March 12, 2021
My spring letter to you has a focus very different from that of previous letters. We are en route to successfully concluding an academic year that has been exceptionally difficult for everyone in our community. COVID-19 has presented unique challenges for all of us, at work and at home. I found it painful to reach the anniversary of our campus closing on March 10, 2020, and reflect on all that has transpired at Boston University, and more broadly on the heartbreaking losses and suffering that have occurred in our city, across the country, and around the globe. My spirits are buoyed by the creativity, adaptiveness, and sheer hard work that our faculty and staff have put into navigating through the uncharted and turbulent waters of a global pandemic.
As we head into the second half of the spring semester, we are successfully operating as a residential campus with research, teaching and learning, and cocurricular engagement all taking place at higher levels than we might have hoped for. Our public health protocols have contained the virus on our campuses, even as the more transmissible UK variant (B.1.1.7) has been detected in our community through our comprehensive testing regimen. We have advanced the education of thousands of students both on campus and remotely, while sustaining critical momentum in research and clinical services.
As you know, COVID-19 vaccinations are now being administered. Because the state changed its approach, we are not being resupplied with vaccine and we are currently unable to vaccinate additional members of our community. The state’s decision was disappointing, and I am frustrated at the slow tempo of vaccinations. But I remain optimistic that supply bottlenecks will be overcome and that the vaccine will be more widely available, with the effect that we can be hopeful that the disease will be forced into retreat.
For the near term, our judgment is that we should not alter our plans for campus operations for either this spring or summer. Although CDC guidance indicates that vaccinated individuals can enjoy more freedom of movement, forgo being quarantined when they experience a close contact with an infected individual, and can also forgo mask wearing and social distancing in small settings, we are maintaining the same public health protocols for everyone on our campuses that we have employed all year, including community testing and daily health screening. We are doing this out of an abundance of caution until we know definitively the potential for viral transmission by vaccinated individuals who may become infected but who are otherwise asymptomatic.
Planning for the summer and fall
As of this writing, we will continue to maintain our current Back2BU protocols for the summer semester. And we will maintain the Learn from Anywhere dual teaching modality for all summer semester classes.
Our hope is that our operations next fall will look very different and will be a big step on the path back to normalcy. We are assuming that by the fall everyone who wishes to be vaccinated (students, staff, and faculty) either will have been before arriving on campus or can be soon after arrival. We also assume that widespread vaccinations will lead to diminished presence of the disease worldwide and allow for the resumption of international travel and the more routine issuance of student visas so that our international students may return. Widespread vaccination and the accompanying diminishing presence of the COVID virus should allow a full return to in-person learning in our classrooms, studios, and laboratories without the social distancing protocols that have been in place since last September.
We do not plan to continue to offer our classes in the Learn from Anywhere (LfA) format except for some very specific graduate programs; these will be announced in the coming weeks. Consequently, we do not plan on offering workplace adjustments to faculty and staff for the fall semester.
As more typical campus life resumes, we are mindful that COVID-19 will not have been eradicated. We will continue to be vigilant, recognizing the potential for new variants of the virus to reduce the efficacy of vaccines. Because of this possibility, we plan to continue our community testing program at some level. The details of this program and other public health protocols that may be needed will be announced during the summer as we get closer to the fall and we learn more about the evolution of COVID-19.
One question that is frequently asked is whether we will require vaccination for those in our on-campus community. It is too early to answer that question, but it is going to be important that we know who has been vaccinated so that we have the potential to adjust our health protocols for these individuals. Surveys that will ask for this information are being developed.
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. Our hope is that next fall we will take a giant step in that direction. Thank you for your continuing resilience and commitment during these unprecedented times.
Robert A. Brown