June 30: Fall 2020 announcement

Dear Members of the Bates Community,

I write today to share an important update about our plans for the fall semester. We will invite students to come to campus in person to begin or continue their Bates education, so that we can do our best to support their forward momentum. Based on exhaustive consultation and planning, we are confident that we can make it safe to do so, assuming that we have broad commitment across the campus community. 

Life at Bates this fall will be a very different experience from prior years. We will be teaching, learning, living, and working in new ways, and we are eager to have our students be part of reimagining life on campus. At the same time, we recognize that returning to campus may not be possible for all students, and may not be the right choice for others. Students who are not on campus will have the opportunity to take courses remotely.

I also want to emphasize that however thorough and carefully laid our plans are, we must be prepared to adapt our policies and practices, or even to change course, if and as the public health situation requires. We are keeping a close eye on developments with the pandemic in the state of Maine, nationally, and globally. I appreciate the understanding and flexibility of our students and their families and the entire Bates community as we work together to navigate a climate of ongoing uncertainty.

Health and Safety

Paramount in our planning is our responsibility to protect the health and safety of our campus and local communities. Given that it will likely be a number of months, if not longer, before an effective vaccine against the coronavirus is broadly available, the question we face is not whether we can open Bates in person, but how we can do so safely, by adopting policies and practices proven to mitigate the risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19. 

From the moment in March when we asked students to leave campus and complete their winter semester remotely, we have worked diligently to develop a comprehensive approach to managing through the pandemic that depends on interlocking layers. We have adapted our academic calendar, our daily schedules, our teaching strategies, and every aspect of our operations to reduce the potential for spreading infection. Additionally, we will ask everyone in our community to participate in testing and contact tracing, and to observe basic public health practices, including self-monitoring for symptoms, physical distancing, face coverings, hand-washing, and limiting the size of gatherings. 

We have consulted regularly with our medical partners at Central Maine Medical Center, with our faculty who have expertise in relevant areas, and with national experts in infectious disease and public health at the Mayo Clinic, Harvard, and Johns Hopkins. We pay close attention to the guidance coming from the Center for Disease Control in Maine and nationally, and we have adapted our workplace safety policies to comply with guidance issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. We are governed by the state of Maine’s requirements for reopening the economy in phases, and we will continue to monitor infection rates, local healthcare capacity, and evolving state guidance as the summer progresses. 

We have made decisions for the fall in response to this expert advice and to questions and concerns we have heard from faculty and staff on campus, and from students and families seeking to make plans for the coming year. Our planning has also been informed by the recognition that when we speak of protecting the safety of our community, our concept of safety must encompass a commitment to the work of antiracism and diligent efforts to protect members of our community from bias. 

The Planning Process

We have been aided throughout this process by two faculty and staff Working Groups—the Fall Planning Team and the College Finances Team—whose charges and membership can be found here. The teams have consulted on a regular basis with students and various groups of faculty and staff. In addition, operational teams, composed of staff from across the college, have been meeting for weeks to develop detailed plans for the different departments and functions of the college.

Throughout the planning process we have held virtual forums for students, faculty, staff, families, and alumni to share information, invite questions, and understand concerns. These meetings will continue throughout the summer. 

What You Need To Know

While a number of operational details still need to be decided, this Fall 2020 website contains information about plans that have been determined so far. I encourage every member of the Bates community to peruse the site, as I hope that you will find answers to many of your questions and the information you will need to make plans for the fall. We will keep you updated in the coming weeks as our planning evolves. 

Here are the highlights:

  • Calendar: The first day of classes will be Wednesday, September 2, 2020, and the fall semester will continue through Monday, December 7, 2020. Thanksgiving break will begin on Wednesday, November 25, 2020, and students will complete the final week of the semester and exams remotely. We want to make sure that students are not asked to travel out to multiple locations and then back to campus in the short period between Thanksgiving and the end of the semester. Winter semester classes will begin on Wednesday, January 13, 2021, and end on Monday, April 19, 2021. Short Term will begin on Friday, April 23, 2021, and end on Tuesday, May 18, 2021. Commencement 2021 will take place on Sunday, May 23, 2021, one week earlier than originally planned.
  • Course format: As we have previously announced to the community, the fall and winter semesters will be delivered in a 2+2 format. This means that each semester will comprise two 7.5-week modules, with students typically taking two classes at a time. Many courses that are taught in person on campus may have some virtual components to accommodate students who are unable to return to campus or temporarily quarantined, or to permit large classes to be broken into smaller groups for in-person instruction with appropriate physical distancing. Some courses will be taught remotely, even for students who are on campus, in order to accommodate the personal circumstances of individual faculty members. 
  • Moving in: New and returning students will be invited to arrive on campus in small groups likely beginning 10 days in advance of September 2. We are still developing a detailed plan for this phased approach and will share more information in the next few weeks so that students and their families can plan. 
  • Testing and contact tracing: Robust testing and contact tracing are critical to maintaining the health and safety of everyone who lives or works on a residential campus. All students will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival on campus and again some days later. We are developing protocols for continued testing throughout the semester, followed by contact tracing and isolation housing for any students who test positive. Likewise, all faculty and staff will be asked to be tested for COVID-19 at the beginning of the semester, with follow-up testing as appropriate depending on such factors as the nature of the work they do and the extent of their contact with students.
  • Dining: To allow for appropriate physical distancing, students will choose a scheduled time to eat lunch and dinner, either in Commons or the Gray Cage. We will also offer grab-and-go options in other locations on campus. 
  • Community responsibility: In an effort to be clear about what we expect regarding our responsibility to the health of ourselves and the members of our community, all students will be required to sign an agreement to adhere to a set of prevention policies and protocols. College employees will be asked to acknowledge policies contained in the Bates Infectious Disease Preparedness and Response Plan.

Looking Ahead

For students, initial operational details — including arrival, international student information, prevention and mitigation policies and procedures, student support services, academics, residence life, dining, campus life, and athletics — can be found now on this Fall 2020 website or will be posted as decisions are made. Additionally, we will host two virtual forums for students and families during the week of July 6. Details will be forthcoming.

We are fully aware of our students’ many cocurricular and extracurricular interests, and they are central to the residential education that we provide. We will create opportunities for our students to engage in a range of these activities, including athletics, consistent with college guidelines regarding public health. For specific information, see the sections Campus Life and Activities and Athletics and Recreation.

To assist with our planning, we ask every new and returning student to complete the very brief Fall Attendance Questionnaire located under the “To Do” menu within the Garnet Gateway to let us know whether you plan to return to campus or complete courses remotely in the fall semester. Information for first-year students about requesting a gap semester or year, and information for returning students about personal leaves of absence, are contained in this questionnaire.

Thank You

I want to thank our faculty and staff for the tremendous effort they are devoting to planning for the academic year. This has required fundamental changes in the way we deliver our curriculum and a comprehensive rethinking of what it means to offer a residential liberal arts education. I am profoundly grateful to the many individuals, working groups, departments, committees, and teams of faculty and staff who continue to meet these challenges with determination and compassion. I also want to thank all of you who have offered input on these decisions with a deep commitment to ensuring equity and access. Information for faculty may be found on the Dean of the Faculty website, and for staff on the Human Resources website.

These are very challenging times, but they also provide an opportunity for openness and creativity as standard ways of doing things fall by the wayside. I look forward to working with all of you as we make our way, together, through the coming weeks and months.