Dear Faculty, Staff, Students, and Alumni,
I am pleased to announce that Worcester State University is in a position to welcome students back to campus for the Fall 2020 semester, both in our classrooms and in our residence halls, provided the Commonwealth has progressed to at least Phase Three of reopening by mid-August. Classes will begin, as had been previously scheduled, on September 2.
Many courses not previously designated as “online” will be offered with some face-to-face and some off-site instruction (blended). Even when offered at a distance, many classes will take place at the scheduled time (synchronous), allowing for interaction, and many classes will also be recorded, offering students flexibility. We are planning for as much in-class instruction as we can safely provide.
Resident students will be housed in single- or double-occupancy rooms, with a portion of our housing capacity reserved for any quarantining needs.
While everyone is eager to resume the full collegiate experience, the fall semester will look substantially different than any one that has preceded it. New requirements and limitations will include:
- The wearing of masks or other appropriate face coverings on campus;
- Severe restrictions on who may come to campus from outside our community;
- An on-campus population that is less than half of our usual capacity, where most of our staff are working from home;
- De-densifying the number of students on campus at any given time;
- The use of either masks or face shields by our faculty while teaching;
- Restrictions on the use of common areas, and changes to foot traffic patterns;
- New ways to access the library and its resources, which will be detailed in a plan developed by its director; and
- A reconfigured dining experience.
Guidance for Decisions
Our comprehensive plan meets the objectives that Governor Baker’s higher educational working group laid out as part of the state’s safe reopening plan (https://www.mass.gov/info-details/reopening-higher-education). Campuses that opt to bring students back to campus are to do so in a way that protects the health of the campus–and the broader–community, while enabling students to progress towards their educational goals. Our plan achieves both.
Academic Calendar for Fall 2020
We aim to complete next semester as we begin it, and we do not intend to alter next semester’s academic calendar. We recognize, however, that a resurgence of COVID-19 could require us to pivot to distance learning instruction modalities at some point in the semester, in accordance with public health guidance.
Our MASCAC conference and the NCAA are expected to make announcements regarding fall sports early in July, and both incoming and returning student athletes will be hearing from our Athletics Department.
Keeping Coronavirus Risk Low
We will engage in safe health practices to keep our coronavirus risk low. Signs throughout campus will remind us to wash our hands frequently, wear face coverings and/or social distance, and wipe down surface areas. We will reinforce the message that no one should come to campus while sick. New cleaning protocols are in place, and ventilation improvements are underway.
Such measures work. And we engage in them not just to protect ourselves, but to protect others. In fact, I’ve been encouraged by one aspect of the pandemic: it’s spurred us to reach out to others with care and concern. I encourage everyone to ask a member of the Lancer community how they are doing. Let’s pay that forward as we come back to campus.
We are reviewing state guidance for higher education COVID-19 testing, which was released Wednesday. A symptom-checker app will be part of our toolkit for addressing the virus, both so that students and employees will know whether they should come to campus each day, and to indicate who might be symptomatic, and therefore should be tested. We are prepared to test them.
We stand ready to accommodate students and staff who may be at higher risk than others for contracting COVID-19, to ensure that they can learn and work. Students are encouraged to contact Student Accessibility Services at 508-929-8733, and employees should contact Human Resources at 508-929-8053.
The next semester will be unique. While we may learn some things from a blended learning approach, we will never lose sight of this hallmark of a Worcester State education: our dedicated and outstanding faculty, whose passion is teaching and who advise and get to know their students. We anticipate that the spring semester would bring us far closer to our traditional format. We have no doubt that, once a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available, we will once again offer the full collegiate experience—with face-to-face, full-capacity classes and the whole range of on-campus activities for everyone to enjoy, in person.
The Safe Return Plan for Fall 2020, highlights of which are on the Safe Return website, ensures we will reconvene this fall in accordance with guidelines established by the CDC and the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Higher Education, while prioritizing student success. I want to congratulate the many employees who diligently and quickly prepared planning documents and teed up key decisions for Executive Cabinet and me over the past month — some 145 of them (70 faculty), in cooperation with union leadership. Plans have been developed for 10 areas. I’ve touched on:
- Academic Contingencies;
- Facilities Use; and
- Mental Health and Wellness.Other plans cover: Budget, Communications, External Relations, Federal Stimulus, Recruitment, Retention, and Wrap-Around Services/Student Support.
More implementation details will follow, and the plan each group submitted will be posted, in the coming days and weeks. Even as we release our plans, I acknowledge that we continue to face uncertainties and shifting guidance from officials. We will make adjustments to them as circumstances warrant. You are encouraged to frequently check our Safe Return website.
No doubt members of the Worcester State community will have many questions about how we will be returning to campus. One venue for addressing them will be the Campus Conversation, via Zoom, this afternoon (June 18, 2020) at 2 p.m. You should have received an email invitation with details for joining in. I look forward to hearing from you.
Barry M. Maloney
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