June 29, 2020
Dear Campus Community,
Having completed a thorough planning process that drew upon the insight of 100 faculty, staff, and students across six working groups, and having absorbed feedback from nearly 10,000 of our community members, I write to announce the operating plan for the University of Massachusetts Amherst for the fall 2020 semester.
Our abrupt and disruptive departure from campus in March as a result of COVID-19, and the transition to remote learning, made us all deeply appreciate the vibrant bonds of our campus community. Students who choose to attend UMass Amherst do so not only for the quality of the faculty and the academic programs, but also for the immersive experience, which offers opportunities for enrichment that can be undertaken with a diverse group of peers. As we approach the fall, I want you to know that in this time of great uncertainty we are committed to providing a high-quality education that is conducive to learning and academic progress, whatever the mode of instruction, and with minimal delays. As best we can – and there are severe limitations in the midst of this pandemic – we will strive to sustain the community connections that represent UMass at its best.
That being said, as students evaluate how they wish to pursue their studies at UMass this fall, it is important to understand that life on campus during fall 2020 will not be anything resembling normal college life.
The bottom line is this: While all courses that do not require physical presence on campus will be offered remotely this fall, all undergraduate students who have reserved on-campus housing for the upcoming semester, and for whom there is space available, are invited to live on campus under strict public health behavioral restrictions.
As was previously announced, the semester will begin August 24, with classes held on Labor Day, the second Monday in October, and Veterans Day, and will conclude November 20, at which time students will be expected to move out of campus residence halls. Final exams will be conducted remotely after Thanksgiving.
The decision to invite first-year, transfer, and returning undergraduate students to live on campus this fall was informed in part by the overwhelming feedback from students that they want to pursue their studies here on campus – and indeed intended to seek out rental units in the area even if residence halls were not reopened. For students who choose to reside in on-campus housing or expect to spend any time on campus, our standards will be exacting. Students must agree not only to the standard Code of Student Conduct, but also to a set of protocols outlined in The UMass Agreement, a commitment that they will be required to sign. The protocols students must adhere to will include but are not limited to strict physical distancing, wearing face coverings outside personal living spaces, limiting social contacts to a minimal number of people per day, the prohibition of guests in residence halls, subjecting themselves to virus testing on demand, daily self-monitoring and reporting, assisting with contact tracing, and limiting travel away from the immediate campus area for work and/or emergencies only.
Students who choose to reside in campus residence halls or return to the area to live in off-campus housing must acknowledge that doing so will not guarantee that they will be able to take in-person classes. In fact, it is highly likely that most, if not all, of their classes will be conducted remotely. Only essential face-to-face labs, studios, performance, and other courses involving hands-on work will be conducted on campus and in-person. These courses have already been identified by deans, department heads, chairs, and faculty with priority placed on courses involving seniors so as to not impede their progress toward degree completion. All other courses will be delivered remotely.
Graduate courses, likewise, will be conducted remotely with the exception of essential face-to-face labs, studios, performance, and other courses involving hands-on work. Advanced graduate students who are engaged in laboratory research will continue to have their access to lab space reviewed and approved by the relevant faculty, department, dean, and the Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement. Graduate students, like undergraduate students, must also adhere to the standard Code of Student Conduct and agree to the protocols of The UMass Agreement described above.
A testing, isolation, and contact tracing protocol will be in place for students, faculty, and staff prior to the start of the semester. All students accessing campus will be tested before moving into housing or participating in any university programming. In addition, students will be subject to surveillance testing and will also be tested if they demonstrate any symptoms of COVID-19. Given the prevalence of the virus in the general population, it is expected that a number of students will test positive for COVID-19 while remaining asymptomatic. As is required under CDC and Massachusetts Department of Public Health guidelines, those who test positive for the virus, even those who are asymptomatic, will be required to self-isolate. Students who have been determined through contact tracing to have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive will also be required to self-quarantine. UMass public health personnel will determine the length of isolation or quarantine required based on the circumstances of each case. Compliance with these requirements is a condition for returning to and remaining on campus.
We certainly understand that not all students will want to live or spend time on campus under such conditions, and no students will be required to do so. We strongly encourage all those who are at high risk for COVID-19 to not come to campus, unless they regard the risk on campus to be less than the alternative; we realize that some of our students have home situations that are not ideal for minimizing the risk of infection. Similarly, we ask students and families who do not want to assume the risk of a populous campus in the middle of a pandemic to stay home and take their courses remotely. Those students will be offered a robust remote curriculum as well as advising and other academic support to facilitate their academic success.
Opening the campus before an effective vaccine is widely available requires considerable commitment to community health by students and the university faculty, staff, and administration. While campus officials will follow all federal, state, and local regulations and guidelines to minimize the spread of the virus, students and families should understand that we cannot eliminate the risk of infection altogether. The public health risk from the novel coronavirus pandemic is real. It is known to spread very quickly via person-to-person transmission. If a high incidence of COVID-19 develops anytime during the semester on campus or in the surrounding towns, we may be forced to shift to an entirely remote mode of operation, with the closure of residence halls and campus facilities, as happened in March 2020.
A great many details still need to be worked out as we move into the implementation phase of our reopening plan, and we are committed to updating you regularly. More information, including FAQs on a number of topics, can be found on our reopening website.
I am truly grateful for the hard work and dedication of every member of our campus community who participated in our planning process and for the robust and thoughtful input received from so many of our faculty, staff, students, and parents. By coming together to confront the remarkable challenges before us, we have demonstrated collectively what it means to be part of the UMass Amherst community.
Wishing you a healthy and happy rest of the summer.
Chancellor Kumble R. Subbaswamy