Fall 2020 Planning

Dear Saint Mary’s Community,

As we conclude a particularly challenging spring term, I am greatly moved by the creativity, patience, and resilience of our community. I have watched and marveled as people have stepped up to learn new skills, and to take care of and support and educate each other in the spirit of our Lasallian, Catholic, and liberal arts educational mission. I have felt great appreciation in watching our faculty continue to deliver the highest quality of Saint Mary’s education, regardless of circumstances. 

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, our priority has been the safety and well-being of the members of the Saint Mary’s community. I’m writing to update you on our planning for fall 2020. Our decisions continue to be informed by the experiences and ideas of hundreds of faculty, students, and frontline student service staff members, as well as guidance from state and county health officials, College health experts, and academic and administrative leaders, along with recommendations from the American College Health Association (ACHA). Thank you for your patience and collaboration in helping us to get this right. 

We plan to welcome students back to campus this fall, but the coming year will of course look different. Yet, we will continue to be guided by our Lasallian, Catholic, liberal arts mission to provide a transformative educational experience for our students. To that end, several working groups focused on academics, facilities, and community and public health have been convened to prepare for a 2020-2021 academic year, which will be unlike any other in Saint Mary’s 157-year history. These working groups, consisting of faculty and staff across the College, have conducted surveys and held listening sessions with faculty, staff, and students over the last several months to gather their concerns, ideas, and lessons learned during this challenging time. These groups will continue to work and advise as we move toward the fall. As of now, I am pleased to share that the Academic Senate yesterday endorsed the recommendations from the Academic Contingency Planning work group and that the following decisions have been set into motion. More details about specific resources, plans, and implementation will be shared throughout the summer.

 

  • Academic Calendar Change—One way we are endeavoring to protect the health of members of our community is to adjust the dates of the semester. This will remove the impact of holiday travel and avoid the start of peak flu season for the vast majority of students who are on the semester calendar. Therefore, most students will return to campus to start the fall semester on August 24, 2020 (one week earlier than planned), and end classes on November 24, 2020. There will be no midterm break, and the final exam period is scheduled (online) for November 30 to December 4, 2020. We will suspend the current policy on the final exam schedule to provide flexibility in student learning assessment. SEBA and KSOE graduate and professional academic calendars will remain largely unchanged with possible modifications for courses that include undergraduate students.

  • Modes of Instruction—Saint Mary’s will offer a three-tiered mix of in-person, hybrid, and online courses to best accommodate the needs of students and faculty. Students who prefer an in-person experience will be able to put together a class schedule consisting primarily of in-person and hybrid classes, while other students may work with their advisors to create an all-online semester. Most students will likely experience a mix of course types while living on or commuting to campus. These learning options will support physical distancing strategies and help to protect the most vulnerable faculty and students who may become ill or cannot attend in-person classes due to health considerations. Students can be assured that we will support their continued learning and engagement in campus life, whether in person or remotely. Our experience this spring, while challenging at times, has been instructive. Faculty are already learning how to use powerful online tools to educate and continue to build community. We have learned that we are capable of continuing to educate all our students, and meeting them where they are, even when we are not able to be together in person. We would not have chosen this path, but we are excited and committed, and confident we can continue to give students the best of a Saint Mary’s education in 2020-2021 and beyond, both remotely and in person.

  • Facilities and Health/Wellness—The College is reconfiguring residential and classroom facilities, class sizes, and scheduling to minimize health risks and promote wellness and safety. We are fortunate to have a beautiful and expansive open-air campus and warm enough weather to dedicate outdoor space to classes. All members of the Saint Mary's College community—faculty, staff, students and campus visitors—will be required to wear facial coverings in classrooms and public spaces, and physical distance will need to be maintained. Additionally, there will be updated guidelines for cleaning and sanitizing classrooms, offices, and campus facilities, as well as coordination of traffic in and out of campus spaces. Robust testing protocols will be central to our return to campus and we are working in collaboration with the Contra Costa County Public Health Department to determine strategies for COVID-19 screening for students upon return to campus, as well as routine screening throughout the academic year to monitor for asymptomatic transmission. All students who report COVID-19 symptoms will undergo testing, contact tracing, and isolation protocols developed by the College in conjunction with Contra Costa County and California Public Health Department guidelines.

  • Faculty and Student Support—Clearly, there will be unanticipated needs for students and faculty as they transition into new instructional modalities. To that end, the Educational Technology Center and Faculty Development will provide a number of pedagogical workshops and technical training to support faculty over the summer.  ITS is also working on upgrading  some of our classrooms  to support video conferencing. For students, Success Coaches and ITS will help identify and respond to students’ technology needs. Through academic programs, the First-Year Advising Cohort, student organizations, Student Services, and Student Life, students can obtain support with maintaining social connections, finding structure through time management and organization, and balancing school and family obligations. Through the Advising Office and academic advisors, students will receive guidance in adjusting to the fall course schedule in light of the three instructional modalities and physical distancing requirements.

  • Campus-Wide Initiative—We have a collective need to restore our sense of community connection and purpose. Therefore, a great number of our courses will integrate COVID-19 themes as a topic of discussion during the fall semester. We are excited to provide this interdisciplinary deep dive into COVID-19 studies, and through this intellectual engagement with the pandemic and its effects, to draw our community together through shared inquiry. We will experience the value of Lasallian, Catholic, liberal arts education in humanizing the deepest problems and challenges we face, and in promoting and honing the essential skills of questioning and pursuit of truth, knowledge, and social justice that we so desperately require in this time of COVID-19 and beyond. 

 

We are excited to return to campus and will be ready to meet this moment with renewed enthusiasm for our purpose as scholars and lifelong learners. Nevertheless, we will continue to adjust these plans and respond if or when circumstances change. These are extraordinary times, and we must remain vigilant and unwavering in our efforts to protect the health and safety of ourselves, our students, our families, and our community by complying with mandated policies and protocols. The inaction of one can have devastating impacts on many. We are grateful for the strength of our community and its shared values, which remind us of our care for each other as individuals and our responsibility toward one another and our campus.  

I appreciate all who participated in this decision-making process. It is a blessing to be a member of this amazing community, and I look forward to seeing you on campus or virtually, as we prepare to welcome the Class of 2024 to Saint Mary’s.

 

Sincerely,

Margaret Kasimatis

Margaret Kasimatis, PhD

Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs