As we continue to confront the challenges of a global pandemic and act with renewed urgency to redress racial inequalities at our University and in the wider society, this extraordinary moment calls for creative and innovative approaches to academic and student life in an environment that fosters a safe and healthy community, founded upon mutual understanding and an appreciation of the uniqueness of each and every individual.
Our plan to return to campus on September 21 to start our new academic year embodies this approach.
This academic year will feature a hybrid approach to learning, research and student life designed first and foremost to support the health and safety of students, faculty and professional staff, while also fulfilling the University’s mission of teaching, research and service. Classes will be taught both in person on campus and remotely.
Once Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf determines that Philadelphia can move into the least-restrictive “green” phase of the state’s coronavirus reopening plan, we’ll be ready — thanks to the determination and hard work of the members of the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force.
Over the past month, the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force has worked tirelessly to identify strategies within a variety of possible scenarios to provide the safest and most comprehensive path forward for the coming academic year. The Task Force considered key guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local public health authorities, and monitored news stories, studies and organizational resources on a daily basis. Members met with both internal and external experts, as well as city representatives and researchers, to gain additional insights into best practices and guidelines. This team organized itself in five different subcommittees comprising Academics, Research, Facilities, Health and Safety, and Student Experience.
One principle of the Task Force’s planning work was a commitment to inclusion. Perspectives, feedback and viewpoints were actively solicited from as many constituencies as possible on how best the Drexel community should return to campus. As a result of these efforts, over 1,300 responses from students, faculty, professional staff, parents and other stakeholders were collected and given careful consideration.
The recommendations made by the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force were based upon the team’s charge to protect the health and safety of Drexel’s students, faculty and professional staff; maintain Drexel’s commitment to educate and serve our community; and preserve the University’s academic, business and administrative operations in order to best serve the campus community.
Upon reviewing the Task Force’s extensive reports, and in accordance with Gov. Wolf’s decision to shift the Philadelphia region’s status from “red” to “yellow” on Friday, June 5, I am recommending that Drexel reopen our campus for the fall within the framework of a hybrid approach that includes:
- Providing continuous delivery of high-quality education through a combination of face-to-face and online methods;
- Ramping up research efforts in an incremental manner;
- Establishing and scaling up procedures to mitigate the potential for further transmission of infection; and
- Limiting the number of students, faculty and professional staff on campus to ensure that social distancing measures can be implemented properly.
Key features of our reopening plan include the following:
Increased Campus-Wide Safety Measures
New health and safety protocols are being established across all of our campuses, including, but not limited to:
- Use of personal protective equipment in key settings;
- Mandatory health and safety trainings;
- Implementation of public health measures for keeping our campus community as safe as possible including use of face masks, contact tracing and social distancing policies and protocols; and
- Enhanced cleaning procedures based on the latest health department guidelines.
A Phased Approach to Academics and Research
Academic departments will be asked to categorize and determine courses that: 1) should be offered fully on campus; 2) can be offered in a hybrid format with a combination of both face-to-face and remote instruction; and 3) will be conducted fully online. Research labs and related spaces, including support offices, have already begun to open gradually in accordance with public health guidance and with clear safety protocols in place.
Increased Support for Students, Faculty and Professional Staff
The University is acquiring the necessary products, technology and services needed for a safe return to campus for students, faculty and professional staff in order to provide the best way of delivering educational programs, conducting research, and maintaining operational infrastructure.
Planning for Students
The University is finalizing a detailed plan to safely transition and reintegrate students back into campus housing and activities. We will ensure that clear protocols and accountability for conduct are established both for on-campus and off-campus housing. More details will be provided as detailed plans are finalized in the coming weeks.
A Modified, Yet Full Academic Calendar
The University will deliver a full 10-week term, which will begin on September 21 and end on December 14. To minimize the potential for virus spread, students who are on campus will be asked to depart by Thanksgiving. Following the Thanksgiving break, they will complete their final week of the term and finals remotely rather than traveling back and forth for Thanksgiving and increasing the potential for viral transmission.
The College of Medicine and the Kline School of Law, our two colleges on the semester system, and students from the College of Nursing and Health Professions on clinical rotations, will return earlier than the rest of the campus when they resume their fall semesters in August.
I am requesting that every college and administrative unit of the University establish an implementation group to plan and execute the recommendations laid out by the final report of the Fall 2020 COVID-19 Task Force. More details about implementation planning will be released shortly. I will convene a new working group to support implementation of our campus plan, and have asked Marla Gold, MD, Vice Provost for Community Health Care Innovation, to lead the effort.
The working group will provide oversight of, and support for each unit’s progress, address any questions that might arise, and offer guidance to ensure that we are best prepared for the months ahead.
I want to thank all the members of the task force for their insight, time and diligence during an extraordinary time in the history of Drexel; and in particular, co-chairs Norma Bouchard, Alan Greenberger and Megan Weyler, as well as Anna Koulas, who staffed the task force.