Coming This Fall for BU: Nearly Normal
University plans for a “giant step” toward returning to in-person classes, without social distancing
One year after the fast-spreading worldwide COVID-19 pandemic forced Boston University to shut down its campuses and move to remote teaching and learning to help contain the deadly virus, President Robert A. Brown announced plans on Friday to return to a far more normal campus life next fall.
In letters sent to the Boston University community (one to faculty and staff, a separate one to students and parents), Brown wrote that current guidance suggests that the ongoing widespread and accelerating national vaccination, and the diminishing presence of the virus, should make it possible to return to learning in classrooms, studios, and laboratories without the social distancing protocols that have been in place since last September. Brown said the University does not plan to offer classes under Learn from Anywhere (LfA), the hybrid teaching and learning system that has allowed students to attend both in-person and remote classes, with the exception of some in graduate programs. Consequently, he wrote, the University does not plan to offer workplace adjustments to faculty and staff for the fall semester.
Brown said BU’s return to more typical campus life means that students will be able to move freely among residence halls and that dining halls will operate at full capacity. “More generally,” he said, “it will allow the use of social and public spaces for their intended purposes. I expect the vibrant campus life that we cherish will fully return.”
Carrie Preston, Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Professor and Kilachand Honors College director and a College of Arts & Sciences professor of English and of women’s, gender, and sexuality studies, says she looks forward to having everyone back in the classroom. “In my experience, the hybrid teaching model required by LfA has been extremely challenging, taxing, and dissatisfying for faculty and students alike,” says Preston. “Having said that, I hope to continue to deploy some of the digital tools we have learned so well to make our community even stronger in the aftermath of the pandemic.”
Mark Crovella, a CAS professor of computer science and a College of Engineering professor, says the ability to once again teach students face to face will be a pleasure. “To meet with them in person for office hours, and to stop and say hi to them as we cross campus paths will also be a distinct improvement for my students,” Crovella says. “I’m looking forward to going back to easy Q&A during class, getting a sense of whether students are ‘getting it’ by seeing their faces, and discussing with individual students the fine points of a lecture immediately after it was given. And I will value all these things in a way I didn’t a year ago!”
Saida Grundy, a CAS assistant professor of sociology and of African American studies and Center for Antiracist Research associate director of narrative, says she expects classroom teaching to be better because of lessons learned from remote teaching. “We now have tools and technology that I am going to add to my in-person classes,” says Grundy. “Those are really going to help everyone.”
Akash Rudra (Questrom’23) says he hopes that BU will handle a return to normalcy safely. “I’m sure students will take it upon themselves to social distance, regardless of if they personally still have reservations,” Rudra says. “I for one am ready to make up for lost time when it comes to having that traditional college experience.”
Faith Perry (Questrom’22) thinks some students who have become used to LfA may find it difficult to adjust back to normalcy. “We’re not used to being as social and having interactions with people on the street and in the buildings,” Perry says. “But it’s a step towards hope that a lot of people need right now. I’m trying to be more optimistic, and hearing news like this does help.”
In-person classes make a lot sense for class discussions, Jade Rona (CAS’22) says. “It is a better learning experience overall, but I hope they’re still doing lecture recording since that is so helpful to a lot of students,” she says. “I hope they keep some elements of LfA.”
The University’s decision adds BU to a growing list of colleges and universities, regionally and nationally, planning to return to in-person classes in the fall. The University of Massachusetts system, Harvard, and Northeastern all recently announced that they are planning for a more traditional return of students and faculty for the next academic year. New York University also plans on in-person classes, although the NYU provost said that will depend in part on whether most professors are vaccinated by then.
Likewise, Brown emphasized that the University’s plans to return to near normal are based on the assumption that all members of the BU community who wish to be vaccinated will be vaccinated before the start of the fall semester, and also that international students will once again be allowed to travel to Boston. The University has not yet determined if it will require vaccination for all members of the on-campus community.
The University plans to survey community members to learn more about who has been vaccinated and adjust health protocols accordingly.
I for one am ready to make up for lost time when it comes to having that traditional college experience.
Over the past 12 months, BU has gone to extraordinary lengths to ensure that its students could continue their academic progress. It established the LfA model, designed a computer simulation of how the virus might spread across BU’s campuses, set up nasal swab testing and a testing lab capable of screening thousands of tests per day, and hired and trained contact tracers to help keep the virus from spreading on campus. Those public health protocols worked. Between August and December, the more than 500,000 COVID-19 tests processed at BU’s Clinical Testing Lab showed that about 1.8 percent of the population tested by the University tested positive, a rate that was significantly lower than was seen across the city of Boston.
“Our public health protocols have contained the virus on our campuses,” Brown wrote. “We have advanced the education of thousands of students both on campus and remotely, while sustaining critical momentum in research and clinical activities.”
Because COVID-19 will remain a health concern, the University plans to continue its community testing program at some level. Details of that testing, and other public health protocols, will be announced during the summer as BU health officials learn more about the evolution of COVID-19.
Until the fall, however, the University will stick with its current plans, maintaining the same public health protocols that have been in place all year and continuing the Learn from Anywhere dual teaching modality for all summer semester classes.
“We all yearn for a return to a post-COVID normalcy and for restoration of all elements of our wonderful living and learning campus environment at Boston University,” Brown’s letter said. “This fall, we will take a giant step in that direction.”