I am writing to update you about our planning process for the fall semester. This week, we have formed an advisory committee, named VassarTogether, to develop implementation guidelines for a potential return to largely in-person classes on campus this fall. Members of the committee represent multiple areas in the college: health and wellness, safety and security, environmental health and safety, human resources, health services, athletics, residential life, the Engaged Pluralism Initiative, and faculty from a diverse range of academic departments and programs to ensure we plan comprehensively and wisely.
The committee is working to develop a novel approach to enable students to return to campus and enroll in mostly in-person classes safely. It is predicated on our region meeting Governor Cuomo’s New York State guidelines for reopening; on public health guidelines for Dutchess County supporting higher education on campus; and on the availability of sufficient COVID-19 testing for the campus community. Vassar will abide by all federal, state, and local guidance. As a member of the NY Forward Re-Opening Advisory Committee, I remain optimistic that our students’ return to campus in the fall will be possible. The health and safety of the campus community is and will continue to be our highest priority.
Life on campus will not look the same as it did pre-pandemic, but we believe it willstill be enjoyable and meaningful. Our plan for an in-person fall semester is still a work in progress, and we are considering several approaches to keep our community healthy and safe. For example, it may include staggered drop-off days to limit density as we return. Students would be tested for COVID-19 on campus at least twice in the first 14 days. Anyone experiencing symptoms would be tested immediately. Students who test positive would be cared for in a separate dormitory area where food would be brought to the room and where the student could still access classes remotely. All students would take their temperature and report symptoms daily. We would also require that socializing be kept to a minimum in the beginning, with proper PPE (masks) and social distancing. As time went on, we would seek to open up more, and students could socialize and eat together in small groups. If any cases emerge, we would do contact tracing immediately with the local health department to identify anyone who may have been exposed and follow all NY State guidelines to provide recommended care. In all cases, we will follow Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidelines for proper public health safety.
Some faculty may continue to teach remotely as needed, and some students living on campus who have health risks (e.g., immunosuppression) would access classes remotely. We would also offer the option of staying home and taking classes online to anyone who for health or other reasons cannot return (e.g., international students, visa or flight issues). An additional possible feature of this plan is having students stay on campus through October Break, which perhaps would be a long weekend, allowing students to complete in-person classes by Thanksgiving Break. Students would return home and complete any remaining classes and exams remotely.
The plan allows for substantial interaction on campus for students; however, to keep both the campus and the community around us safe and healthy, the campus would be closed to the public for the fall, with the exception of some necessary functions. Additionally, students would not be able to leave campus to go into New York City, Poughkeepsie, Arlington, or anywhere off campus (except in extraordinary circumstances and emergencies).
We are working with the Liberty League and waiting for guidance from New York State and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) to assess how to have athletic competition in the fall. We know how important this is to the life of the college and hope to find an approach that can work. Additionally, we have a variety of ideas for how to bring outside resources onto campus safely and continue to support Arlington businesses, even as students stay physically on campus; we will do everything we can to make that an enriching educational experience.
To keep density as low as possible and limit potential risk to employees, Vassar will continue its Telework program, so that employees continue to work from home, roles permitting, or work in shifts designed to minimize the number on campus at any given time. Employees including faculty who leave campus every day will be required to report symptoms, wear PPE, and social distance for the entire semester. We are continuing to explore options for the small number of students who reside off campus. Classroom density will be minimized, and faculty will not be closer than 6 feet to anyone else. Office hours may be held online or outside.
We are cognizant that science and public health guidelines may shift and require us to continue remote teaching and learning. In that case, we would reassess who needs to be living on campus due to vulnerabilities and hardships associated with studying at home, but all classes and activities would continue remotely. I am grateful to the faculty who are developing creative approaches to enrich the online instruction and tools available for remote learning so Vassar can deliver the highest quality, personalized education for which we are known. Many of you have shared encouraging, positive experiences in remote learning.
Lastly, we are mindful of campus culture and how it will feel to live on campus together safely. Vassar is a place of intellectual freedom and exploration. We will be attentive in the curriculum and beyond to nurture our culture of care and our collective commitment to a sense of belonging for everyone. With these commitments, although we will face challenges, we have the opportunity to learn, to care for each other, and to discover something new about ourselves and each other—the heart of a high-quality liberal arts education.
I expect you may have questions, as we all do at this point. We are still exploring different ways of making the fall work, and we expect to have a comprehensive plan in the next month or so. We apologize in advance for not having all the answers quite yet. Thank you for your continued engagement, and we will keep you informed as we develop these ideas further.
With best wishes,
Elizabeth H. Bradley, President