| by Laurie L Patton

Fall 2020

There is no perfect solution to the Covid-19 reopening dilemma. In our view, we will get farther if we try not to polarize on this topic. There is an ethics of closing and an ethics of reopening. At Middlebury we know residential education reduces inequities for students and supports their mental health. The question for us was, could we create the safest possible environment to do so. We need to be deeply conservative in re-opening. Dr. Anthony Fauci and epidemiologists recommend that every school pay close attention to local conditions. Colleges in Vermont are in a unique situation given the excellent health record of our state. We review those conditions every day. Here are ours: As of mid-August, our health conditions in Vermont and Addison County remain good. We have a conservative health approach and guidelines in the state led by a governor who has successfully created an environment with one of the lowest case rates in the nation. We have evidence from around the region that most of the initial infection rates of students coming into campuses are low. We have a profound obligation to the community to keep it that way. In an abundance of caution, given the spikes in cases across the country, we are asking our students and their families to be extra vigilant in their preparations to return to Vermont and then to minimize any potential exposure in transit. Once they arrive on campus, all students will be tested, and tested again. We presented our detailed plan to the Middlebury Select Board and have the support of the town. We have a collaborative relationship with the local hospital and school system. We also have a very close relationship with state health officials and epidemiologists, with whom we consult weekly and at times daily as needed. We monitor these conditions daily, and, as we did in March, we will not open if we do not feel it is safe to do so

Middlebury is small enough that we can create a system for arrival and maintenance of study that is even more conservative. Our plan includes a pre-arrival quarantine, double testing (on Days 0 and 7), an in-room quarantine, and then a campus quarantine. We have robust isolation facilities and plans if they are needed. We have a health app that has been developed by nationally known technology experts specifically designed for Middlebury. It includes a symptom check and a certification system that protects confidentiality.  

We have a dynamic, targeted, semester-long system of testing that is repeated and regular and whose design is informed by science. We are prepared to increase testing if conditions warrant it.


We have a no-visitor and no travel policy in Phase One, and we will stay in Phase One the whole semester if the science warrants it.  


We have a more widely spread out campus than most college campuses and have lowered the density on campus even further. 

We have a health pledge, a pre-arrival course, and student peer-to-peer education programs. We have a sanctioning system specifically designed for Covid-19 that places a high bar on all student behaviors, but particularly on off-campus students, and includes the possibility of immediate removal from Middlebury. We have given faculty complete freedom of choice as to their course modality and are working to address staff concerns with appropriate controls and safety precautions, as well as flexible work conditions should they need it. We have also given students freedom of choice as to whether they want to study on campus or remotely. 

Our students are interested in learning and continuing their education. A recent survey of returning students also shows that their number-one concern is how to care for each other. Nothing is risk free. And our assessment is, following Dr. Fauci, that we have an opportunity to do what we must do in the absence of a vaccine and the lack of a committed and coherent national approach to eradicating this pandemic: maximally protecting the vulnerable and finding a way to live and learn safely with this disease.