Faculty/Staff: Update on Fall 2020 Plans

Dear Colleagues,

This summer has been unlike no other in Saint Mary’s history. Over the past few months,  hundreds of faculty and staff have been assiduously preparing for the fall semester. We have been guided in this endeavor by two essential pillars - promoting the health and wellness of our campus community during a global pandemic and offering an outstanding, transformative, and personalized educational experience that changes lives.

Our planning has included developing robust health and safety protocols including screening, testing, and contract tracing capabilities; redesigning classrooms and campus spaces to take advantage of our unique natural and built environment; adopting intensive cleaning and sanitizing procedures; and offering our fall classes in a mix of instructional modes, including in-person, hybrid, and online.

Our plans have always been predicated on both our level of preparedness and the spread and trajectory of the novel coronavirus in our region and state. For the past several weeks, we have been assiduously tracking a series of critical internal and external indicators to guide our decision-making. Unfortunately, although our internal preparedness indicators are positive, the region is continuing to experience an increase in COVID-19 cases and increased testing positivity rates. Accordingly, after consulting with the Academic Contingency Planning Work Group, the Academic Senate, and the COVID-19 Response Group, the Cabinet determined that it would be unwise to reopen our campus in the way we had planned.

While interest in on-campus student housing remains extremely high, we regret that we can only accommodate about one-half of our typical capacity to promote a safer residential environment. In addition, the vast majority of our courses will be conducted remotely for the duration of the fall semester, with the exception of select courses that will be limited to residential students. While disappointing to many of us – and certainly not the semester we anticipated – the health and safety of our students, faculty and staff must and will always take precedence.

Amidst these changes, we will provide our signature Lasallian, Catholic, liberal arts education while substantially lowering on-campus housing density and reducing in-person instruction.

The Academic Experience

I have the utmost confidence in our exceptional faculty to continue to provide highly personalized instruction, advising, and mentoring. The work each of you has done over the summer to design rich and engaging hybrid and online courses and experiences that challenge our students will be instrumental for ensuring that we are continuing to meet their academic ambitions. Faculty development activities and support for instructional technology are continuing through August and I encourage faculty to take advantage of these opportunities and resources.

Instruction will be primarily, and for many students exclusively, delivered remotely. We will offer some in-person and hybrid courses for students living on campus in the following categories: research and labs, studios and performance-based courses, and seminars. And we will be making use of newly-developed outdoor classroom spaces and non-traditional classrooms to the extent feasible for those classes and will identify on-campus spaces for residential students to participate in remote courses. Students not living on campus will be able to take all of their courses remotely and will have access to all student support services, both remotely and in dedicated College locations expressly designed for their connectivity and study needs.

Faculty can expect several discrete actions and communications over the coming days:

Vice Provosts Megan Mustain and Corey Cook, in partnership with the Advising Office, will identify existing hybrid and in-person courses with substantial enrollment of residential students. Individual Schools, academic departments and programs will determine which of these existing courses are best maintained as currently scheduled based on pedagogical considerations. All other classes will transition to fully remote learning. No faculty will be asked to switch their course modality from on-line to either in-person or hybrid.

I will be distributing a survey from our outstanding Educational Technology team to further assess faculty technology needs for fall instruction.

Finally, the Academic Contingency Planning Work Group will be distributing protocols for the fall semester including information about virtual office hours, attendance policies, community norms, and the use of Moodle and other classroom technologies.

Housing and the Student Experience

We will be reducing the number of students living on campus so that every resident has their own bedroom. Priority assignment of the 868 single rooms will be provided to: first-year students, High Potential Program students, international students, Pell-eligible students, students requiring on-campus disability accommodations, students requiring on-campus courses for which there are not remote options, and students who are experiencing housing insecurity and/or technology constraints.

Students who have applied for housing and have a room assignment will NOT need to re-apply. In the next two days, the Campus Housing Office will email these students with additional information and instructions to confirm their continued interest in university housing for fall 2020. Students should keep an eye out for this communication and confirm their continued interest no later than August 7, 2020. The Campus Housing Office will notify students of their new placement by August 11. 

Students who opt not to pursue university housing, or who do not confirm their continued interest in fall 2020 housing by August 7, 2020, will have their existing housing contract canceled without penalty and their housing prepayment deposit refunded.

We will continue to provide student-centered support services, leadership opportunities, activities, spiritual guidance, and career and professional development opportunities that reflect the transformative whole person education for which Saint Mary’s is known. We have created new and reimagined ways to connect, engage, and get help: from a fully virtual Student Involvement Fair; to online tutoring, advising, and success coaching; to celebrating the faith, heritage, and culture of the Latinx community in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe; and so much more. 

Financial Assistance for Students

Over the past several months, students and parents have approached us asking for additional help amid challenging financial circumstances. We heard them. Recognizing the increased financial pressures on our students and their families during this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been taking steps to respond to their needs. Over the past several months Saint Mary's has awarded over $2 million in additional financial aid and assistance to students through the President's Emergency Fund, Trustees Scholarships and financial aid appeals. We continue to assist families who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. If a student’s financial situation has changed, they can contact the Financial Aid Department for options at finaid@stmarys-ca.edu.

A Healthy Campus

Each of us plays an instrumental role in ensuring that our entire community remains healthy. Each member of the Saint Mary’s community who comes on campus is required to take the Gaels Wellness Pledge and complete a daily health screening using the LiveSafe app.

Together with enhanced cleaning protocols, reconfigured campus spaces, and careful control of campus access, these community accountability measures aim to prevent the spread of infection. Our robust COVID-19 testing strategy will provide incoming residents with on-site rapid testing upon arrival and again after one week, followed by regular surveillance testing and testing for symptomatic students. Should infection or illness occur, our campus is prepared to respond with rapid contact tracing, dedicated quarantine and isolation spaces, and care plans for residents who test positive or have exposure. Working in close collaboration with Contra Costa County health officials, we will continue to monitor campus and area public health indicators in order to provide timely guidance and updates to all members of our community.

Next Steps

Students will be notified of these changes later today in an email from the President and those who have applied for housing will be contacted by Residence Life staff shortly to confirm their continued interest. The campus COVID-19 website is being updated to reflect revised fall 2020 plans and provide information and resources for students, faculty, and staff.

Despite the disruptions and hardships caused by COVID-19, we are confident that our Saint Mary’s students will continue to receive an outstanding, personalized education throughout the fall semester. Thank you for your understanding, flexibility, and resilience as we progress toward the beginning of the semester.

 

Sincerely,

Margaret Kasimatis

 

Margaret Kasimatis, PhD

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs