On Monday, the PEC met to make some important decisions about the fall semester. On that day, we received preliminary guidance from the Commonwealth’s executive branch regarding health and safety protocols for institutions of higher education. The Commonwealth’s reopening plan guiding principles include: ensure that we protect the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff, and people in the communities that surround our campuses; enable our students to make meaningful progress towards their educational goals; and advance the research and innovation that is so critical to our state’s economy and to fighting COVID-19.
At Salem State, we prioritize health and safety of our entire community, living our mission and values, placing equity, access, diversity, justice, and inclusion in the center of our decision making while fostering trust as we make difficult decisions for not only the short term, but in service of the long term interests of the university.
We are currently working through the process of assessing the state’s preliminary guidance for higher education knowing that further details will emerge in the next several weeks. In addition, we will follow the advice of the Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and our own Recovery Task Force in the months to come.
During the PEC meeting, the leads of the four working groups presented their plans and recommendations. These included:
- Health and Safety—Elisa Castillo, assistant dean of students for wellness
- Academic Affairs—David Silva, provost and academic vice president; and Emerson Baker, vice provost
- Student and Residential Life—Carla Panzella, associate vice president and dean of students
- Human Resources and Information Technology—Mark Quigley, assistant vice president for human resources and equal opportunity; and Curt King, chief information officer
Although there are many details to be worked out, I want to share the framework of the decisions that we made so that in this time of continued uncertainty, you know which direction the university is heading. With the knowledge that safety is our top priority and therefore our goal is to de-densify campus, here’s our working vision for September:
Academics—Curriculum will be delivered in multiple modalities for the fall semester. Every effort will be made to establish a single, consistent modality for each course section. Face-to-face instruction will be offered in the fall, but in a de-densifying capacity, given the need to assure all parties that such instruction can be undertaken safely, applying all public health directives offered by the Commonwealth. These may include classroom reassignments to ensure social distancing and the wearing of masks.
It is important to note that whatever the teaching modality, chief concerns are access and equity for both faculty members and students. As part of its larger planning, the university seeks to offer whatever support it can to faculty members and students who may require various forms of operational support necessary for teaching or taking courses.
Academic affairs has developed a prioritization of which classes will occur face-to-face based on teaching and learning needs associated with course objectives and student learning outcomes.
- Priority 1: Courses for which direct student engagement is vital and access to specialized equipment and techniques cannot be created in an online environment.
- Priority 2: Foundation-setting courses such as first year seminars, written communication level, oral communications, and cohort-based courses, including learning communities and international student cohorts.
- Priority 3: Career-launching experiences such as capstone courses and senior seminars.
- Priority 4: Courses not covered above but which present unique circumstances, with requests to the dean (to recommend) and provost (to determine) taken on a case-by-case basis.
- Priority 5: All other courses.
Further details about the prioritization process and course modalities will be forthcoming.
Housing and Student Life—We will be providing housing on campus for our students. We will have 1,200 beds which will allow each student to have their own bedroom. We are developing further safety plans to help students interact and move about the campus including way finding through the buildings and policies such as wearing masks. Student Life is in the process of reimagining the delivery of programming and activities to ensure that we continue to provide our students the engagements and growth opportunities they deserve while meeting the goals of the Student Life Curriculum. These efforts include holding online versions of orientation and Viking Plunge.
Remote Work—Following the lead of Governor Baker, the university’s preference is for those individuals who can continue to work remotely, do so. For the members of our community that need to return to campus, currently the state recommends a maximum of 25 percent occupancy in building spaces. In the coming weeks, the Health and Safety implementation team, led by Gene Labonte, assistant vice president for public safety and risk management, and Elisa Castillo, assistant dean of students for wellness, will work with human resources and area heads to establish a process for a limited return to on-campus work, including putting in place the workplace safety measures needed. A return to campus-based work does not mean a return to our previous normal. Masks must be worn, social distancing will be in place (including possible space reassignments), staggered schedules may be created, and more.
I’m sure providing this working vision for the fall leaves each of you with questions. However, in my promise to be transparent, I want you to have this framework as we continue to develop plans. I will provide an update on these directives at my next open community forums on May 29 at noon and 4 pm.
Thank you for your openness, creativity and flexibility during this time. It is remarkable what we have accomplished together in the past few months but we have much more to do in order to continue to provide the high-quality educational experience our students deserve.
John D. Keenan