A Few Thoughts as We Open the Year

Dear Faculty and Staff Colleagues,

Beginning this weekend, we will welcome students back to campus for what will surely be one of the most unusual academic years in the history of Bates. Already, the campus is beginning to come alive, and I want to express my gratitude to all of you for everything you have done to get us to this moment.

Over the past five months, I have watched in awe as our community has adapted to entirely new ways of teaching, interacting with each other, and conducting college business—first with the sudden pivot to remote learning in March, then with comprehensive efforts to reimagine how Bates will fulfill its educational mission this fall.

Some of you had the most intense and unrelenting period of your careers without any semblance of a summer break. Many of you have spent months juggling complex family schedules, with schools and day care interrupted for your children, summer activities curtailed, and the basic rhythms of daily life upended. Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has laid bare deep cleavages in our society—inequities in access to education, healthcare, and economic prospects, the ravages of racial injustice accumulated over four centuries, and repeated failures of government and leadership. The various dimensions of this experience have fallen on some members of our community more heavily than others, but for everyone, this has been a period of unusual stress and uncertainty.

Under the circumstances, I am particularly grateful for the energy and creativity that faculty and staff across the college have brought to the task of reengineering our work together to make it possible for us to operate this campus safely amidst the ongoing pandemic. For those of us who received our first COVID-19 test this week, the level of planning and precision that has gone into standing up our testing center in the Underhill Arena was unmistakable.

We currently expect 1,730 students to be back in Lewiston for on-campus study, while 155 students will take their courses remotely. For the first time, a Bates education will be delivered simultaneously through in-person and remote means. And this will happen across our first-ever modular semester, whereby students will take intensive courses over two 7.5-week blocks during the fall. All of this has required an enormous amount of work and creativity by faculty and academic staff to prepare to deliver our curriculum in fundamentally different ways.

Our public health protocols—from face coverings to de-densified spaces to plexiglass barriers—will take time to get used to. And COVID-19 testing will become a regular part of our lives. Our testing partner, the Broad Institute, will provide results to individuals on a secure basis, and overall numbers will be made available publicly and updated daily on a new dashboard that is now available. Meanwhile, comprehensive information about our campus plans is available on the Fall 2020 website, should you wish to understand any aspects of the plans and policies more fully.

The adaptations required by the pandemic have involved a significant investment of human and financial resources. We expect to invest more than $5 million for this fiscal year in testing and other public health measures. The financial actions we took in April—including the one-year suspension of retirement contributions and salary freezes—have put the college in a better position to absorb these costs. We will provide an update on college finances early in the semester. It is important to understand, however, that we will not have a full understanding of the college’s overall financial picture until well into the academic year as we see how the experience of having students back on campus unfolds.

Our extensive consultations with medical experts and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that our preparations across all aspects of college operations—and the early warning that our comprehensive testing will provide—put us in a strong position to make in-person study safe for our campus and local communities. That said, we are carefully monitoring the experiences of colleges across the country, and we are prepared to respond to developments on our campus or in our local community, to adapt our practices, and to change course if necessary.

I look forward to welcoming students to campus in a few short days. I thank you all for the ways you will support our students, our community, and one another. The experience will certainly be different, but the excitement, energy, and intellectual curiosity that our students bring will serve as a welcome reminder of why we do what we do.