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Fall 2020 Planning; Update from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Leadership Team

Dear members of the Emerson community,

I am writing to update you on the progress of the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Leadership Team’s work and planning for the Fall 2020 term. As you’ll recall from our last announcement, the team has been analyzing four scenarios for the fall term:

1.     Full-Residency Campus – a return to on-campus operations.
2.     Academic Calendar Shift – for example, a change in term start and end dates.  
3.     Hybrid Model – a mix of residential campus and remote learning to minimize density and maximize experiential learning opportunities.
4.     Online Teaching and Learning – continuing online course delivery and services.

We have assigned small groups of faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, staff, academic deans, and senior administrators to dive deep into each of these four scenarios, in order to identify a fall reopening plan (or plans) for each. I have asked the Full-Residency group to shift the focus of its work to identifying the measures we must take in order to repopulate the campus, with particular attention to ensuring the health and safety of everyone who works, teaches, studies, and lives in our community and in conjunction with de-densifying residence halls, dining halls, offices, and classrooms.

We know that the Fall 2020 term will look different from past fall semesters. Most of the potential scenarios involve residential in-person course delivery, likely complemented by some form of synchronous and asynchronous digital learning and/or a shift in the academic calendar. Importantly, we are devising Fall contingency plans to respond, if necessary, to a sudden and unforeseen trajectory of the virus or new state or local government guidelines and restrictions.

The College has taken a deliberate approach to decision-making around the opening of campus that ensures the health and safety of the entire Emerson community and the community that surrounds us. One aspect of Emerson College that makes it so extraordinary is our small and tight-knit community of students, faculty, and staff, who bring an abundance of experiences, backgrounds, and perspectives to bear on any challenge we face.

As I previously reported, Emerson consulted three highly respected epidemiological health experts to guide our planning. They have been extraordinarily helpful in developing our reopening plans.

As we move forward, we know that we will need to follow federal, state and local public health guidance and requirements and several health and safety measures including:

  • Plans for ensuring regular testing of the community;
  • Tracing and tracking of potential exposure;
  • Adherence to public health guidance, including physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and the regular use of face masks, and;
  • Increased options for course delivery, which could include adjusting existing schedules and using many available spaces as classrooms as needed

Additionally, the College has administered a survey to prospective students, continuing students, and parents. We are in the process of administering surveys to faculty and staff. The survey responses will provide feedback, considerations, and concerns related to our community’s health, safety, and well-being in relation to the pandemic and our return to campus. Your feedback will help the College with its decision.

It is our expectation for working groups to complete their work soon, and we hope to provide an announcement of our best and current thinking about the Fall 2020 term by June 12.

While there are still many unknowns, we can assure you that the most critical aspects of an Emerson education will endure. A return to campus will require the support and cooperation of everyone in our community, and we know that Emerson’s innovators, creatives, and communicators will help us get there.

Lee Pelton

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