Weekly Update: Return to Campus Preview
| by Laurie L Patton
Dear Middlebury Community,
I am writing today with some updates on our plans for fall opening.
As I know you are aware, news reports of the past few days and weeks have underscored the significant challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, as cases continue to climb at a rapid pace throughout the United States, affecting people of all ages. While these spikes are particularly prevalent in populous states where restrictions were less stringent or eased more quickly than in Vermont, they are not limited to those areas. As a global community, Middlebury is not immune to these challenges, even on our rural campus in Vermont. Our reopening of the Vermont campus during this time means bringing together faculty, staff, and students from places where cases are relatively low and from where there are marked spikes in new cases. These events remind us, once again, of the need for cooperation, coordination, and vigilance to limit the spread of the virus. It cannot be said enough that a successful reopening will depend on each and every one of us taking on this shared responsibility and commitment.
With all of this in mind, I want to assure you that we continue to monitor and evaluate the situation daily in consultation with state, town, and our own health officials. We have taken significant steps to prepare, which are outlined below, and we will continue to adjust our plans as needed to respond to these new realities. This will be a semester like no other, and we are committed to offering a rich and inclusive experience for our students at this historic time while taking extraordinary measures to protect the health and safety of all.
Return to Campus Website
As noted previously, we have designed a phased approach for opening the Vermont campus. We received many thoughtful questions about this process, and these questions have informed our return to campus website, which will be shared with you soon. Below is a preview of some of the information on the website, which will include everything you need to know and can expect for your arrival or return to campus: prearrival quarantine, room versus campus quarantine, testing, dining, life inside and outside the classroom, and more. The website will include a Return to Work section for faculty and staff, outlining procedures and protocols for working safely at Middlebury.
As faculty, staff, and students arrive back to campus and to their homes off-campus, there will be clear expectations and guidelines for how we live, study, and work together in each phase. Deciding to advance from one phase to another will take into consideration state, regional, and local health conditions, as well as conditions on campus. If local health conditions require us to move back to a more restrictive phase, we are prepared to do this to ensure the health and safety of our community. If any student, as they peruse the return to campus website, as well as the Health Pledge (which will be shared soon), feels they cannot follow the protocols or is already thinking about ways to circumvent them, they should choose to study remotely.
A keystone of our return-to-campus plan is prearrival quarantine. All students returning to Middlebury for in-person learning will need to begin return-to-campus preparations two weeks ahead of their planned arrival. This includes a 14-day home (or other single location) quarantine followed by travel as directly to campus as possible. Whatever your mode of travel, it is essential that you take all reasonable precautions in transit, including facial covering use, hand hygiene, and physical distancing to the extent possible. Our arrival testing and quarantine process is sufficiently robust that we will be prepared on your designated arrival day for you to be tested and complete any necessary additional quarantine here, regardless of your mode of transportation to campus. It is equally important to emphasize that the first few weeks, when students are arriving on campus, will be critical to our phased reopening plans. This includes immediate and follow-up testing in the first week and strictly observing physical distancing, face covering, handwashing, and all other safety protocols. Those who have been exposed to COVID-19 or who are symptomatic are asked not to return until cleared by Health Services. Students will be required to stay on campus or in their off-campus housing in this initial stage. Once we successfully complete phase one, we will move to the next stage of reopening.
Faculty and staff should consult Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) Cross-State Travel Guidelines in preparation for their return to campus and must comply with current state requirements for quarantine upon their return to Vermont.
We continue to follow, and in many cases exceed, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance as well as state of Vermont and Department of Health guidance. We are committed to ensuring that all members of the campus community abide by our protocols. Since our spring departure from campus, we have had the opportunity to evaluate every aspect of campus life and to make adjustments. This includes a rigorous arrival testing program and targeted dynamic testing throughout the semester, class and event size limitations, travel restrictions, meal delivery and outdoor dining options, face coverings, physical distancing, quarantine and isolation protocols, contact tracing, a health pledge for all, and the flexibility to change course as needed.
Many people have asked what would prompt us to close the College again. A decision to close the College would take into consideration many variables, top among them CDC, state of Vermont, and Department of Health guidance as well as the number of cases on campus and in the surrounding community, hospital capacity, virus mutation or the onset of a more virulent strain, adherence to health contracts, and the ability to deliver education on campus.
Signs, Education, and Information Sharing
One of the key differences on campus will be the prevalence of signs and educational materials about COVID-19, including safety protocols, strategies to prevent infection, and Middlebury policies developed for this moment in time. Signs are being created to communicate reduced capacities of our spaces and to remind those on campus of our rules for physical distancing, handwashing, and face coverings, all of which will be essential parts of daily life.
We also are creating educational materials and programs to promote health and safety for all Middlebury students, whether on campus or off campus. In support of this effort, we will be conducting a student survey to help inform educational content so that it can best address the specific needs, values, and concerns of our community.
Undergraduate students received an email last Thursday with a preview of courses in all departments, describing how teaching and learning will happen. There may be adjustments to the course offerings, but this preview will give students a good sense of what courses will be remote, hybrid, and in person. We have given faculty complete choice about how they will teach, and we have offered extensive training on how to deliver in hybrid and online formats. As of this week, approximately 50 percent of classes offered in the fall will be exclusively online, which is broadly consistent with our New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) peers. The remaining 50 percent will have a hybrid structure or will be taught in person. Students will be receiving more information about course registration soon.
To be clear, our online teaching will not in any way be inferior to in-person teaching. Our faculty are intensely committed to student learning and have been preparing with technological and instructional support this summer. We have also had a chance to test some of these modalities with our Language Schools and Bread Loaf School of English this summer and will bring those lessons to bear in the fall both for the College and the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Middlebury classrooms and classes will surely look different, but our work to prepare over the summer has prompted innovation and creativity. Because we are providing training to faculty broadly, our preparation will allow us to transition to online teaching at any point if needed at the College.
Our work to prepare for the fall also includes looking at alternative spaces for teaching, and we currently are evaluating buildings across campus. The work ahead includes modifying classrooms—in some cases removing or reconfiguring furniture, changing ventilation systems, and installing safety equipment.
Athletics and the Arts
As previously announced, NESCAC presidents decided to cancel the fall 2020 NESCAC season. We also acknowledged that we must place limits on close-contact activities such as the performing arts. We have not ruled out all competition and performance, but we must reimagine what it means to be a Middlebury athlete or artist who is not practicing in the traditional way, and to participate in a semester where there are no conference competitions or large-scale performances to attend. This is part of the work of reimagining our entire community, and I know we are all up to the challenge.
Finally, some have asked us why we feel it is important to open, and at what point we might close. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has recommended a close analysis of local conditions, and therefore every university and college will have a slightly different response. At Middlebury, we are monitoring conditions in Vermont and the surrounding areas daily to confirm that we can open safely. We have heard from many of you that you are as eager for us to reopen as we are to be joining together once again. We also believe that, if it is safe for the campus and wider community, colleges and universities have a mission and a responsibility to educate. Living and learning in a pandemic will shape our leaders of the future. The lessons we learn and the partnerships we form will influence our responses to or even prevent the next pandemic. We are also aware that there are long-lasting consequences to shutdowns, including physical and mental health issues. The pandemic is forcing individuals, families, and institutions to make difficult choices even as information evolves daily.
We know that there are significant challenges to our approach. This is a partnership, and we will do everything we can to protect the health and safety of our community and to prepare for what may come. Each of us must do what we think is best. I can assure you that we will continue to be guided by the latest scientific research and by successful examples of mitigation, such as those found in Vietnam and parts of Europe. On campus, we are taking an approach that is more conservative than the state of Vermont, which has been one of the most successful states in the nation in containing the pandemic. We continue to monitor the situation daily, and if conditions on campus or in our community change, we are prepared to change course and will adjust our plans. If it is not safe to open, we will not do so, and if conditions on campus or in our community change, we are prepared to close.
Thank you for taking the time to read through these updates and for your continued support. We look forward to seeing you back on campus in a few short weeks.