President Elam offers an overview of Occidental’s plans for a return to campus in Fall 2021.
To the Occidental Community:
Given the increasingly hopeful signs that we are turning a corner in fighting the pandemic, thanks to widespread access to vaccines and the hard work of so many, I want to provide the Oxy community with an overview of our plans to return to campus this fall. Of course, there are many details that still need to be worked out, more conversations that need to take place, and evolving circumstances to which we will need to respond. But senior staff, the Covid Operations Group and I are confident of our community's ability to successfully navigate any remaining challenges, and want to offer this guidance now to help everyone make plans for this fall.
A More Traditional Oxy Experience
Based on the latest trends in California and guidance from public health officials, we are planning to welcome all students back to campus this fall. Throughout the pandemic, the flexibility and creativity of faculty, students and staff have kept Oxy’s intellectual life buzzing and campus clubs and organizations active and engaged. But as I said in my state-of-the-college speech, we are a residential school and the ultimate goal is to be back on campus, back in the classroom, back on the playing fields, and back in the Quad.
As I announced last week, consistent with our current policy requiring students to demonstrate proof of vaccination for other infectious diseases, Occidental will require that all incoming and returning students show proof of COVID-19 vaccination before the beginning of the fall semester, allowing only for medical and religious exemptions. The policy will be inclusive of vaccines received in the U.S. and internationally. We are actively considering vaccine requirements for staff and faculty as well, and will continue to solicit feedback on this matter. In the meantime, we strongly encourage all community members to be vaccinated now for their own safety and that of the Oxy community. To date, per the voluntary reporting portal and those vaccinated at Emmons, at least 850 faculty, staff and students have been fully vaccinated.
Welcoming all students back to campus this fall means that courses will be taught primarily in person, although some virtual innovations introduced over the past year may continue to supplement and enhance the student experience. The return to in-person instruction includes all types of classes, including those we simply could not offer remotely over the past year. Ongoing consultation with faculty about course delivery will continue as we work out all the practical details of safely returning to in-person instruction across the range of academic disciplines.
Student Life & Housing
With proof of vaccination required of all students, residence hall occupancy and staffing will return to pre-pandemic levels. In addition to planning an Orientation and support structures designed for new first-year students, we also recognize that our rising sophomore class has not been on campus and will require dedicated new student programming. As such, we are planning a Welcome Experience for the Class of 2024, as well as assistance with roommate matching. For juniors, the waiver allowing them to live off-campus without petitioning will remain in place for the 2021-22 year. We expect that the full range of student activities also will resume. And, as all students will be returning to campus this fall, we feel very optimistic that we will be participating in varsity athletics again.
Work Expectations: Return to Campus
Staff who have been working remotely over the past year will gradually transition back to regular, in-person operations. Our goal is to bring back employees gradually based on our need to support summer operations and fall preparations, beginning on a small scale in May and continuing throughout the summer, with most employees back on campus by mid-August. Vice presidents are leading the development of staffing plans and will communicate those plans to their departments in the coming days. We recognize there is no precedent for the circumstances we find ourselves in, and accordingly, we will remain flexible during the upcoming year of transition to accommodate the many work and life situations of our community members, while ensuring critical in-person needs and services are delivered. The College is also developing an updated remote work policy, which will be forthcoming by early June.
Summer & Campus Access
Our path towards a full opening in fall is already underway. Late in the spring semester we began with limited openings of the Library, Marketplace and some athletic facilities. On May 16, we’ll proudly host Commencement for the graduating seniors of the Class of 2021 in Kemp Stadium, and will do it again four weeks later to celebrate the Class of 2020. This momentum will continue beyond May with the resumption of our Summer Research Program and Multicultural Summer Institute, and a limited number of external programs. We know many of you have questions to understand precisely what type of in-person activities will be permissible this summer now that the state and county have eased restrictions. We look forward to reopening the campus and removing the “Campus Closed” signs, and will be issuing updated campus access guidance later this month.
Health & Safety
As it has been from the beginning of the pandemic, the health and safety of our community will be our top priority. A return to on-campus life does not by any measure mean abandoning the best-practice safety measures that we have come to rely on. We do expect our testing program, even for those who are fully vaccinated, to remain in place. And we will continue to follow the guidance of public health officials as they apply to college campuses.
Looking Ahead & Working Together
There will be additional opportunities for the community to participate in the discussion about our plans for this fall, including the May 5 staff meeting, the May 6 faculty meeting and the weekly Covid Operations Group community update meetings. You can also raise questions through the Faculty Council and the Administrator Staff Council, through union representatives, as well as through other channels. You can always find the latest information on this website.
As we have experienced over the past 14 months, the unpredictable nature of the pandemic means that our plans must remain flexible. We also know that the disruption we have experienced and the tragic personal losses suffered by some of our students and colleagues over the past year mean that we will return as a changed community. Yet, there is good reason to feel a real sense of optimism as we look ahead to the fall. We are committed to working through any issue that comes our way, together as a community. As a president who has operated remotely for all of my first year, I am eager to experience Oxy in-person on a daily basis!
All the best,