Dear Members of the Carleton Community,
We all know how awful the pandemic has been and how profoundly it has disrupted Carleton’s living-learning community. Our College and individual students, faculty, and staff have bravely and willingly made sacrifices and endured hardships due to public health exigencies, and we will be reflecting carefully on the valuable lessons learned—and the various opportunities for change we should embrace—once the medical threat has truly receded.
Certainly, this last year has led to a heightened understanding of how being together on a residential campus advances Carleton’s mission. The College is at its best and most impactful when we can study, teach, do scholarship, create art, share ideas, and grow face-to-face. Accordingly, we very much want to return to more normal campus operations for the 2021-22 academic year. And as I shall explain, we are optimistic that the widespread availability of effective vaccines will provide us an opportunity to do just this.
I am writing to share the framework our COVID-19 Core Team has developed for the fall, in conjunction with medical and epidemiological experts. This plan has the enthusiastic support of the College’s senior leadership. While there are inevitably many details that still need to be worked out and will benefit from your questions and feedback, having this guidance now should help everyone make future plans.
A Return to More Normal Operations
Again, Carleton’s mission is to provide an exceptional, academically rigorous, residential liberal arts education. Notwithstanding the new skills and experience in remote teaching, learning, and working that we have developed over the past year, that mission can only be fully realized through in-person student interactions with peers, faculty, and staff. Students thrive when they live and work on campus, and faculty and staff must be on campus to teach, mentor, and support our students. As such, our priority is to return to normal operations.
In order to offer the best protection against disease transmission in our campus community, we intend to require students, faculty, and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 upon return for Fall Term 2021. In light of our congregate living environment and educational mission, there is a strong ethical rationale for and public health benefit in requiring such vaccination. We also will continue to require the flu vaccine for our community. We will, however, consider and manage requests for exemptions from these vaccination requirements in accordance with applicable state and federal law.
We expect that courses will be primarily taught in person next fall, although flipped classrooms and other technology-enabled innovations may also continue. In exceptional circumstances, faculty may request approval from the Dean of the College to teach a fully-online course. We will return to the normal daily class schedule and passing period time, and classrooms, laboratories, studios, and rehearsal spaces will return to normal or near-normal occupancy levels. Visiting speakers, class field trips, and in-person community-based projects will also resume in the fall.
Employees who have been working remotely will transition back to regular, in-person operations over the summer based on departmental needs and in consultation with supervisors. Most employees will be scheduled to return during the month of August, with a targeted goal of having all employees return by August 30. Some staff may come back earlier as part of preparations for the summer and fall. We will reevaluate the College’s existing remote work policy over the summer and fall, based on input from supervisors and taking into consideration what we have learned about remote work during the pandemic. College-sponsored travel may resume this summer for employees who are fully vaccinated.
With a fully vaccinated campus population, we do not anticipate requiring the wearing of masks this fall unless state or federal regulations dictate otherwise. Residence room occupancies will return to pre-pandemic levels, and student activities are expected to resume as usual, with possible modifications to audience sizes. We will, however, continue to implement a COVID-19 testing regime based on recommendations from our epidemiological consultant and health professionals. Likewise, some quarantine and isolation space will continue to be reserved. We will take time to reevaluate the need for a behavioral “covenant” on campus and will revise expectations to align with broader public health protocols.
We anticipate beginning to reopen the campus to visitors this summer with some restrictions. Admissions is also working on a plan to resume campus visits in the summer months.
Upcoming Discussions and Immediate Engagement
Opportunities to further explore this framework are forthcoming through meetings of academic department chairs and program directors, the Education and Curriculum Committee, department heads and managers in The Occasional Meeting group, and in other settings. In the meantime, those with immediate questions should submit them through the COVID-19 website (for general questions) or the Dean of the College Office web form (for academic questions). Frequently-asked questions and responses will be added to the COVID-19 website and shared through existing pandemic communications channels, as appropriate.
Looking Ahead to a New and Better Year
Of course—as we learned all too well in 2020—even the best-laid plans may need to be changed or even scuttled if there are setbacks in managing the COVID-19 pandemic at the national, state, or local level. But we are very optimistic about the likelihood of a more conventional and traditional academic year in 2021-22. The College will work assiduously—in tandem with faculty and staff leadership, and of course with the continuing cooperation and support of students and their families—to realize this goal. I hope everyone will agree that these are sunny and encouraging prospects, giving genuine cause for renewed optimism.