Dear campus community,
Two months have now passed since the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated that we leave campus and change our way of life. We rose to the challenge. Our students, faculty, and staff transitioned to online teaching and learning in two weeks and successfully completed the semester, which culminated on Friday with our online tribute to the class of 2020. Through it all, I have seen a commitment to our students and the mission of UMass Dartmouth that has powered us through some long days and nights. I want to thank each and every one of you for the hard work that has gotten us this far.
With the spring semester behind us, we now turn our attention to the fall. A dedicated team representing all sectors of campus is planning through every possible scenario to ensure that our ability to educate students continues. To help us navigate in the face of many unknowns, our planning is guided by the following:
- Maintaining the health and wellbeing of the UMass Dartmouth community—and the world beyond our campus.
- Maintaining a balanced budget that ensures the financial stability of UMass Dartmouth long into the future.
- Ensuring the UMass Dartmouth educational experience remains extraordinary.
- Pursuing opportunities to innovate for the future.
We believe that classroom instruction should be a staple of the educational experience. With that in mind, we intend to offer instruction that will be limited on-site, online or blended as well as a residential experience that adheres to social distancing guidelines for our students in fall 2020. We can offer this “click and mortar” experience, given our unique situation at UMass Dartmouth. Specifically, the scheduled opening of our new residential and dining facilities, combined with the existing housing and dining areas, provide us with the capacity to reduce density and set aside space for students who may need to self-isolate. Also, given our campus sits on 710 acres and is self-contained, it provides us with numerous options that many institutions do not have.
While we plan for a return to some on-campus instruction, it is important to underscore that we are making decisions based on the latest scientific information and are aware we may need to revert fully online in the fall. Even if we can come back to campus in the fall, we do know that the continuing public health threat due to COVID-19 will necessitate that we also offer many online and blended courses and engagement opportunities. To be successful, we must rethink classroom usage, research laboratories, residential occupancy, dining, athletics, and student activities. In anticipation of a limited return to campus in the fall, a plan to enact social distancing practices across every academic and nonacademic setting is in development. Rest assured that every aspect of how the university operates is being evaluated in the context of our new reality.
We anticipate that Governor Baker will soon allow non-essential businesses to reopen and for our employees to return to campus. We will welcome you back as soon as safely possible. Be assured that we will comply with social guidance and mandatory workplace safety standards as directed by MDPH (Massachusetts Department of Public Health) recommendations. We plan to use the summer to ready our physical space for students’ return. These preparations include installation of distance-learning technology in more classrooms, widespread availability of sanitizing materials throughout campus, and more. Before students arrive and throughout the fall, we will maintain low density and establish strict protocols to reduce the risk of infection. As we design the campus plan, we are mindful of the following:
- Protecting members of our campus who are at a higher risk of infection due to pre-existing health conditions.
- Arranging for faculty and staff who need to be on campus to complete their work.
- Continuing remote working protocols for those who can work from home.
- Factoring in the challenges of childcare and the need to care for family members.
- Mandating the use of necessary PPE on campus and increased cleaning and sanitizing of classrooms and other high traffic areas.
- Stockpiling necessary supplies.
- Building systems to conduct testing and contact tracing.
- Continued training and communication on best practices to avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19, including the proper protocols and expectations for cleaning and sanitizing certain areas and equipment after use.
In the coming days and weeks, you will receive more detailed information from university leaders who are overseeing cross-functional working groups on reopening and the fall learning experience. Their work is guided by the framework I have outlined above.
Because this situation remains fluid, we will continue to provide updates throughout the summer and into the fall. I intend to stay connected with you through written communication as well as monthly Town Hall Meetings accessible via Zoom. I want to thank you for your patience and resilience in the face of continued uncertainty.
I am confident that when this crisis does end, UMass Dartmouth will be a better, stronger institution because of you and the work that we do between now and then. Our ability to adapt and change has never been more important. I encourage all of you to be leaders and consider how we can innovate within our areas to enhance the UMassD experience and continue to serve our students, the SouthCoast region, and the world.
Robert E. Johnson PhD