To: The Wellesley College Community
From: President Paula A. Johnson
Re: Looking Ahead to Fall 2020
Date: June 23, 2020
I want to congratulate students on finishing what I know was a difficult and unprecedented spring semester, as well as thank our faculty, staff, and families for their continued support of students and of each other. I hope you all are healthy and well, and managing through these challenging times. Though the pandemic continues, we are seeing hopeful signs of an awakening around racial and social justice. I am heartened by the determination of activists across the country, including many of our own students, and I hope this moment can truly be the start of a movement for positive change in our nation.
While next week we will share a more detailed plan for the fall and the 2020–21 academic year, today we want to focus on the steps we are taking to prioritize the health and safety of all members of the Wellesley community.
Planning with health and safety at the center
Our most important priority for the coming academic year is to create an excellent academic program that prioritizes the health and safety of our community, while allowing each of our students to enjoy a residential experience and take in-person classes for a significant part of the year.
To achieve this, we are following the recommendations of Gov. Charlie Baker’s Higher Education Working Group. I am honored to be part of this group and to lead the task force responsible for developing evidence-based COVID-19 testing guidance for colleges and universities throughout the state.
We are also consulting with medical and health professionals from Partners HealthCare, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, and state public health officials. As we plan for the next academic year, it is tremendously reassuring to know that thanks to Wellesley’s unique partnership with Newton-Wellesley, we will have access to the most up-to-date testing technology, treatments, and health care for our students as well as have strong protocols in place to help protect our community against infection and limit the spread of disease.
Public health guidance tells us that we can minimize the risk of infection by implementing several key strategies, including wearing masks, ensuring six feet of social distancing in all public spaces and classrooms, conducting daily screenings for symptoms, encouraging frequent hand washing, and following enhanced protocols for regular cleaning of classrooms and other public spaces.
Our planning teams, composed of faculty and staff, along with our student advisory committee, are doing a tremendous amount of work to determine and implement the appropriate protocols to help protect the health and safety of our community. Our Facilities Management department has reviewed all residential housing, classrooms, and lab spaces to calculate how many students can receive in-person instruction and live in the residence halls while maintaining physical distancing. Based on all of this planning work, we are making several important changes to the academic and residential program next year that we want to share.
Living on campus
Due to the need for physical distancing, all students will live in singles next year. This will reduce the risk of transmission, but it will also significantly limit the number of students who can live on campus at any given time. As a result, our residential capacity will be fewer than 1,500 students.
Given that limitation, and also given our determination to afford all Wellesley students the opportunity for a residential experience for part of the year, we will invite first-year students and sophomores to live on campus during the fall, and juniors and seniors during the spring. This plan allows first-years to start their Wellesley experience in the best possible way, and to be joined by sophomores who will share many of the same classes. It will also allow seniors to complete their Wellesley experience on campus and juniors to finish their year with the seniors with whom they have shared their time at Wellesley.
We will have enough campus rooms available so that we can accommodate two classes and prioritize housing for students who, for a number of reasons, need to be on campus all year. This includes resident assistants, international students who are unable to return home, and others.
We understand from a recent survey that some seniors may want to be closer to campus in the fall and are interested in off-campus housing. We are exploring facilities that would be dedicated entirely to Wellesley students. Students would take their classes remotely, but the College would provide regular transportation to campus, and these students would have access to on-campus dining. We will update you on this option when we communicate our final plans next week.
We will continue to monitor public health guidance over the fall, and if possible, will explore bringing more students to campus in the spring.
Given the need for physical distancing in residence halls and classrooms, much of our academic program will need to be delivered remotely. We believe remote education is best delivered in shorter, more concentrated formats, so we plan to divide each of our semesters into two terms, with each student taking two courses per term. This will allow for a greater level of concentration and focus for our students, and it will also allow us to pivot quickly to fully remote instruction if needed due to the public health situation.
Our academic departments have reworked their course offerings to fit into these four terms and have created a curriculum that, in each term, includes in-person, remote, and hybrid courses, in which some of the students will be on campus and others off campus. Unlike this past spring, when faculty had just two weeks to make the transition to remote instruction, they now have direct experience teaching remotely, and they are spending the summer optimizing their classes as well as finding new ways to deliver academic support and peer-to-peer learning in the remote environment.
It has been a central principle of our planning to ensure that students residing on campus have, to the greatest extent possible, access to in-person courses. For this reason, the fall on-campus curriculum is designed for first-years and sophomores while the spring on-campus curriculum will be designed for juniors and seniors. This will enable students to take at least one of their two classes in person during each term when they are on campus.
We are hopeful that students who have planned to study abroad for the fall, spring, or full year will be able to do so. Additionally, the Office of International Study is working to create a range of two-unit study abroad programs for the second term, open to juniors and seniors who enroll in courses remotely during the first term.
All study abroad programs will be subject to a careful review of the conditions in the host country and the health and safety protocols at the program site. Students who intend to study abroad will be invited to register for Wellesley remote courses as a backup in case travel is not possible.
Testing and contact tracing
We have been working closely with officials at Partners HealthCare, the Broad Institute, Partners in Health, and others to develop robust testing and contact tracing protocols for students and our campus community. While many of the details are still being finalized, I am certain we will be able to provide ready access to testing for students with symptoms, as well as regular asymptomatic testing for students and other community members throughout the year.
Students, as well as student-facing faculty and staff who have remained on or will be returning to campus, will be given a baseline test at the start of the first fall term or upon arrival to campus, and asymptomatic community members will be tested at regular intervals, which will enable us to add another important layer of protection against spread of COVID-19 on the Wellesley campus. In addition, we will have robust contact tracing, isolation, and quarantine protocols, and enhanced cleaning and disinfection in all campus buildings.
This pandemic and the ongoing protests against racism together remind us of how much work remains to be done to build the kind of world we want to live in. At the same time, they have reinforced my profound belief that the values Wellesley stands for, our commitment to inclusive excellence, and our mission to educate women who will make a difference in the world have never been more urgent or more relevant.
We will share additional details about plans for the coming year with you, including the academic calendar for the fall quarters, early next week. We also plan to host several community webinars to answer your questions. We will send out dates and times for webinars later this week. In the meantime, we encourage you to send us your questions using this fall planning feedback form.
This year will be unlike any other in Wellesley’s history, and I am grateful to our community for your understanding, patience, and perseverance as we strive to navigate this new normal and continue our vital work.