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July 13, 2020, Update on Fall Reopening Information

Dear Clark Community,

I write to share with you our decision to welcome students back to campus and resume in-person classes as fully as possible starting on August 24. This decision, which confirms the intention we expressed in our letter of June 10, follows our continued analysis of public-health information, regular consultation with medical and public-health experts, and important progress we have made as a result of extensive health and safety planning since that previous update.

Before I turn to the factors behind this decision, though, please allow me to extend the sympathies of the Clark community to any and all of you who have lost loved ones to this pandemic and our best wishes for a full and speedy recovery if you or those you know are fighting this illness. It is a profoundly painful, scary, and disorienting time, and the gravity of this virus and the toll it is taking are physical, social, and psychological, in addition to the extraordinary financial harm it is causing to so many. Please seek out those you can lean on, and of course within the Clark community I know there are so many who are looking out for each other, supporting each other, and helping each other confront the many challenges of this crisis together. The University is striving to do its part and will continue to aim to support students and families and to adapt in ways that help students, faculty, and staff meet this crisis safely and from a place of strength.

Clark has taken the step to formalize its plans for opening on August 24 deeply cognizant of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in states across the country and the threat the situation poses not only to the health of individuals in those areas but also to the well-being of the country, let alone the stress and worry nationwide that the rising number of cases is causing. This situation has made us even more scrupulous about our plans, including our extensive testing protocols, mitigation measures, and safety practices. We also should stress that our plans have been thoroughly reviewed and subsequently unanimously endorsed by our Health Advisory Board, which includes physicians and former CEOs of hospital systems, among others. And we know that we can count on Clark’s students, faculty, and staff to be extremely rigorous in doing everything they can through mask-wearing, hand-washing, social-distancing, and other good-health measures to protect themselves and others.

Toward that end, we are instituting a commitment we make to one another—the Clark Commitment— and requiring everyone who plans to return to campus this August—students, faculty, and staff—to electronically affirm (a version of a digital signature) their agreement to follow it.

The Clark Commitment

This commitment summarizes our mutual obligations to one another, the personal determination needed to live up to them, and the specific steps these obligations require. At the core of this commitment is this fundamental principle, “I know that my choices affect my well-being and the well-being of others on campus and in the community.”

Because the mutual obligations and healthy behaviors outlined in the Commitment are so important to the well-being of everyone at Clark, it is imperative that anyone who plans to study or work on campus be prepared to live up to them. Of course, these guidelines may change as we get new information about the virus’ spread. We therefore are asking each student, faculty member, and staff member to electronically affirm their commitment no later than Monday, August 10. Only those who do so will be allowed to return to campus for study or work.

Decision Factors

Clark’s decision to re-commence in-person courses on August 24 has also been contingent upon the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’s authorizing the reopening of colleges and universities as part of its statewide phased COVID-19 management plan. The Governor of Massachusetts granted that authorization, and it is effective today as part of moving to phase three of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan. That authorization requires colleges and universities to implement comprehensive health and disease-mitigation practices.

Clark has done so, and as spelled out below, and on the Healthy Clark website — which I urge you to review closely — we summarize those plans. First, though, I want to address why we are opening for classes this fall. It is not because of money; actually, as you will see below, the University is spending nearly $10 million on pandemic-related costs to facilitate the safest possible return to in-person classes at Clark. We are re-opening as an in-person learning community because this shared experience is vital to the type of highly personal education Clark offers. In fact, by a significant margin our students, parents, staff, and faculty have conveyed to us, including through formal surveys we conducted, their strong interest in re-convening together on campus. For students, being together in classrooms with their professors and on campus with their friends defines the best of the Clark experience. For staff, supporting students and working with their colleagues is a source of great satisfaction and fulfillment. And faculty have made it clear that their love for teaching—in person—is central to their devotion to being, in fact, faculty members.

Having shared this, I also must underscore the implications of the fact that the safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our top priority. To be specific, if the effects of the pandemic on campus or in the surrounding community necessitate concluding in-person classes before the semester is over, we will take that step. Everyone who returns to campus should do so with a clear-eyed understanding of this reality and recognize the extent to which the pandemic, and not any of our best intentions, will dictate decision-making. Students who return to campus should come prepared for the possibility of having to return home sooner than they or we would like. From our extensive and ongoing preparations I know that, should such an unfortunate necessity arise again, our faculty and staff will be prepared to make the adjustment, to return to online-only teaching, and to support our students in every way possible.

The Plans and Expectations

As I turn to details of our plans, please note that the Healthy Clark website contains important additional details that are also imperative for you to know. Information on the website that I will not cover here, for example, includes

  • The key dates for the academic year (including Orientation, start of classes, and last day of the semester on campus), which we noted in our June 10 update.
  • Testing plans during the semester, including how we will manage positive test results.
  • Health and safety practices for classrooms, residential halls, student activities, and dining to mitigate spread of the virus.
  • Visitor access to campus.
  • Physical health support services.
  • Counseling and psychological services.

Pre-arrival Testing

We have decided to require that all students who plan to return to campus this fall and live outside Massachusetts and its nearest seven states be tested for COVID-19 prior to their returning to campus. The eight states whose residents are excluded from this pre-testing requirement are Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

This decision follows the announcement by the Governor of Massachusetts that visitors to Massachusetts from the seven nearby states, which are all making progress against the virus, no longer have to self-quarantine for 14 days prior to coming to Massachusetts. The Governor’s decision also reflects the fact that in Massachusetts the number of positive tests for COVID-19 and the number of  related deaths have all been dramatically declining (including days with single digits or zero such instances). As we know, across the country, many other states are unfortunately experiencing dramatic increases in both areas.

Please note:

  • The University will absorb the entire cost of this pre-arrival testing protocol.
  • We will expect students from the other 42 states in the U.S. to participate in the testing. Once students take their pre-arrival test, we will expect them to impose a self-quarantine until they depart for campus.
  • Within the next two weeks, we will email all students and families whose primary addresses are in any of the 42 states the instructions for the pre-arrival testing plan, which we will also post on the Healthy Clark website.
  • Students from those 42 states will not be allowed to return to campus this fall unless and until they complete the pre-arrival test process.

Pre-arrival testing is especially important since the evidence shows that asymptomatic individuals can carry and transmit COVID-19 to others without even knowing it. This pre-arrival testing protocol will identify positive cases before students travel from far outside this region and risk their own health or that of others in transit. The test will also enable those who test positive to get care from their local health provider. It will also help protect the health and well-being of those on campus as well as in the community of Worcester and across Massachusetts.

Various restrictions and limitations prevent the University from managing pre-arrival testing outside the U.S. Please note:

  • By tomorrow, we will be sending to international students outside the U.S. who intend to study on campus this fall a process that we will ask them to follow in obtaining tests locally and providing the results to us in a confidential way.
  • Such costs will be the responsibility of those students.
  • Once students take their pre-arrival test, we will expect them to impose a self-quarantine until they depart for campus.
  • Students from outside the country also will not be allowed to return to campus this fall unless and until they complete the pre-arrival test process.

Arrival Testing

The Broad Institute in Cambridge, Mass. — a nonprofit research institution partnered with Harvard and MIT — has informed us that it is prepared to conduct, at cost, regularized COVID-19 testing for all institutions of higher education in the state. Like many institutions across the state, Clark will use Broad’s testing services for students and employees. Specifically, we will use Broad for our arrival and in-session testing program. This development is among the many benefits of Clark’s being based in a state with some of the best medical and research institutions in the world.

In addition to the pre-arrival testing described above for students from outside the Massachusetts region, all students will be tested upon their arrival on campus. Arrival testing will be required of all students, regardless of the state from which they are coming back to school, including those who have had pre-arrival testing. Arrival testing will work as outlined in detail on Healthy Clark. As you review those plans, please take special note that students (whether they will live on or off campus) will not be allowed to return to campus except on the date of their assignment to do so.

Please note that we will also be emailing all students a list of a few special supplies related to the pandemic that the University will expect students to have on campus for their personal use, including face-coverings that properly cover the nose and mouth and can be worn regularly.

The testing plan for employees will be similar to the protocol outlined for students on Healthy Clark. In the coming weeks, we will be providing to employees more information about the specifics of the employee testing protocol as well as posting this information on the Healthy Clark website. Any employee who tests 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.

In-session testing

The University will follow a rigorous testing protocol during the semester. Like the pre-arrival and arrival testing, this protocol is informed by the imperative of individuals having accurate information to protect themselves and by the fact that asymptomatic individuals with COVID-19 can transmit it to others. Public-health experts have advised us that, in tandem with good health and prevention practices (e.g., masks and social distancing), using a regular testing protocol is among the best ways to mitigate spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. Regular testing also allows the University to build upon the baseline of safety that the pre-arrival and arrival testing provide, to act swiftly to identify individuals who test positive and should be quarantined and receive medical treatment, and to mitigate the spread of the virus (including through contact tracing).

This in-session testing protocol will include the steps outlined in detail on Healthy Clark.

Potential Change in Decision

At all times, we will be operating with the knowledge that the pandemic is far from over, and that new information is emerging constantly about its evolving scope as the intense research worldwide to identify a vaccine continues. Should the pandemic’s changing situation require it, or should a rise in cases on campus make continuing with in-person classes unwise, the University will be prepared if necessary to shift to having part or all of the fall semester completely online. Of course, we will keep you fully informed should that risk begin to emerge. (As indicated in our June 10 letter, for undergraduate students: In the event that we are unable to open on-campus and the entire curriculum of the fall term must be completely online from the start, we would adjust tuition, room, and board charges accordingly, and financial aid as appropriate.)

Barring such a development, the academic schedule will be followed as noted directly below.

Fall Academic Schedule

As indicated in our June 10 letter, consistent with the aims of our residential liberal arts education, Clark will offer as many classes in person as possible. Each class will strictly follow guidelines for social distancing and the use of masks and other personal protective equipment. All of Clark’s classroom capacities will be reduced to allow for proper social distancing.

To avoid large class gatherings and to reduce the risk to some faculty whose health profile places them at greater risk, some classes will have to be offered fully online or in hybrid format (a mix of in-person and online sessions).

The course grid and each student’s “detail class schedule” (via their CUWEB account) now show if a course is being offered online only. Student schedules will soon be updated to show modalities for all classes—whether in-person only, online only, or a hybrid. As with the academic calendar each year, courses are occasionally added, dropped, and change schedules as summer planning continues, so students should review the schedule occasionally to be sure that courses they intend to take are not affected by such changes.

Additional information about the course schedule, including options available to undergraduate students for online course offerings through our partnership with other colleges and universities in central Massachusetts, is available on the Healthy Clark website.

We also 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 make returning to campus impossible. We are committed to finding ways for all students to continue their academic progress toward their Clark degrees, whether in-person or online, full-time or part-time. Students interested in the part-time option with an online-only experience should contact their faculty advisor (or Academic Advising in the Dean of the College Office for First-Year students).

Athletics

After extensive consultation with the member institutions of Clark’s Athletic Conference [NEWMAC]  and with Clark’s provost, athletic director, coaches, and team captains, we have made the difficult decision that Clark will not participate in competitive sports this fall. Because of the priority that must be placed on the health of students and everyone on campus, a majority of the coaches and captains supported this decision.

We are confident though, that with strict protocols, it will be safe for teams to participate on Clark’s campus in conditioning and practicing with teammates. We will post those protocols on the Healthy Clark website by the end of July, and the Athletics Department will inform student-athletes of them.

We will also be making appropriate accommodations for all students to have access to fitness equipment and related facilities for their health and well-being.

Financial Investment and Options

We have pledged to be transparent with you in communicating about the University’s situation amid this pandemic, and in that light want to share with you our estimates of the costs related to managing through it. At this point, we anticipate COVID-19 related costs to total nearly $10 million. This includes, for example,  the costs associated with our rigorous testing protocols, extensive additional sanitation and related supplies, requisite alterations to the physical plant (e.g., installing Plexiglas partitions at desks requiring frequent student-staff interaction, optimizing HVAC systems), increased financial aid to students facing unforeseen family financial predicaments related to the pandemic and its employment impacts, and additional staff for mental health services for the fall term.

We also know that families make a major investment in a Clark education and the teaching, academic credit, and non-academic services that are essential to it. The University will provide all those services this fall, and thus is unable to reduce tuition, including for students who study full-time remotely. But amid this pandemic, for any number of reasons there may be Clark students who only want to enroll part-time. Clark will therefore allow undergraduate students to take up to two classes on a part-time schedule during this coming academic year. Please see the details on Healthy Clark.

Town Halls

We have tried to be thorough in this announcement and the related information now added to the Healthy Clark site, but we know that every detail in a situation like this raises its own set of questions. With that in mind, we are offering town halls this week and next week as outlined here, respectively, for students and families, faculty, and staff. During these town halls, we will do our best to address questions immediately or identify those on which we need to quickly follow-up. And in the coming weeks, we will be providing further information on many details via Healthy Clark, including those mentioned in this letter, and encourage you to review the site regularly for updates.

As much as we know the necessities of life and of reconvening as a University amid this pandemic create extraordinary challenges, we also know that times like this can bring out the best in all of us too. The Clark community has always held out for itself a high ideal of caring for one another at all times, of confronting challenge with courage and faith in new possibilities, and of thinking about difficult problems in creative ways. Our faculty, our staff, all of us, miss being with our students, and experiencing in person the energy and passion they bring to these ideals, to their attention to one another and the world around them, to change for the better. Even as we look toward reconvening as a campus community realistic about the challenges it will bring, we also do so with the joy of knowing that day after day across the year to come, Clarkies will inspire the best in one another. These times have made starkly clear—Clark as a community matters.

Please continue to take care of yourself and those around you. I greatly look forward to seeing you soon.

Sincerely,

David B. Fithian ’87

President