprehensive plan, we just don’t know how the semester will unfold. Should COVID-19 return, we are prepared to move quickly to remote learning and have contingency plans in place that will help with the transition. Should that be necessary, we will commit to sharing that news at our earliest opportunity.
Like the second half of the spring semester, this summer and fall will continue to be an adjustment. However, if we remain flexible and adaptive to the ever-changing nature of this situation, I’m confident we can deliver a truly authentic and meaningful Ursinus experience that all our students have come to expect. Please continue to check the website for updates and we’ll share more details about our fall semester plans in the coming weeks.
Thank you, everyone, for your dedication to Ursinus. Go, Bears!