An update from President Veitch on the direction Occidental College is taking for the Fall 2020 semester.

To the Oxy Community:

As we continue to navigate a year like no other, I write today to provide you with an update on the direction we will take for the coming academic year.

Today’s update reflects the work and input of many faculty, staff and students across the College. I want to recognize and commend those who have contributed to the collective planning effort, as well as everyone in the Oxy community who has worked so hard under such trying circumstances. The Fall 2020 Working Group and its seven subcommittees--Health and Safety; Academic Planning; Student Life; Finance and Budget; Technology; Enrollment; and Special Initiatives -- have been instrumental in laying the groundwork for our decision. Their in-depth and thoughtful work sought to balance multiple considerations -- health and safety, pedagogy, equity and access, and finances -- as they examined what this fall could look like. Our planning process has included the active participation of Dr. Harry Elam, who as you know, will start as Oxy’s 16th president on July 1. We are grateful for Dr. Elam’s engagement at this critical juncture.

Let me cut to the chase: Our plan is to reopen campus this fall. We will be reducing density in our residence halls, and introducing a flexible instructional format to accommodate students whether on or off campus. Health and safety have been the highest priority in our planning, which is, and will continue to be based on applicable public health guidance. We have utilized the expertise of on-campus experts, state and county officials, and epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists in crafting our plan.

Oxy faces the same challenges that all colleges and universities are confronting and we have watched carefully what other institutions are doing as we make our own decisions. Success, however, will depend on all of us working together and devoting considerable effort this summer to prepare for the academic year ahead. We are confident that we will be able to provide the rewarding educational experience that our students expect from Occidental. We will get through this because the members of our community – students, faculty, staff, alumni, families and friends – are dedicated, collaborative, persistent, and creative problem-solvers, who are committed to excellence and equity.

There are many aspects of the fall plan that remain to be worked out over the next few weeks. This includes employee policies and procedures regarding returning to campus for those who have been working remotely, as well as safety plans for employees who work on campus in various capacities.

Of critical import will be the guidance of state and county public health officials that we are required to follow. Consequently, our plans are subject to change as their guidance evolves. We will be presenting an update on June 22 to the Board of Trustees, which has approved our overall direction. After that we will be back to you with more information and we will be holding a series of virtual town halls with faculty, staff and students soon thereafter.

Here’s where Oxy currently stands with regard to fall.

Our plan is to offer classes in three general formats: Some classes will be offered in-person (in socially distanced classrooms or new outdoor learning spaces), some will be fully remote, and others will be delivered simultaneously in person to students in residence and remotely to those who are not.

The faculty have been and will continue to work over the summer to build on the spring experience to reimagine the delivery of their courses and their approaches to teaching remotely. Students who cannot return, or choose not to return, to campus will be able to fully access their curriculum and make progress toward their Occidental degree. Importantly, all classes, whether offered remotely or in person, will feature opportunities for 1:1 or small group interactions with faculty.

Oxy’s academic calendar will be modified to provide a full semester’s learning while minimizing potential health risks associated with travel during the semester.

  • The first day of classes will be one day early, on Monday, August 24. (We are advising students not to make travel plans yet, as we are working to arrange a staggered arrival and residence hall move-in schedule to avoid having large groups of students and their families coming to campus simultaneously.)
  • We will cancel Fall Break (originally scheduled for October 12-13).
  • The last day of classes will be Friday, November 20, the Friday before Thanksgiving.
  • Exams and end-of-semester assignments will be administered remotely after Thanksgiving. Students who choose to remain on campus to take final exams can do so.
  • We have not yet decided about the spring calendar.
  • While there may be schedule modifications to enable social distancing and smaller class sizes, students will not necessarily need to re-register for classes. More information will be forthcoming from the registrar.

Based on the latest public health guidance, we will be reducing the density of on-campus housing. This will mean that there will be fewer rooms available on campus. Further details about housing will be forthcoming by the end of the month--but here is what we can share now. First-year students and transfers will be given priority for on-campus housing, along with international students and those who may have special concerns with regard to health, safety, and finances. To facilitate more students to live off-campus, we are suspending the College’s three-year residency requirement for the 2020-2021 academic year. First-years and all returning students will receive a survey regarding available housing options. Survey replies will help guide our planning.

The return to campus will require all of us to make significant changes in how we live, work, teach and learn. An important part of this new reality is the fact that we all truly depend on each other to make this work. Key components of our new health and safety protocols will include mask-wearing and social distancing in all public spaces. The plan will also include a robust testing protocol, contact tracing, daily symptom checks and increased cleaning and hygiene protocols. Because we will depend on each other to make this work, we also will work together with faculty, staff and students this summer to develop a health and safety code of conduct. More details on these plans will be communicated by the end of the month.

Additional updates will follow over the summer about move-in dates, course scheduling/format, Orientation, co-curricular activities, varsity athletics, and further health and safety measures. Keep an eye on email and the website for more information.

We are excited by the prospect of opening our campus and welcoming back our students, faculty and staff. We believe that our direction represents an appropriate balance of all of the complex factors we face in this unprecedented circumstance. None of this will be easy. But the Oxy community has already demonstrated that we can get through this--together.

President Jonathan Veitch