University Outlines COVID-19 Recovery Plan
Goal is to define what a residential research university will look like in the post-pandemic world
Editor’s note: Boston University is planning to resume its on-campus, residential program in the fall of 2020, following the recommended best health practices around the coronavirus pandemic. Media reports that the University will not reopen in the fall, and will instead reopen in January 2021, are false. The article that follows reports on the University’s fall 2020 planning efforts, as well as various contingencies in the event public health authorities limit or do not allow residential colleges to reopen in the fall. —Doug Most, Executive Editor, BU Today
Two days after the University announced that all in-person summer activities on the Charles River Campus had been canceled, President Robert A. Brown unveiled a plan to refocus COVID-19 discussions on the future, specifically on ways that BU can return to in-person, on-campus operations later this year. The University’s COVID-19 Recovery Plan, described Thursday by Brown, tasks several new working groups with determining what actions are needed to bring academic, research, and residential programs back to campus for the fall semester in ways that are guided by the best public health practices.
“We’ve made the big decisions relating to the spring and summer,” Brown says. “We are now in a position to focus on the fall and the best and safest way in which to bring the residential teaching and research community back onto campus when time and public health considerations permit.”
The plan’s overriding goal, he says, is to define what a residential research university will look like in the early days of the post-pandemic world.
“The recovery plan is an organizational approach to achieving our goals,” says Jean Morrison, University provost and chief academic officer. “It allows us to task certain individuals with developing specific recommendations. It is designed to expedite decision-making and allow us to put a plan for the fall in place fairly quickly, so we have time to implement that plan in a thoughtful manner. By launching this effort now, we get out ahead of some of the issues for what is the best-case scenario, meaning we are able to come back to in-person classes and activities in the fall.”
With the University’s spring coursework moved to remote teaching and learning and the decision made that summer activity will also be remote, the president and provost are focused on understanding how the COVID-19 crisis, with its widespread impact on health and economic conditions, will affect BU’s learning and research communities and shape its plan to bring the University back to a residential and in-person operation come fall. Ultimately, the plan seeks answers to such questions as what classes might look like if gatherings are restricted to a limited number of people and how Dining Services could operate without risk of transmitting the coronavirus.
At this point, the plan outlines the structure and goals of a COVID-19 Recovery Organization that will investigate every aspect of BU’s return to campus life, while carefully stress-testing every component against public health practices, as defined by a newly created Medical Advisory Group, chaired by Judy Platt, director of Student Health Services.
The overall effort will be coordinated by an Augmented Budget Committee, led by Brown and Morrison, and the financial impact of all proposed actions will be analyzed by a Contingency Planning Committee, chaired by Derek Howe, vice president for budget, planning, and business affairs. The Augmented Budget Committee will make decisions, with five working groups planning details in distinct, but interconnected domains:
- The Remote and Online Working Group, chaired by Chris Dellarocas, associate provost for digital learning and innovation.
- The Graduate Professional Programs Working Group, chaired by Daniel Kleinman, associate provost for graduate affairs.
- The Undergraduate Programs Working Group, chaired by Sue Kennedy, associate provost ad interim for undergraduate affairs.
- The Research Working Group, chaired by Gloria Waters, vice president and associate provost for research.
- The Student Residential Life Working Group, chaired by Kenneth Elmore (Wheelock’87), associate provost and dean of students.
“The working groups are very prescriptive,” Morrison says. “They represent the academic and research portfolio of the University. We believe there are going to be important changes in how we go about educating our students and doing research, and we are trying to put the subject matter experts in leadership roles so we can formulate a plan that we can act on.”
The Recovery Committee’s work will be limited to determining what needs to be done to return residential teaching and research to the University. It is not intended to replace regular management groups, which will continue to manage issues involving staff and to identify ways in which functions unrelated to teaching and research will adapt to the new normal.
The Recovery Plan recognizes that if, in the unlikely event that public health officials deem it unsafe to open in the fall of 2020, then the University’s contingency plan envisions the need to consider a later in-person return, perhaps in January 2021. It also accepts the possibility that international students are likely to face unique burdens, such as travel restrictions and interruptions in the processing of visas, and it suggests that some popular master’s programs may have to be offered remotely. The University does plan to offer remote learning courses this summer and to continue providing the minimal housing and dining services that are currently available. Brown says the University will restart research and clinical operations as soon as that is practical, with the necessary rules and restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“Our goal is for these working groups to work very quickly,” says Morrison. “We want to have a plan in place that will give everyone enough time to do a careful and well-thought-out implementation.”
Since the University began tracking the virus in late January, it has taken several actions that would have been unimaginable in the old normal. In March, one week after launching a website advising students how to stay safe, BU moved all classes online and advised students who were away for spring break not to return. It has since postponed Commencement and canceled all in-person summer classes.
“Next it is time to turn our attention to the return of the residential research university,” Brown says. “That will not be easy. For reasons of public health, the economy, or any number of other factors, this is not going to be as simple as flipping a switch and getting back to business as usual. This is going to take time, and it will take time to plan. Starting that planning now is the right thing to do, and it is a necessity.”
This story has been edited since its original posting to clarify a line about a contingency plan in the event the fall semester’s start had to be delayed.