Starting a New Semester
August 14, 2020
Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff,
It has been exciting this week to welcome more than 400 students back to our Waltham campus. A successful return to an in-person community requires that each of us — students, faculty, and staff — be vigilant in our compliance with public health requirements. It will not be easy, and it will not be normal. But I believe the ability to have students on campus, and the benefits it will bring, is well worth the effort.
I congratulate the students who have already returned to Brandeis for their compliance with travel-quarantine, testing, and mask-wearing protocols. They are already modeling some of the important aspects of social solidarity that will be critical to ongoing campus operations and demonstrating what we are all capable of to protect one another’s health.
As you know from my message earlier this summer about our fall 2020 plans, we carefully examined options for the coming semester before moving forward with a return to campus this fall. We did so because we believe strongly in the value and advantages of a shared learning environment, and we remain confident that the plan we established creates the safest possible environment for doing so.
We recognize that some colleges and universities have moved to all-remote learning. Each of us in the senior administration is in weekly contact with our peers at many colleges and universities, and understand the particular circumstances that each campus must consider in making such a decision: the institution’s location; density within its city or town; ability to test both symptomatic and asymptomatic students, faculty, and staff; availability of single rooms on campus; ability to isolate infected students; the level and trend in local infection rates; and others. While moving to an all-remote environment will remain a possibility for us at any time during the semester, at this point we have determined that we are able to proceed with our plans on the basis of a number of factors. Among them:
- Brandeis recently completed a month-long pilot of its high-frequency universal testing program, which enabled us to hone our systems and procedures before the start of the fall semester. Since mid-July, the university has processed more than 3,000 tests and identified three positive cases (these individuals went into isolation, and our contact tracers notified any close contacts, as is our protocol). As the fall semester begins, we will be in a position to process between 1,000 and 1,200 tests each day for faculty, staff, and students. This rigorous testing program will enable us to identify quickly and isolate any positive cases of COVID-19 throughout the fall semester.
- Over the summer, our Facilities Services team has undertaken extensive and creative work to re-design the campus environment to facilitate and encourage appropriate physical distancing in classrooms, dining facilities, the library, and other community spaces.
- We have relied on the best science and public health advice to create a data-driven approach to campus health and safety that incorporates high-frequency, mandatory testing; careful monitoring of positivity rates and other metrics in the larger community; thoughtful planning around distancing, student living (in singles), quarantining, and isolation needs; detailed protocols for how to limit the risk of infection spread; and a clear and rigorous plan to ensure adherence to these protocols.
With these factors in mind, we believe that the Brandeis campus can be a safe place to live and learn. If conditions change and begin to move in the wrong direction, we will quickly take action, ranging from further restrictions on the size of gatherings and the use of shared indoor spaces, to a return to all-virtual learning and the departure of most students from campus.
It took an enormous amount of consultation, learning, collaboration, and thought to design a plan that gives us the confidence that we can move forward safely. What makes all the effort worthwhile is the impact it will have on our institutional mission: providing a more equitable and safe learning environment for our students. We remain aware of our responsibilities as an employer and a citizen of Waltham, and will continue to do all we can to protect the safety of our campus and surrounding community.
I want to take this opportunity to thank, on behalf of the many from whom I have heard during the past three months, the members of our staff and faculty. Their hard work will make it possible for us to pursue our mission in the best possible environment, given these most unusual and challenging circumstances.
As we start this semester, it is critical that we all unite behind the common goal of a safe campus and be ever vigilant in following the strict protocols established to make the return to campus successful. To help answer questions and address any concerns, I invite you to join me and members of my leadership team for a community check-in:
Tuesday, August 25
Faculty and staff: 9:00 a.m. EDT
Students and families: 7:00 p.m. EDT
In closing, I acknowledged that the semester ahead will most certainly be different, and we will face challenges we have never faced before. But, together, I am confident we can make it a meaningful, safe, and worthwhile endeavor.