President Elam offers an update on planning efforts for the Spring 2020 semester, including L.A. County guidelines and academic planning.
The COVID-19 public health crisis continues to impact all of our lives in ways we never could have imagined. I hope you and your loved ones are faring well during these challenging times. As we have passed the midway point of the fall semester, we want to provide an update with regard to the spring semester. We know that all of you are eagerly awaiting news on what our plans are for January.
L.A. County Guidelines
As you are aware, our decision on July 15 to go to remote instruction for this semester and not return students to residence halls (with limited exceptions) was made with the health and safety of the Oxy community in mind, and dictated by the state of the spread of the virus at that time. In August, our decision was reinforced when the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued guidance prohibiting all local colleges and universities from resuming in-person instruction.
These county guidelines remain in place today. Moreover, county health officials have indicated that they do not plan to issue new guidance for spring until late November or early December. We currently hope to announce our plans in December, following the timing of updated county guidance. We would like to bring back as many students as health and safety will permit, but it is simply too soon to know how many students we will be able to house on campus. We ask for your continued understanding and patience. We know many of you are eager to return to campus, while others may wish to continue studying remotely. We also understand that this timeline may cause some students and families to make their own housing decisions before December. Related resources for off-campus living can be found on the REHS site here.
As was the case for this current semester, we will follow all applicable county, state and federal guidelines, and our decisions will put the health and safety of the community at the forefront. While we don’t know today what spring will look like, we can share a few of our preliminary assumptions.
We assume that if Los Angeles County officials give colleges permission to return more students to campus and increase in-person instruction, the return will be phased. That is, it is unlikely to be a full return to our pre-COVID campus operations in spring. We expect a majority of classes will still be offered remotely, and that limitations on room occupancy and the need to reserve rooms for COVID-related isolation will likely preclude us from returning all students to campus.
Spring Planning Underway
Given these important considerations, we will likely have to make difficult decisions about prioritization for on-campus housing. It’s too soon to know what that might look like, but we will get input from faculty, staff and students on this and other important issues. To help with our planning, we will be sending students a survey next week to gather feedback on how this semester is going and to better understand your intentions for spring.
The academic calendar for Spring 2021 has also been confirmed. After evaluating potential adjustments, Dean Sternberg decided not to institute any changes to the calendar at this time. Instruction in the Spring Semester will begin as scheduled on Tuesday, January 19, 2021. Please note that while the calendar does include a Spring Break from March 8-12, we would advise students not to make firm travel plans, since the potential exists that College health and safety guidelines could impact travel. In addition, with registration scheduled for later this month, be on the lookout for a separate message on how this process will be handled.
In the meantime, we are not sitting idle. Our COVID Operations Group and Spring Working Group are leading the planning efforts for next semester. We are learning from our own operational efforts on campus this semester with a greatly reduced population, and carefully tracking what is happening across the country on campuses that have been able to return students to campus. In this process, we know that we must be flexible and ready to respond when new guidance is issued.
Despite the current challenges and uncertainties, we will do our best to tell you what we know and what remains unknown. While we cannot be specific about our plans until we receive further public health guidance from Los Angeles County, we are committed to keeping you updated along the way.
In just over three months at the College, I have seen the very best of what the Oxy community has to offer during these times of unprecedented challenges for our institution and in society.
I am proud of our students, who even as they continue to pursue their education under extraordinary circumstances, have maintained their sense of community and that sense of passionate engagement with the world and issues of social justice that exemplify the Oxy spirit. I am equally proud of our faculty and staff, who have gone above and beyond to support our students and ensure that there is no diminution in the intellectual engagement and rigor of our academic programs.
Thank you for your commitment to the Oxy community.