Dear Students,

We recognize that this is an anxious time for everyone, with important decisions that need to be made. Our efforts to create an orderly, well-planned process were not intended to add pressure to an already stressful situation. In fact, the reason we have announced our spring plan well before the end of the fall term is to allow time for consideration and planning. As was the case in our preparations for fall, we have created a timeline that provides as much information as possible for families before tuition, room, and board payments are due.

We have asked that students let us know by Nov. 2 if they do not plan to return to campus for the spring in order to plan as effectively as possible. We will be using this information to consider adjustments to instructional modes for courses, and their timing and location, as well as for housing assignments. This is not a binding commitment, and no payments are due at that time. We recognize that individual student choices may change, and there will be no financial penalty if you inform us by your suggested date of Dec. 7 that your plans have changed.

The Oct. 30 deadline for students on a leave of absence to request reinstatement is necessary for students to participate in course registration that begins around Nov. 4. However, students can wait as late as Nov. 20 to request reinstatement with the understanding that as is normally the case for students returning from leaves, they will register not with their classes but at the end of the registration period. That is the usual procedure, and offering the earlier date to allow for registration along with classmates is an adjustment that we made to assist those students this year. Here, too, students who request reinstatement can change their minds.

Knowing that for many students, the format or modality of specific courses may influence their preferences, we are working hard to develop a preliminary course schedule that should be available soon. As Provost John Meier stated in last week’s town hall, finalizing that schedule will be an “iterative process,” as we correlate our understanding of which students are likely to study from home with our efforts to create a curriculum that serves the needs of both on-campus and at-home students.

It is understandable that the uptick in cases that happened to occur this week would heighten concerns about overall safety. But it is important to recognize that our system of testing, contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine has worked as we designed. The routine monitoring tests picked up the initial cases, we elected to do a round of population testing, and we broadened our protective measures to closing and cleaning facilities across the campus as a precautionary measure. We were able to use this experience to further refine our process and protocols and gain even more confidence for the future. It is likely that we will see repeated upticks of this kind throughout the spring semester, just as other schools have throughout the fall. We will continue to emphasize that anyone who chooses to study on campus should expect that there will be instances of infection, and our goal will be to minimize spread. Learn more about our testing strategy.

Finally, as I noted at the end of my message to the community, we recognize that there are contradictory pressures at work in a situation that will require some level of enforcement to be successful. Nobody likes to feel that they are under surveillance, and we understand the concerns of BIPOC students in particular about being over-policed or monitored. We have made efforts this fall to adjust the work of Public Safety in response to concerns raised by BIPOC students and will continue our review of Public Safety practices. At the same time, many students also have expressed real concern about our ability to control student adherence to health and safety protocols. As we did this past week, we will notify students on campus if reports of risky behavior require more monitoring, and will strive to use non-police resources as much as possible.

Our goal continues to be to update our plans and FAQs throughout the coming weeks and months so that students and families can make the most informed choices possible. We recognize that for some students the option of studying from home will be the one that aligns best with their own personal risk tolerance, and we encourage students and families to make choices that work for their own circumstances. We are committed to offering the best academic experience possible to all students, whether on campus or at home.

If you did not attend the town hall held last week, many questions are answered there. It is available on the Parents and Families website. You also may wish to join the second session planned for Monday, when we will address specific concerns in more detail.

Please feel free to follow up with individual offices if you have additional questions or concerns that are not addressed on the FAQs, which are a good place to start for most questions. We will continue to update our plans between now and January. Thanks for letting us know your concerns.

Best wishes,
President Alison Byerly and senior administration