A Message to Students on Plans for In-Person Fall Semester
As we move into summer, I hope you and your loved ones are well. Over the last few weeks, many things have been happening behind the scenes, and I want you to have the latest updates.
As you may know, we announced today that in-person August Commencement ceremonies will unfortunately have to be postponed. We will proceed with virtual graduation celebrations in collaboration with colleges and schools, as was the case in May, to include a virtual conferral of degrees.
In April, I shared our intent to be open for the fall semester. While much work is left to be done to make this happen as safely as possible, I’m pleased to report that we are on track to be open and operational in-person, with online offerings as well. The Board of Regents met this morning and approved Texas A&M University System guidance.
In making plans for the fall semester, we are guided by two simple-but-powerful overriding principles:
- Doing our very best to fulfill our land-grant mission of education and research; and
- Ensuring we fulfill this mission as safely as possible.
We will follow the latest guidelines from infectious disease experts and local, state and federal officials. Our top priority is – and always will be – to promote the health and safety of all of our students, faculty and staff. To make this happen will require a deep commitment to selfless service from you, our students, and indeed ALL of us. Returning to campus is a privilege. Aggies take care of each other. We must also serve to protect the communities in which we learn and live.
We have many members of our university community who have health concerns, or have loved ones who may be vulnerable, so we are planning constantly and carefully for the fall semester. Weeks ago, we created several committees who have been working tirelessly to address questions from their unique perspectives. In the interest of keeping you fully informed as we move along, today we share initial decisions with more detail to follow in the weeks to come. Please take time to read – along with your families – all updates we share this summer.
For your reference, please regularly consult the latest guidance on COVID-19 dated and time stamped so that you know you have the most up-to-date information, linked from the university’s home page.
In-person and online classes
We plan to offer face-to-face classes, with remote options for every course. As part of these precautions for the fall semester, we will start classes earlier, beginning on Aug. 19. This will likely mean that we will have hybrid classes in which some students are in-person while others participate remotely at the same time. We’re also redesigning schedules to hold classes throughout extended days, with potential as well for Monday through Saturday classes as necessary to enhance physical distancing in classes and throughout campus. Again, greater details are being worked out using priorities articulated by faculty, deans, student leaders and staff and will be forthcoming.
While classes will end prior to Thanksgiving, campus services will remain available through the Thanksgiving break and after, to include reading day, online exams, and commencement to support students and faculty for the successful completion of the semester.
With an earlier class start will come an even earlier return to campus for some students as we seek to stagger the move-in process, orientations and other activities.
For students with significant health issues, we encourage you to connect with Disability Resources before taking classes. Their professional and caring staff has been assisting other students who have similar health concerns and can help guide you through the Accommodation Request Process.
Move-in will be conducted in phases with scheduled move-in appointments to promote physical distancing for the safety of residents, families and staff by limiting the number of people in the buildings. Residence hall and White Creek Apartment move-in appointments will be scheduled between Aug. 8-18. Gardens Apartments move-in appointments will be scheduled between Aug. 1-18. More details will be forthcoming to students from the office of Residence Life.
We will continue physical distancing in our classrooms, residence halls, academic offices, research laboratories and other shared spaces. We are conducting detailed studies of classroom spaces to identify the capacity needed to keep students and faculty as safe as possible.
Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting
On our campuses, in our classrooms, and in our other facilities, we will have enhanced methods of cleaning and disinfecting, with higher traffic areas receiving even greater attention. We’re also analyzing our building ventilation systems, finding ways to reduce the chances of viral exposure in our buildings.
Masks, testing and contact tracing
A group of public health officials, medical professionals, faculty, staff and students have convened to review CDC and other guidance on face-covering requirements to ensure that we protect those most vulnerable. A policy on requirements for face-coverings will be released in the days to come.
We have entered into a partnership with the state of Texas to help build a workforce for contact tracing through the Health Science Center, which will directly benefit our campus community, local residents and all Texans.
We plan to offer testing, primarily for students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19. Faculty and staff will predominantly obtain testing through their healthcare providers, as will remote students.
Preparing for several scenarios
We are developing detailed plans for isolating those on-campus residents who are sick and those who may have been exposed to the illness. If we see increases in COVID-19 that concern officials and/or the campus community, we have prepared and will continue to refine contingency plans.
Over the next few weeks, there is much work to be done. As we develop more concrete timetables for specific events and activities, we will keep you informed.
As we move forward, we must remember that there are still many uncertainties about COVID-19 and we may need to adjust our plans according to emerging public health updates.
While this is a challenging time for our university, I want to thank you all for your patience, resilience and support. More than 1.5 million people viewed this tribute video to you, our beloved students. I know many of you are anxious to get back to Aggieland.
Through the strength of your support, you’ve shown us that the spirit of our university is far more than just the constant pulse of activity on campus. The spirit of Texas A&M is also a state of mind, a sense of community, found in the timeless traditions we share and the bonds we have built with each other. Even though the fall will require some new and different protocols, our values and traditions will continue to bring us together, whether it’s in-person or in spirit. And for that, we should all be very grateful.
Michael K. Young