To: The Wellesley College Community
From: President Paula A. Johnson
Re: Planning for a Return to Campus
Date: May 20, 2020
As I shared Monday, Governor Baker has announced his four-phase plan for re-opening Massachusetts. The complete guidance for higher education was not released on Monday but the expectation will be that we follow this four-phase approach, with phase one as initial entry and phase four being a “new normal” once an effective vaccine has been produced and taken up in society. Phase one of Gov. Baker’s plan does allow for certain aspects of higher education, such as research laboratories, to slowly reopen; and it allows institutions to restart functions to prepare campuses to repopulate more broadly. While institutions will craft their own campus-specific plans, safety guidelines and health monitoring protocols will be required throughout all elements of campus life.
Governor Baker also emphasized that if people can continue to work remotely, they should do so. At this time, we expect that many faculty and staff at Wellesley will continue to do critical work remotely throughout the summer. Since the state’s initial stay-at-home advisory, Wellesley has remained operational, carrying out classes and much of our day-to-day work remotely with only a small number of students and critical staff on campus. Today, I want to share an update on the planning underway for expanded operations and re-entry on our campus.
As Wellesley’s president, as well as a physician, I assure you that our most important priority continues to be to develop the health and safety protocols that will lead to our ability to slowly re-populate our campus. We will not sacrifice safety for speed. We are planning a gradual, phased transition, one with detailed protocols that are in accordance with the Commonwealth’s public health criteria, with the knowledge that life over the next academic year will be quite different from what we have known in the past. There is still a lot of uncertainty ahead of us, and much of what we do will require us to be flexible, with the ability to shift our plans if necessary as the fight against this virus continues.
As we move forward, we want to give you a sense of the specific areas of focus in our planning as well as the organizational structures for drawing up plans and making decisions. All of this work is being overseen by members of Senior Leadership including myself, Andrew Shennan, Piper Orton, Carolyn Slaboden, Karen Petrulakis, Sheilah Horton, and Tara Murphy. Our work focuses in three areas: protecting the health and safety of our people, preparing our spaces for an extended period of social distancing, and planning different scenarios for our academic and residential programs.
Before we re-populate our campus, we will need to develop guidelines that focus on protecting the health and safety of individuals in our community, including health screening tools, testing, contact tracing, strategies for handling cases of COVID-19 and contacts, and quarantine and isolation protocols. The implementation of these plans will require a true public health approach, which requires every member of the community to participate in order to protect their own health and the health of the entire community.
- A Health and Safety Team is working in partnership with the Commonwealth, the Wellesley Department of Public Health, and Newton-Wellesley Hospital to establish screening, testing, tracing, and quarantine and isolation protocols that will follow best practices and the guidance being developed by the Commonwealth. I am leading a small subgroup for the Commonwealth to develop these types of recommendations for higher education.
- Establish protocols for effective social distancing and use of masks throughout the campus, including in classrooms and residence halls.
- Continue to ensure that all staff working on campus are following personal safety practices.
- Develop and implement regular health screening and testing protocols, as appropriate for different members of the community.
- Establish processes and protocols, and facility requirements for students who are exposed and need to quarantine or fall ill and need to isolate.
- A Human Resources Team will be developing, in collaboration with the Office of the Provost, guidelines and consistent practices for all community members, including faculty, staff, and union members, so that those who need to return to campus for their work may do so as safely as possible, and so that the College will be able to address individual concerns and provide support for at-risk members of our community.
- Develop a plan for phased re-entry, beginning with faculty and staff who are essential to have on campus and faculty and staff in labs.
- Create plans for staggered work schedules and the continuation of remote work where possible.
- Determine the administrative policies that will support faculty and staff who are unwell or have been in close contact with someone who is sick or who are at high risk for COVID-19.
Before we can re-populate the campus, we will need to evaluate the capacity of our learning, office, residential, and co-curricular spaces in order to adhere to social distancing. We will also develop and implement appropriate cleaning protocols and engineering controls across the campus.
- A Campus Facilities Team will evaluate what is necessary to operate reasonably safely in Wellesley’s academic spaces, administrative and faculty office spaces, Science Center labs, libraries, residence and dining halls, the Keohane Sports Center, the Lulu Chow Wang Campus Center, and other common areas across campus.
- Plan for safe access to and travel within buildings on our campus.
- Evaluate appropriate density for all occupied spaces, including considering the availability of off-campus space.
- Conduct rigorous inventory of instructional spaces to determine enrollment caps for courses taught in those spaces.
- Determine appropriate air handling in public spaces and classrooms.
- Establish cleaning protocols for all occupied spaces and procure appropriate supplies.
- Develop quarantine and isolation protocols for the entire community, and identify space for quarantine and isolation of students living in residence halls.
The Academic Planning Group is charged with re-envisioning the academic, residential, and co-curricular programs for 2020–2021. This work, which builds on the efforts of the other planning teams, takes into consideration social distancing, wearing masks, and other health and safety measures. We expect to announce our plans for the academic and residential programs for the fall no later than July 1.
- The Academic Planning Group is working to redesign the academic program and calendar into shorter and more flexible units that can be taught in person and/or remotely.
- The Division of Student Life continues to develop remote engagement support and is beginning the work of developing a plan for a residential life experience with all of the measures we will need to take to ensure social distance while maintaining community. Policies and practices to limit exposure to the virus will be developed and a public health campaign to educate the student community will be developed.
- Staff in Library and Technology Services are exploring technology to further support student learning both on and off campus and to support the faculty’s ability to teach in a variety of settings and formats.
- Our PERA faculty and staff are working to develop a plan to re-engage intercollegiate athletics and recreational sports. We await guidance from the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) regarding the conditions under which athletics may be initiated in the fall. We will also continue to work closely with Health Services and follow guidelines from the Commonwealth, the NCAA, and the American College Health Association (ACHA).
What I have shared thus far only gives a high-level view of the complexity in re-populating our campus amid this pandemic, and we will continue to share updates with the community as developments and decisions arise.
I will plan to discuss these issues at the upcoming Academic Council meeting on May 26 and the Administrative Council meeting on June 2. In addition, we plan to host a series of community forums when the fall planning update is released on July 1.