July 13, 2020
As part of our commitment to keeping you informed regarding our evolving plans for the fall semester, we are devoting today’s correspondence to addressing the most frequently asked questions (FAQ) we have received.
Q. Is there flexibility in BC’s academic calendar for the fall semester, given the unpredictability of COVID-19?
A. Our announced academic calendar for the 2020 fall semester calls for classes to begin on August 31 and end on December 10, with the last final exam day scheduled for December 21. We intend to be flexible and prudent with regard to the semester schedule and make adjustments in late October if necessary, including the possibility of having students return home at Thanksgiving and complete their last two weeks of classes and final exams from home. With Thanksgiving being nearly 20 weeks away, we cannot predict conditions at this time, but our ultimate decisions will be guided by public health considerations, with the safety and well-being of our students and community members being our paramount concern.
Q. Will Boston College reduce tuition for those students who will not be on campus this fall?
A. No. The reality is that the University will incur significant expenses this year as we add synchronous and asynchronous online courses, upgrade our classroom technology and HVAC systems in campus buildings, significantly enhance our campus sanitizing efforts, and add COVID-19 testing through The Broad Institute for all members of the community who will be on campus, among other costs. We have also increased need-based undergraduate financial aid by four percent, or $5.6 million, to a total of $146 million.
Q. How is Boston College prepared to deal with COVID-19 cases should they emerge on campus?
A. Boston College has developed a plan for testing all students, faculty, and staff when they arrive on campus in August, and throughout the semester should they present with symptoms. The University is also planning to conduct significant surveillance testing on a weekly basis to identify the potential asymptomatic presence of the coronavirus on campus. Staff in University Health Services will work with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to conduct contact tracing in the event of any positive cases. In addition, the University will be utilizing several facilities near campus where we can isolate any asymptomatic students. Students in quarantine and isolation will be supported by University Health Services, Dining Services, and Residential Life staff. While no campus nationwide will be immune to the coronavirus, we believe our plan for testing, contact tracing, quarantining, and isolating students—coupled with a requirement that all community members practice physical distancing and wear face masks or coverings in classrooms, campus buildings, and public areas within residence halls—will provide us with prudent mitigation steps for a safe semester on campus.
Q. Can you provide details about what the classroom experience might be like in the fall, and how students and faculty can be kept safe?
A. Boston College is following CDC guidance regarding classroom utilization. In addition, recent guidelines from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for K-12 schools recommend that a three-foot “desk-to-desk” distance be maintained, which is the guideline we will be using in most of our classrooms. In the majority of our rooms, we are able to achieve 50% capacity while following these guidelines. A major exception is some of our fixed-seat auditoriums, where seats are too close together to allow for 50% utilization. For these rooms, the University has determined appropriate layouts that maintain safe distances: Actual capacities depend on specific room conformation, but generally fall below 50%. This is one of the reasons we have moved most of our large lectures to an online delivery mode.
Additionally, we will be mandating a number of other practices to help ensure that our classrooms remain safe and healthy learning environments, starting with cleaning. Every classroom will be deep-cleaned each night prior to a teaching day. Sanitizing wipe dispensers will be installed in (or just outside of) every classroom as well, and faculty and students will be asked to disinfect their individual spaces before and after class to protect themselves and others in the community.
Within the classroom, masks or other face coverings will be required for all faculty and students at all times. Additionally, desks will be placed in an optimized pattern determined to maximize distance, and should not be rearranged by students or faculty. The pattern will include an eight- to nine-foot “teaching zone,” which will allow faculty members freedom of movement while maintaining a safe distance from students whose desks will be facing forward (towards the teaching wall). We are working to ensure that all larger rooms are equipped with appropriate sound amplification as well. Students will be assigned seats in each class, and faculty members will take attendance in order to facilitate potential contact tracing.
Finally, we will be asking all faculty to record (and, where pedagogically appropriate, live-broadcast) their in-class lectures and activities using either the installed Lecture Capture system, laptop-based personal Lecture Capture, or other technologies such as Zoom. We will also be asking every student, faculty, and staff member on campus to do a personal health self-assessment every day, using an app that the University will select. The combination of these self-assessments and the course recordings and/or broadcasts will help reinforce for students that, although class attendance remains as valuable and important as ever, they should only attend class in-person if they feel healthy and well that day.
We believe this combination of practices, combined with the University’s approach to testing, contact tracing, and quarantine/isolation, should make BC’s classrooms—and campus—as safe as possible given the challenging conditions imposed by Covid-19.
Q. With the de-densification of the dining halls and libraries, where will students be able to study or attend those classes that will be offered online?
A. Given the circumstances, we will all need to work together as a community to ensure that every student is able to be fully present while learning, whether that is in the classroom, following along with a live class remotely, or using Zoom to attend a fully online session. We ask that all students—especially those living on campus—be prepared to attend class from their residence hall rooms or off-campus homes as needed. However, there will be situations where a student has back-to-back classes where one is in-person and the other is online, or other scheduling challenges that make returning to their residence hall or off-campus apartment to attend online sessions difficult. As a result, all University libraries will be configured to provide students with a quiet place for online learning, including the maximum amount of safe, distanced seating possible. Many public spaces, lobbies, and student lounges will also be made available to students, and we are currently working to allocate and set up additional spaces wherever possible. More details will be provided as students return to campus in August.
We also urge all students to bring headsets with a built-in microphone when they return in August. As a community, we will all need to encourage one another’s learning as we show courtesy and compassion to those around us.
Q. Will campus amenities such as the Margot Connell Recreation Center and student organization spaces, and activities such as student retreats be available to student this semester?
A. The University is planning to open the Margot Connell Recreation Center adhering to applicable guidelines from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for gyms and fitness centers in effect at that time. Student retreats will continue to be offered, although they may be modified to accommodate applicable gathering size limits and available facilities. We are still working through the details of the various student activities available on campus, but do expect that most will be able to continue. However, size limitations and remote meeting requirements may affect the manner in which they are conducted.
Q. In the wake of the recently announced changes to international student immigration policies, how is Boston College supporting these members of our community?
A. Boston College released a statement last week opposing the recent action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and we stand in solidarity with all of the international students, families, and scholars who are part of the BC community. As a member of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, we support the AJCU Statement on ICE Guidance for International Students as well. Because of the University’s longstanding commitment to in-person formational education, we are confident that the way in which our fall programs have been designed will enable all U.S.-based international students to meet the new requirement. Advisors and other academic support colleagues will work with students to ensure that their course of study protects their visa status. For those students who are unable to travel to the United States, we are providing fully online options to allow them to continue their studies until such time as they are able to rejoin us in Chestnut Hill.
We will continue to provide updates and responses to your questions via the Reopening BC website at bc.edu/reopen and in our future correspondences. Thank you again for your understanding and support as we prepare for the fall semester at Boston College.