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Planning, expectations, and engagement fall on campus

Note: This is dated information and may not reflect the current policies in place on campus. Please refer to We Are WPI for the latest information.

June 3, 2020

I hope this note finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy. Of all the difficult weeks of the past few months, this past one has been incredibly challenging to navigate. I hope that my message on Monday made it clear that WPI will work ever harder for social justice, that we believe Black Lives Matter, and that in the midst of the ongoing health and economic crisis, we remain a community that stands together.

The safety and health of our WPI family is top-of-mind in all of the considerable work under way to determine how and when we can be physically together as an on-campus community. Fall is a very special time at WPI—for first-year and continuing students and for our faculty and staff.  WPI loves tradition, and we have dearly missed so many of them since COVID-19 sent us to our homes—and, for the vast majority, that meant being far away from our home on the Hill.

So, I write today to share an update on our planning to bring our community back to campus, to set the stage for what the next academic year on campus will be like, and to ask for your continued support and engagement on the road ahead.

Wednesday, July 1. This is the target I’ve set to share a firm decision on how and when to bring our community back to campus. Between now and then, within the framework of our Coronavirus Emergency Response Team (CERT), our already complex scenario planning will intensify. Professionals across campus are crafting detailed plans for academics, research, projects, residential life, dining, clubs and activities, athletics, events, and, yes, traditions, so that we might reopen our campus in a safety-focused, socially distanced manner.

This work is not easy. I am incredibly impressed with and grateful for the dedication and creativity of our team—and that each team member understands, as I need you to understand, that all the hours and planning will come down to two critical factors:

  • … that we have the ability to create a meaningful campus experience that respects the need for serious safety protocols
  • … that returning community members will be confident in and adhere to “new rules”

Let me immerse you for a moment in the planning now taking place:

  • Phasing our return to campus has actually already begun. In a slow, deliberate, and careful manner, researchers and graduate students are safely returning to their labs right now. And we are learning from this process—lessons we will apply as we bring additional members of the faculty, staff, and student body back to campus in the weeks leading up to the start of the academic year. We will need certain teams on campus in order to prepare for fall and the return of our broader community of students, faculty, staff, and service providers. Some offices are beginning to make campus return plans, and we are taking numerous steps, such as phasing shifts and rethinking physical spaces designed to keep our employees safe. We must also plan for many employees to continue working remotely, and to accommodate those who are not able to return to campus.
  • Adjusting the academic calendar, which considers the right timing to maximize in-person instruction and campus life, and minimize breaks so that we can avoid large numbers of people traveling home and then returning to campus
  • De-densifying in-person classes for an appropriate mix of smaller group and technology-enabled learning, and plans to accommodate students who are not able to return to campus
  • Basing project center travel decisions on location and local COVID-19 infection levels, state and federal travel guidance, and best practice in study abroad
  • Optimizing health services, including making plans for COVID-19 screening, identifying isolation space for infected students, and defining other protocols needed in the event of positive cases on campus
    Adapting residence halls through reconfiguration and de-densification, and creating new protocols for cleaning and facilities operations
  • Altering the student experience for both undergraduate and graduate students, including smaller group move-ins, limits on the number and scope of events; how we orient and advise students, present and manage club sports and varsity athletics, create and manage study spaces, and other experiences integral to student life.

New normal. New rules. Just as everyday life is different for all of us now, I think it’s important to say that things will also be different when we return to campus. The safety protocols of the world beyond our campus, aimed at slowing the spread of this contagious virus, will be in place and enforced at WPI. Expect to be reminded (a lot!) to wash your hands, cover your face, and keep your distance. And if you feel sick, you will be expected to not go to class or come to work.

I believe that our community of creative problem-solvers can rise to the challenge of creating and then living by these and other “new rules.” While most college-age students may not be significantly impacted even if they get sick, there are members of our WPI family who are at higher risk. We ALL must work together to protect them, those they live with, and our larger communities by doing our part to help slow the spread.

A feedback loop. We’ll be engaging with you a lot in the coming weeks and months. We want and need your input—and we appreciate your comments, questions, and ideas. Use as one way to ask your questions and share your concerns. When we reach out for input, please share your thoughts. And I hope you will participate in upcoming virtual Town Halls and other smaller group gatherings we have planned (more on those shortly).

Thank you for your support and partnership in this important work. We are making great progress, and I remain optimistic that we will be back together soon. Stay safe and be well.