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June 10, 2020: Clark University Intends to Resume Teaching and Learning on Campus This Fall

To the Clark Community:

We write with an important update regarding plans for the 2020-21 academic year. Based on a careful analysis of available public-health information and thorough discussion with related medical and public-health experts, as well as input from student surveys and our faculty and staff, we intend to be able to welcome students back to campus and resume classes in-person in August. Our plan is for classes to begin on August 24, the previously announced start of the 2020-21 academic year.

We are led to the belief that we can resume most aspects of campus life responsibly at that time by, among other factors, the currently declining daily rate of new COVID-19 cases in Worcester County, the access to high-quality healthcare available in central Massachusetts, the size of Clark’s student body, and safety measures and behavioral guidelines that we will adopt and practice together.

Reconvening on campus amid a pandemic, of course, is not entirely free of risk, but we will do all that we can to minimize and mitigate that risk and know that everyone in our campus community will join in this obligation. From the beginning of this crisis, the Clark community has demonstrated an extraordinary will to work together, find ways to learn and support one another despite many obstacles, and honor the truth that the Clark experience we share matters deeply. A Clark education is as empowering and enriching as it is because of the distinctive way our students, faculty, and staff engage each other and the world. The plans we outline below, we believe, enable us to re-engage in many of our most important and cherished ways, allowing us to fulfill our mission and to be together as one community at this critical time in our society.

This is a long letter, but we felt we owed it to you to cover several matters as thoroughly as possible, and direct you to the website mentioned below for extensive additional information.

Visit the Healthy Clark COVID Plan Website

Clark’s plans to return to in-person classes in the fall semester have been guided by five principles that reflect our values as a University:

  • Our top priority is the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff.
  • We believe you should have options and be able to make choices that are best for you and your family. All of the options we will offer this fall, whether through learning on-campus or continuing your studies online if you are unable to return, will meet Clark’s rigorous academic standards and our commitment to offering high-impact learning experiences.
  • The on-campus experience will support and rely on students, faculty, and staff to make informed, responsible, and caring choices to provide for a healthy, shared campus environment.
  • We are prepared to adapt rapidly and effectively our plans as required by the evolving public-health situation.
  • We will be transparent and forthcoming in communicating our plans and the reasoning behind them.

To be clear, however, Clark University’s intention to re-commence in-person courses is contingent both upon authorization from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as part of its statewide plan for re-opening colleges and universities and on the continuing assessments of public health developments in our region.

Opening Days

Classes for the fall 2020 semester will begin on Monday, August 24, 2020, with orientation activities taking place in advance online and continuing once students arrive. Students will be invited to return to campus by appointment —that is, students will not return all at once but rather will be given specific days between August 14-21 for move-in. These appointments will be announced on the same day that we confirm our plans to re-open, which we expect will be July 1 or, if the Commonwealth has not made a determination by that date, very soon thereafter.

It is currently our intention that all students will be tested for COVID-19 the day they arrive on campus and their activities will be restricted pending the results of the test. Likewise,  all employees will be tested prior to the reopening of residence halls and the beginning of in-person classes. The section below, titled “Health Plan and Expert Advisors,” has more information about measures we will be taking to mitigate the risk of infection, not only for students, but also for our faculty, staff, and neighbors. Follow-up testing during the semester is also likely. For students who test positive, the University will have some capacity to isolate them on campus and allow them to study online during their isolation. Students who test positive would also have the option of returning  home and studying online from there until they are well enough to rejoin the campus community. Any employee testing positive will be directed to self-isolate at home and not to return to campus until cleared to do so by the Department of Public Health.

Changes to the Academic Calendar for 2020-21 Only

After starting the fall semester on schedule, we will be making adjustments to our schedule to reduce infection risk, especially during the traditional flu season:

  • There will not be a fall break in October, and we will not be holding our traditional Parent’s Weekend.
  • Classes will end the week before Thanksgiving break, on November 20, 2020. At that time, we expect undergraduate students will return home and graduate students will leave campus for a location of their choice. All students will complete their fall semester final papers and projects remotely between Monday, November 30, 2020 and Friday, December 4, 2020. Students will not return to campus after Thanksgiving.
  • In order to meet the above schedule requirements, Clark will hold classes on Labor Day, Monday, September 7, 2020.
  • The spring semester will then begin on February 22, 2021 and end on June 4, 2021 with Commencement on Sunday, June 20, 2021. For the spring semester, as in the fall, there will be no break mid-semester (no spring break).
  • Given the length of time between the fall and spring semesters, we will be offering an Intersession between January 4, 2021 and February 12, 2021 with a select set of online courses. (For undergraduate students: These courses will be included in this year’s comprehensive tuition rate unless a student enrolls in more than eight and a half course units for the year, in which case additional units would be charged on a per-unit basis.)
  • The Intersession may allow students who choose not to return to campus but who decide to study online in the fall to take a reduced course load and be back on their normal academic track by spring. More information about Intersession and its course offerings will be forthcoming.

Format of Classes and Options for Students

Consistent with the aims of Clark’s residential liberal arts education, we intend to offer as many classes in person as possible, strictly following guidelines for social distancing and use of masks and other personal protective equipment. Some classes, however, will have to be offered fully online or in hybrid format (a mix of in-person and online sessions) to avoid large class gatherings and to reduce the risk to some faculty whose health profile places them at greater risk. All of Clark’s classrooms will be used at no more than 50 percent capacity to allow for social distancing.

While we are excited to welcome students back to Clark, we recognize that not all Clark students will be able to join us in-person for the fall, whether because of travel or visa restrictions, or because of personal health circumstances that may make returning to campus not possible. We are committed to finding ways for all students to continue their academic progress at Clark and thus, whether in-person or online, full-time or part-time, we will work to accommodate students’ varied needs and ensure that students are able to make academic progress toward their degrees. (For undergraduate students: These options will include Clark online course offerings and online courses being developed with our college and university partners in central Massachusetts [the Higher Education Consortium of Central MA, or HECCMA], as well as Clark academic work done in conjunction with independent studies and other academic experiences.)

As previously announced, study away programs are suspended for the fall semester.

Health Plan and Expert Advisors

To manage the health precautions and needs of those on campus this fall, the University is implementing a comprehensive health plan: Healthy Clark. This plan is being developed with expert advice and guidance from a Health Advisory Board, chaired by John O’Brien, and including a number of physicians. Mr. O’Brien previously served as the CEO of University of Massachusetts Memorial Health Care in Worcester. We have also appointed a Chief Health Officer for the University, Dennis Keefe, who will oversee our preparations and the implementation of our Healthy Clark plan throughout summer and fall. Mr. Keefe is the former President and CEO of Care New England Health Care System. He also previously served as the Chief Executive Officer of Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) and the Commissioner of Public Health for the City of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Among other precautions, we will at a minimum expect students, faculty, and staff to use appropriate face coverings for their mouths and nose when in public, to wash hands and use hand sanitizer frequently, to be rigorous about social distancing, and to monitor daily for COVID-19 symptoms and report any to the University Health Service. We are also asking students to refrain as much as possible from any travel away from campus throughout the semester unless in cases of family emergency. Travel policies related to faculty and staff are on the Healthy Clark website.

Additional information about our health plan, including measures related to instruction, advising, libraries, classrooms, teaching laboratories, residence halls, dining, co-curricular activities, employee training and protocols, and many other important aspects of the Clark educational experience, can be found on the Healthy Clark website. We encourage you to check this website often as we will be updating it regularly in the weeks ahead. We will also be expanding the resources available to support students, including health services, counseling services, and academic support services. Information about these enhanced resources will be posted on the Healthy Clark website as well.

Commitment to Each Other

As careful and comprehensive as any plan like Healthy Clark may be, we are ultimately all dependent on one another for following healthy practices that reduce the risk to ourselves and others of transmitting COVID-19. With that in mind, we will be asking all students, faculty, and staff to agree to uphold a set of mutual expectations regarding health practices and behavior that reduce risks for oneself and others on campus. We are calling these expectations the Clark Commitment and will be posting the language of these obligations on the health plan website by July 1. Students will be asked to confirm their willingness to adhere to the Clark Commitment before arriving on campus, as will staff and faculty before they return for the fall.

Athletics and Recreation

Athletics, recreational activities, and fitness are also an important part of a Clark education, wellness, and the student experience on campus. We have not yet reached a decision on whether or how we can resume competitive sports this fall. Our Athletic Director and coaches are working closely with our partner institutions in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference and we expect to reach and announce a decision about this in early July.

To help our campus community stay healthy and active, we will be making arrangements for students and employees to be able to use our fitness facilities and equipment with appropriate precautions and sanitation.

Potential for Alternative Plans

As we all know, the pandemic is far from over, and new information is emerging constantly about its evolving scope even as society strives to reopen and the intense pursuits for a vaccine continue. Should changes in the situation require it, the University will be prepared to adapt, including if in-person courses are not possible and the fall semester must be completely online. Of course, we will keep you fully informed should that risk begin to emerge. (For undergraduate students: In the event of such a decision to be fully online, we would adjust tuition, room, and board charges accordingly, and financial aid as appropriate.)

Finally, we must stress how much we appreciate that the COVID-19 pandemic is both a health crisis and an economic crisis for many Clark students and their families. When the campus opens, this will include the full array of other health and counseling services that the University has available to support students as they transition back to in-person classes and residential living and continue across the school year to make the most of all Clark has to offer. Out of the same commitment, the University has dedicated significant additional resources to financial aid to support those undergraduate students in need for the coming academic year.

We are proud and grateful for how the Clark University community has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic. You have demonstrated courage, creativity and compassion, and it is with great anticipation that we look forward to our community returning to campus and resuming the in-person instruction and co-curricular experiences that are at the core of a Clark education. The Clark community is strong and together we will meet the challenges before us.


David Angel, President

David Fithian, President-elect

Summary of Key Dates for the Academic Year 2020-21

Fall Term

  • Orientation: Online with some programming to follow on campus
  • Move-in: By appointment between August 14-21, 2020
  • First Day of Classes: Monday, August 24, 2020
  • Last Day of Classes: Friday, November 20, 2020
  • Move-out: November 20, 2020-November 22, 2020
  • Last Day of the Semester: Friday, December 4, 2020

Intersession (Online Only and Optional)

  • First Day of Classes: January 4, 2021
  • Last Day of Classes: February 12,2021

Spring Term

  • Move-in: February 19-21, 2021 (We have not yet determined the need for testing upon arrival or for moving back to campus by appointment)
  • First Day of Classes: Monday, February 22, 2021
  • Last Day of Classes: Friday, May 28, 2021
  • Last Day of Exams: Friday, June 4, 2021
  • Move-out: Friday, June 4-6, 2021
  • Commencement: Sunday, June 20, 2021