June 19, 2020
Dear Campus Community:
I write to share information about Westfield State University’s Safe Fall 2020 Opening.
Last semester was a unique experience for us all, and I am grateful for everyone’s flexibility, persistence, and desire to succeed in the face of adversity. As a community, students, faculty, and staff navigated the effects of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic with uncommon grace, good sense, and cooperation. We learned a significant amount about our strengths as individuals and as an institution.
The decision has been made as part of our plan for a Safe Fall 2020 Opening to utilize both on-ground and online academic instruction and welcome back both commuter and residential students to campus in September.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Emergency Response Team’s Coronavirus Management Group has been working to manage continuity in the face of the global pandemic. In addition, a Safe Opening Task Force was convened with representation from all University divisions and unions to comb through the vast amounts of guidelines, standards, and protocols put forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and the American College Health Association (ACHA). The group used these expert sources combined with the guidance and directives of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, the state Department of Higher Education, and state Department of Public Health to present three scenarios for my Cabinet to consider for the fall 2020 semester.
The Cabinet and I came to our decision by weighing heavily the following criteria:
- An ability to provide an environment with proper health and safety precautions
- A favorable downward trend of the data related to COVID-19 in Massachusetts
- A commitment to provide a high quality, engaging student experience
- A capacity to be flexible given the uncertainties related to the pandemic
- A commitment to ensure continuity
With a general plan set, University divisional working groups will continue to finalize their respective pieces of the plan to build on what has been determined so far.
As always, we remain in contact with state and local health officials as we work on the remaining logistical and operational details related to our Safe Fall 2020 Opening. We continue to appreciate your patience and understanding as we institute the following thoughtful and careful measures to welcome our students back to campus in September.
Health and Safety Preparation and Protocols
All members of the campus community will be asked to comply with a social contract that will emphasize expectations of all individuals in our community during an unprecedented public health crisis.
Cloth masks will be required to be worn by all individuals without prohibitive health conditions and six feet of social distancing, when possible, will be enforced. Hygiene and social distancing protocols will be prominently displayed on signage throughout the campus. All members of the campus community will be required to wear and display their University-issued ID badges when on campus property and to access campus buildings.
Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) that exceeds beyond the cloth mask requirement will be provided to select employees, based on the nature of their job function and inherent risk. Although students will be required to provide their own cloth masks, additional PPE in laboratories and other academic learning environments will be provided by the University as the course or experience requires.
Our campus has remained open, but has operated with restricted access since the spring. The majority of staff have been ensuring business continuity through remote work with a limited on-campus presence. Following the release of a Return to Work plan in the coming days, and following the state’s current guidance, phased-in staffing will take place over the summer months to prepare for welcoming our students back to campus in the fall.
Enhanced cleaning protocols and frequency will be implemented this summer and continued in in the fall semester, with a particular focus on high-touch surfaces and high-traffic areas. Protocols are in line with the CDC, OSHA, and DPH guidelines.
Much of the in-person interactions on campus will be by appointment only.
Work is underway to modify campus environments—including academic buildings, dining spaces, and residence halls—to support social distancing and uphold health and safety protocols. Directional signs, occupancy limitation signs for elevators and restrooms, and hygiene and social distancing reminders will be posted prominently. An increased number of sanitation stations will be installed in all campus buildings.
Academic Learning and Teaching
The Division of Academic Affairs held several open forums for the campus community (attended by approximately 200 faculty and staff) to share their perspectives and ideas to best deliver academic instruction in the fall. In addition, the division surveyed students, faculty, and academic support staff regarding their spring 2020 experiences following the move to an exclusively remote teaching and learning environment. Valued input, creative ideas, and helpful data were gleaned from these important exercises and will be used to map out the comprehensive academic plan for the fall.
We anticipate a portion of classes to be delivered in a hybrid fashion, involving both on-ground and online components, while a substantial number of classes will be delivered exclusively online. On-ground class work will be implemented with proper social distancing and other health and safety precautions. College deans, department chairs, and staff in the Office of the Registrar will work together on adaptations to the fall course schedule using feedback from the surveys and forums, which indicated prioritizing on-ground experiences for first-year students, hands-on pedagogical demands (e.g. laboratories), and experiential learning requirements (e.g. clinicals, internships, practicums, etc.).
Extensive professional development will be offered for faculty in online teaching modalities and pedagogy. In addition, the installation of enhanced classroom technology and critical discipline-specific software will take place over the summer months to better prepare for courses that may include an online component.
Specific logistics on our course offerings will be announced in the coming weeks so students will gain a better sense of how their selected courses will be delivered.
At this time, no changes are anticipated to the academic calendar, with first day of fall classes remaining as Sept. 2, 2020.
The student experience on campus for commuters and residential students will continue to provide robust programming and opportunities to engage while maintaining social distancing and other safety protocols.
We will work to de-densify residence halls in a way that limits the use of shared facilities and common areas in compliance with recommended guidelines. The move-in process for residence halls will mirror the move-out process in March, with students signing up for specific time slots offered over several days. Also, should the need arise, we will designate areas for isolation and quarantining of students who exhibit signs of, or have had direct exposure to COVID-19. In the weeks ahead, we will provide more specific information on these and other aspects of our housing arrangements for the fall.
Our Dining Services will undergo a significant transformation. Although food selections will continue to be healthy and flavorful, a takeout format will replace a dine-in experience in the Dining Commons. Retail dining will be enhanced to provide more variety and options for all students. Because of occupancy restrictions and social distancing mandates, Dining Commons hours will be more limited and we will only be able to offer one basic Dining Plan to students living in traditional residential-style housing. A second plan will be offered to commuters and residential students living in apartment-style housing.
An announcement from the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) regarding the fall Athletics season is expected in July. The Athletics Department will continue to be in touch directly with existing and incoming student athletes regarding any updates.
Continued Contingency Planning
We will keep you apprised of our progress on a timely basis to ensure you have enough advance notice to plan your schedules. As always, every decision will be carefully considered and will reflect our top priority—the health and well-being of the Westfield State community.
While we are excited about this upcoming semester, we are aware that an unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 remains a possibility. For this, we will remain vigilant and continue our comprehensive planning efforts so that Westfield State is prepared for any potential COVID-19 complication. Contingency planning is ongoing and the ability of the University to pivot to changes in our circumstances remain a key element of our planning process.
The patience and understanding of our students and families is very much appreciated. I know this email does not answer all of your questions. Although we are able to provide some answers, many are still in process. We look forward to sharing with you updates as they become available in the days and weeks ahead.
I wish to thank the many individuals at Westfield State University who have dedicated countless hours to moving Westfield State forward, including the Safe Opening Task Force, the Emergency Response Team’s Coronavirus Management Group, and divisional working groups.
We will continue to update our community through regular email communication, as well as through FAQs and other resources and announcements to be posted on the Safe Fall 2020 Opening webpage. This webpage, easily accessed through the University website homepage, will serve as the repository for the latest updates for the fall opening. When divisional plans are more solidified, the University will offer additional forums and other opportunities to have a dialogue about the unique qualities of our fall semester.
Your understanding continues to be appreciated as we work to create an engaging and safe learning, living, and working environment at Westfield State University despite the ongoing uncertainties related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ramon S. Torrecilha, Ph.D.