October 23, 2020
Dear Campus Community:
After weeks of intensive planning and consultation that is informed by our experiences of the Fall Semester thus far, I write to announce the operating plan for the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the Spring 2021 Semester.
Our strategic focus is on advancing students’ academic progress toward degree completion while providing a campus environment that meets federal and state health and safety protocols for mitigating COVID-19. Guided by these principles, we have determined that in-person, face-to-face instruction for undergraduate and graduate students will be offered on campus this spring in certain classes, labs and studios identified as requiring in-person instruction. First-year students may also be provided with a face-to-face instructional opportunity, although the majority of the teaching in the Spring Semester will be fully remote. In addition, specific cohorts of undergraduate students, whose academic success is most closely associated with on-campus learning and living, will be given the option to live on campus for the Spring Semester. These cohorts include:
- Students enrolled in mandatory face-to-face classes
- Students dependent on the university for housing and dining, including international students, as well as students requiring specific academic accommodations or those participating in athletics
- First-year students and entering transfer students, enrolled in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021
These groups of undergraduate students represent approximately 60% of the campus’s typical residential population. Students who decline this invitation would join all other students who will continue to engage in remote learning from their homes or their off-campus residences. We are also exploring alternative residential options beyond the Amherst area, including increasing the housing capacity on the Mount Ida Campus in Newton.
While I am pleased that a larger percentage of our students will be afforded the opportunity to return to campus and take part in the immersive residential experience, my heart goes out to students to whom we are not able to extend this invitation. Put simply, given the nature of the pandemic, the campus cannot operate at full capacity and adequately provide the virus testing, contact tracing, social distancing, and quarantine and isolation measures necessary while the pandemic continues. However, at 60% capacity, we are confident we can provide all of these vital services to our campus community while fulfilling our educational mission.
Our confidence is bolstered in part due to the success of our campus symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and contact tracing program. The fourth-largest such operation in the state, behind only Boston, Worcester and Cambridge, our testing center has conducted over 100,000 tests since it opened in August and, in conjunction with our comprehensive contact tracing activities, has revealed a cumulative positivity rate of 0.15%, well below most peer institutions as well as the state rate of 1.4%. And remarkably, as of this writing, there has been only one positive case detected in our current residential population. That is a testament to our students’ commitment to following public health protocols.
Our plan to partially repopulate the campus in the Spring Semester will require strict adherence to updated and expanded protocols. For students, undergraduate and graduate, living in on-campus housing or off-campus in the Amherst area, public health and behavioral standards will be rigorous, and will include the following:
- Twice weekly asymptomatic virus testing
- Adaptive testing when warranted
- Daily self-monitoring and reporting
- Mandatory face coverings outside personal living spaces
- Strict social distancing
- The formation of small social groupings or pods to limit students’ in-person interactions
- Cooperation with contact tracing
- Prohibition of guests in residence halls, dining commons, and in other campus buildings
- Limiting travel away from the immediate campus area for work and/or emergencies only
We will continue to rely on communication, education and outreach to encourage responsible public health behavior by our students and every member of our campus community. Students are reminded that the Code of Student Conduct applies both on- and off-campus and that compliance with campus directives, including public health protocols, is a requirement.
While we do not expect the partial repopulation of the campus’s residential community to have a discernable impact on the size of the off-campus student population in Amherst and the surrounding area, we recognize that local residents are important stakeholders in this process. We are committed to our ongoing collaboration with town leaders, through our town-gown working group and our regular meetings with town administrators and first responders, to ensure that this expansion of campus operations is conducted in a manner that is mindful of the health and wellbeing of the broader community.
Our operational plan for the spring builds on what we have learned throughout the course of the pandemic and is guided by the work of stakeholders representing every aspect of our campus who participated in an inclusive and deliberative planning process. Led by a Strategy Group made up of senior campus administrators and co-chaired by the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life, the group included the chairs of seven function-specific Working Groups, as well as the President of the Student Government Association, the President of the Graduate Student Senate and the Secretary of the Faculty Senate.
The spring operational plan is supported by a thorough analysis of relevant factors considered by the function-specific Working Groups in the context of prioritizing the health and safety of the campus and the broader community. These groups drew upon the expertise of the university and experience from this fall. Following are the analyses and recommendations that I received from each Working Group:
- Teaching, Learning Technology and Student Success
- Residence Life, Off-Campus, Dining and Student Engagement
- Public Health and Safety
- Facilities, Finances and Human Resources
- Research and Libraries
Now that we have set our course for the spring, there is still much work to be done and details to address between now and the start of the semester on February 1. Timely information regarding various aspects of our spring plan can be found at umass.edu/spring. We will also keep you updated via email and other communication channels. Thankfully, in announcing our plans today, our timetable for course registration and housing assignments for those cohorts identified to live on campus will be similar to that of a normal semester.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue to monitor the progress of the pandemic, and should worsening conditions warrant re-evaluation of our plan, we will act accordingly to ensure that the health and wellbeing of our community remains paramount.
While today’s announcement will undoubtedly be welcome news to many members of our campus community and disappointing to others, it is a step, albeit an incremental one, toward a time when our UMass family is fully together again.
Thank you to every member of the Strategy Group and the Working Groups for your sound advice and hard work to bring this plan together. And to every member of our campus community – students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni – I am deeply grateful for your patience and understanding throughout these challenging times.
Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy