President's Speeches & Writings

Our Plans to Reopen for Fall 2020

by

Adam Weinberg

June 12, 2020

Denison Community,

I am writing to share plans for the upcoming 2020-2021 academic year. As I said in a recent video, a lot of work has gone into planning how to offer a world-class liberal arts education to our students in the midst of the unfolding COVID virus crisis.

Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked through these important steps.

I want to confirm our plan to open and welcome students to campus in the fall for in-person residential learning and living. We have designed a hybrid approach to provide maximum flexibility and adaptability for those students who want to return to campus and to accommodate those students who are unable to return to campus due to travel, visa, health or other reasons.

Our plan has been collaboratively created alongside faculty, students, parents, staff, medical and other experts. Nine cross-organizational teams worked on every facet of our campus operations while teams of faculty developed plans for delivery of our academic curriculum and student Red Corps Fellows engaged many students in idea generation. At the same time, the college has been seeking the advice of local, state, and national public health experts, especially those who are giving advice to colleges and universities, to ensure our decisions are based on relevant peer-reviewed science in areas including epidemiology, education, and sociology. We’re proud of this inclusive approach, and will continue it as we make future decisions.

All of this work has been led by our fall 2020 leadership team that included our Provost and our Vice Provost for Operations, Planning and Resources Management as well our heads of student development, finance and management, risk management and environment health, facilities services, legal, and university communications.

Our decisions have been guided by the following principles: prioritizing health and minimizing risk of infection and transmission; maintaining the high-quality of the Denison education; creating flexibility to accommodate varying student, faculty, and staff needs and circumstances; planning for agility to allow for fast, effective transitions as changes emerge; and a commitment to making decisions based on reason and guided by data and science.

I am happy to share all of the details we know right now, knowing both that there are still many questions that we can’t answer today, and that this is the first of what will be numerous updates over the summer.

Academic Approach

We have heard from many students and parents that they want the campus to be open. Many students want to be on campus taking classes, meeting with professors, living with friends and being involved in co-curricular activities.

As we open campus and look forward to welcoming all students to The Hill, we also recognize there will be some exceptional circumstances that impact some students’ ability to be on campus, including international students and those with health concerns. As a result, some members of our community might arrive on campus after classes begin, be compelled to be away for part of the semester (including for quarantine purposes) or to end early — or may not be ready or able to return at all.

To meet these important needs, we will leverage a hybrid in-person/remote course design to allow students to participate in person or remotely (from their homes or residence halls as needed). Faculty are working now to make in-person and remote experiences as parallel as possible, including integrating in-person and remote instruction so those not in the classroom are working alongside and engaging with those who are.

In addition to our regular fall and spring semesters, we also are planning for the possible addition of 3-4 week academic terms in January and summer and will share more on that as soon as we are able.

Modified Academic Schedule

We will begin classes on August 17, 10 days earlier than originally planned. Classes will run for fourteen weeks, from August 17 through November 20. We will eliminate the October fall break and students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving break. The fall semester will be completed by a week of remote finals from November 30 through December 4. These changes allow us to take advantage of the nice weather in August, September and October to hold classes and events outside, and reduce the round trips students have to make to campus. Based on all we know right now, we expect that students will return to campus for the second semester in January but will maintain flexibility and adaptability to meet the changes and challenges presented by COVID-19.

Our Comprehensive Health Strategy

None of us can guarantee what trajectory COVID-19 will take or guarantee a COVID-19 free environment. As is true in all other aspects of our lives until a vaccine is widely available, the risk of COVID-19 will remain real for the foreseeable future. Our focus has been and will aggressively continue to be to minimize and manage these risks through integrated, well-researched community-wide protocols and plans. Our approach includes but is not limited to:

  • Managing campus density by having some staff and faculty work remotely. Combined with the part of the student population who will be off campus for some or all of the semester, this will reduce the overall number and proximity of persons in one place.
  • Personal symptom monitoring required by all faculty, staff and students on a daily basis and those with symptoms (fever, cough, body aches, etc.) will be required to quarantine until a return to day-to-day routine is authorized under medical and public-health guidelines.
  • Social distancing, including things like using larger and outdoor spaces for classes, using hybrid in person and remote teaching models and the construction of more restrooms in residence halls to reduce the number of students using each one.
  • Wearing of face masks which we know, along with social distancing, are among the most effective ways of minimizing the spread of the virus.
  • Rapid and ample testing in partnership with The Ohio State University. Together with robust contact tracing to identify and contain potential additional exposures.
  • Isolation and Quarantine: Because we know eliminating all risk is impossible, we will ensure those with symptoms are isolated on or off campus and are supported and cared for until a return to day-to-day routine is authorized under medical and public-health guidance. The same will be true for students identified through contact tracing as having had potential exposure, and as a result, will be required to quarantine. These students will still be able to participate in classes remotely.
  • Cleaning and sanitation: We have invested in state-of-the-art sanitation machines, stocked sanitation products and planned for staffing so that we can follow strict disinfection and cleaning protocols in all public spaces on campus, including classrooms, dining halls, restrooms, the library and other study spaces.
  • High risk community members: Our flexible academic plan outlined below allows us to accommodate students who may be at higher risk of illness. We also have employee policies and protocols in place for our faculty and staff with higher-risk circumstances.
  • Healthcare support, in addition to our own facilities, support and services are available, thanks to Denison’s fortunate location near Columbus, at any of the five large hospitals nearby which are some of the best in Ohio.

Classrooms

We will observe social distancing in classrooms and will accommodate that in a number of ways, including moving some classes to larger spaces on campus, holding classes outside when possible, and developing hybrid in-person/remote participation models. Classroom surfaces will also be disinfected on a frequent basis.

Residence Halls

We are working on various strategies to maintain a healthy living environment in our residential spaces, including enhanced sanitizing protocols and guidelines for common spaces. We are increasing the number of bathrooms in some residence halls to help further minimize risk.

Student Housing will provide next steps for housing selection via students’ Denison email on Thursday, June 18, 2020. The housing selection process will be online and will work as usual. Selection is scheduled for June 29 (rising seniors), June 30 (rising juniors) and July 1 (rising sophomores).

Move in will be staggered to allow for social distancing and other health measures. In July, students and families will schedule a move in time slot for their assigned move in date:

  • First-Year Students: Thursday, August 13, 2020
  • Returning Students: Friday, August 14 through Sunday, August 16, 2020
  • We are developing a move in schedule for athletes, international students and Orientation Leaders and CAs and will share those dates and details as soon as they are available.

More information and move in date assignments will be shared on July 10.

Dining Halls

We are implementing CDC and other health research guidance in our food preparation, service and dining operations. Dining halls will not provide buffet-style and self-serve options and will emphasize expanded take-out menus in all locations. Dine-in seating will be distanced and sanitized after every use. Our dining services provider, Bon Appetit, is developing detailed guidelines for food service at Denison and for all of the higher education campuses they support.

Athletics

Athletics are important to our life and culture on campus, for student athletes and non-athletes alike. We are working on all levels – institutional, NCAC, NCAA – to determine ways to compete that are designed around health and risk minimization. We will inform students and families of our plans as soon as we are able, including information about student athlete move-in dates. Athletes will be hearing from their coaches.

Events

We do not yet have guidance on in-person events like concerts, performances, large lectures, and other activities for the fall including Big Red Weekend. These decisions will be informed by guidance and mandates by the State of Ohio and public health experts and we’ll keep you updated as we learn more.

Campus Life

I know there is uncertainty about how campus life might change while the threat of COVID-19 is still in our midst. I can tell you two things for certain: the ways in which we live, teach, study, and work may be different, but it will still be Denison — welcoming, fun, engaging, creative, inspiring. This is an area where RED Corp Fellows are working with other students to generate good ideas.

We plan to dive more deeply into specific plans in future communications. For now, I want you to know we have high expectations for the camaraderie and connections that will form this fall. The entire university is working hard on plans, including student teams who are helping us design a vibrant campus life.

Our success in all of this will be predicated on our collective commitment to doing what is right and necessary to protect ourselves and others. We have a culture of caring at Denison that is at the heart of our deeply relational and highly-engaging campus community. I know we can rely on that culture in the months ahead as we will need every member of our community to commit to take measures and follow the protocols designed to mitigate and manage risk for one another. We all need to be in this together and we all need to commit to doing what is right for the community by complying with health and safety guidelines, policies and protocols because doing so will support individual health and in turn our ability to remain on campus living and learning together.

Questions

I know many of you will have questions as you are planning for and making your own decisions about fall. We have established several resources to support you this summer:

  • Dedicated website for Denison’s Guide to 2020 where you can find many questions and answers related to what is outlined above. We will update this site frequently.
  • Dedicated email address: If you have questions not found on the website, please submit them at reopen@denison.edu and we’ll return answers quickly.
  • Dedicated phone line: You may speak directly with a member of our staff by calling 740-587-5607 between the hours of 10 am and 4 pm ET Monday-Friday.
  • International students should visit the My ISS Portal to request an appointment to discuss their individual circumstances, options, ask questions and receive guidance regarding fall plans. Our International Student Services team is standing by to support you.

Thank you for reading, I know this is a lot of information. In summary: we’re pragmatically optimistic about fall and excited to welcome students to campus. I believe students who join us — on campus or remotely — will experience a well-planned semester that minimizes risk, is rapidly responsive to need, and creates deep connections, all while delivering the extraordinary Denison advantage that unites us as one community.

Adam Weinberg

Read more of Adam Weinberg's speeches and writings.