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Progress on Reopening Plans

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.

July 17, 2020

This message was sent to all employees:

I hope this note finds you safe and healthy, and that you are enjoying what you can of summer. In advance of our next Employee Town Hall (July 27), I wanted to share several updates to our plans announced July 1 . At present, more of you are back in your offices and labs working (as am I). Some of you never left, and the rest of you are likely feeling a mix of anticipation and apprehension about what the year ahead looks like for you, your families, your colleagues—and for our students. Fully committed to being transparent in our decisions and process, I hope this message—and all the work behind it—affirms that we are unwavering in doing right by our community.

Among the highlights of recent activities and decisions, we have…

Health and Safety

  • convened the Medical Advisory Board, an esteemed group of experts providing scientific and medical insight and advice. They received an overview of our testing, isolation, and quarantine plans and helped us address several questions about physical spaces on campus. They will continue to provide insights from their own institutions, which gives us greater confidence in our health and safety plans.
  • finalized our agreement with the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard to provide regular testing of students, faculty, and staff who will be on campus this fall. As confirmed by our Medical Advisory Board, our testing protocols are aggressive and appropriately designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our campus community. 
  • begun adding plexiglass barriers in public-facing areas and new signage across campus is going up as employees come back to campus. Signage includes information on building preparation and directional flow in buildings and reminders for the need for face coverings and distancing.
  • stocked up and have a regular distribution schedule for cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer.
  • delivered the disappointing, but perhaps not unexpected, news that there will be no athletic competitions this fall, along with other adaptations of our physical education programs. Read the full announcement to students and families


  • confirmed that we will require 6-foot spacing and face coverings in classrooms and made plans for additional study spaces outdoors (and we are working on possibilities for holding some classes outdoors). Classroom occupancies have been determined in consult with an architect who visited and mapped each classroom. These occupancies have been provided to department heads. 
  • supported faculty through the deans and department heads as they determine specific delivery modes for each course to be offered this fall. Department heads are working with faculty on the various options: hybrid courses, which have in-person meetings but are accessible to fully online students; online courses, which will not have in-person meetings on campus; and in-person courses, which will have some required in-person component and cannot be completed fully online. Faculty have the flexibility to work with their department heads to determine the best approaches for the delivery of their courses to their students. These plans will be finalized in the coming days.
  • supported our international students, and joined in the fight against new visa rules that would have impacted many, but which have, thankfully, been rescinded.

Student Life

  • heard from 3,400 of the 6,000 students we’ve surveyed to let us know their intentions for the fall. Thus far, the vast majority are planning to return, but some will be continuing their studies remotely. The deadline for response is July 26, and many students have expressed the desire for more information in certain areas—such as academics and testing—before making their decisions. We are working to provide additional details in the next week.
  • finalized our agreement to rent the Hampton Inn for the coming year to house residential students. This will enable de-densification in our residence halls.

Returning to Campus—extending the timeline, reinforcing flexibility, and acclimating to the new normal

Clearly, we are each experiencing this pandemic in our own way—and many of you have been able to be effective in your remote work, which is wonderful. I’m so grateful to each of you for your contributions to WPI from wherever you are.  Still, there are a variety of reasons why not everyone can or should return to campus. Employee effectiveness, the needs of our community, and our commitment to de-densifying our spaces while delivering a quality educational and student experience, have resulted in a shift of our plans for bringing some employees back to campus. 

Right now, we’re in Pathway 1. I’ve been joined in Boynton Hall by a few colleagues in the Provost’s office—and across campus employees have returned to the Registrar’s office, the offices of Student Affairs/Dean of Students, Student Activities, Dining Services, PERA, and Undergrad Admissions/Enrollment Services—all student-facing enterprises. But even these departments are not fully staffed on campus in accordance with our Return to Campus Guidance

Those of us on campus are impressed with the highly visible changes, including inside the Quorum where I had lunch this week: it looks really different (but the homemade potato chips are just as yummy as I remember!).

We are now working towards Pathway 2, which means that starting July 29, some faculty and staff will return to our academic departments, dean’s offices, and the offices of Academic Advising, Multicultural Affairs, Library Services, Morgan Teaching Center, Graduate Studies, Mass Academy, ROTC, the Vice Provost of Research, the Career Development Center, International House, Accessibility Services, Student Development & Counseling Center, as well as the Print Shop. 

Pathway 3 is now going to be pretty limited; it will begin later in August and include University Advancement, the Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Procurement Services, Robotic Resource Center, Student Aid & Financial Literacy, and the Events and Bursar’s offices. 

Here’s the change: We’ve added a Pathway 4, which mainly includes offices that do not work in person with students, including Academic and Corporate Engagement, Institutional Research, Pre-Collegiate Outreach Programs, Marketing Communications, Office of General Counsel, STEM Education Center, Budget & Planning, Controller’s Office, Sponsored Programs, and Talent & Inclusion. The soonest any of these teams may be back on campus is the beginning of B-term (October 21)—and that makes sense for all of us as we aim keep our campus de-densified in accordance with public health guidelines. 

Flexibility is critical to our efforts to prioritize health and safety while still advancing WPI’s educational mission. The adjustments we’re making are designed to increase safety, thus accommodating staff who can do their work effectively while remote (as assessed and confirmed by their supervisors).  Faculty will have the flexibility to decide how their courses are best delivered. As faculty and staff are having discussions and making these decisions, remember that there is no a la carte option. If you are going to be remote for A-term (and beyond)—whether for a health accommodation or based on a decision about doing your job remotely—you will not have access to the campus . Testing is critical to our safety efforts and remote faculty, staff, and students will not be a part of our testing program, which means they cannot physically return to campus to attend meetings or events, or to use campus facilities. 

There is a lot to process. Things will continue to evolve as we adapt and learn by doing—theory and practice in action! While progress is being made, I know you have questions. I ask that you continue to check the WeAreWPI website, which is updated as decisions are made and new information is available—links to those updates will be featured on the landing page as we move forward. WPI Today will also highlight links to updated information. And, we will review all of this and more when we are together virtually at Town Hall later this month.

This work is complex. We have not and will not waver in supporting the health, safety, and well-being of our community, advancing the education and career goals of our students, and enabling our educators, researchers, and innovators to do the kind of work that our world needs now more than ever.  

Thank you for your continued help and support.