Looking Ahead

May 8, 2020

Dear Colleagues,

It has been several weeks since I last wrote to you to update you on the status of the University’s planning for recovering our residential campus and the impact that the pandemic may have on our finances. Since then, our students have completed their classes in remote mode and are finishing up their final exams. I want to thank our faculty and instructional and support staff again for the extraordinary effort required to move all our teaching to the remote format and on the successful completion of the semester. The COVID-19 pandemic has called for extraordinary efforts from many members of the Boston University community and you have delivered.

As I described in my letter of April 17, our recovery effort is being led by a single task force and informed by public and occupational health experts as well as our academic and residential life leadership. I want to ensure that the planning process is well-informed and sensitive to the very different needs and concerns of our community. The group is working well and moving sequentially through the important decisions that must be made to establish the process for reopening our campuses, while maintaining the flexibility we will need to adapt to changing public health concerns and requirements.

Perhaps the single most important message I want to share today is that the return to campus work and life will be a gradual and phased-in effort undertaken with your health and safety uppermost in mind. We will not “flick a switch” and restart the campus in a compressed period of time. Nor do we expect, or want, the likely modification of the commonwealth’s stay-at-home advisory in the upcoming weeks to be interpreted as indicating an immediate return to normal operations.

For the foreseeable future, our guiding principles for on-campus activity will be:

  • Essential personnel should continue to report to campus based on their work assignment and those public health and safety protocols that are in place.
  • Clinical and research activities will be among the first on-campus activities to resume, but only in incremental steps consistent with public health and safety guidelines. More on that later in this note.
  • Keeping the density of people on the campus low remains a high priority, and, to that end, remote teaching and working will continue into the summer. Non-essential employees should not be asked to return to campus except in limited circumstances and under a phased-in plan that will need to be approved by the leadership of the recovery task force and informed by our health and safety experts.
  • A fall 2020 return to a residential campus operation is the goal; all planning efforts to that end are being made in consultation with the Medical Advisory Group that has been established by the University.
  • Decisions made by the University affecting faculty, staff, and students will be communicated and explained in a timely fashion.

I wish I could tell you how the principles listed above will be applied in upcoming weeks, but there is too much uncertainty and planning ahead. Instead of all the answers, what we have today is a work-in-progress that is our evolving design for thoughtfully and carefully charting a course to restart campus life and ensure a safe and successful fall semester.

The vision for the fall semester is slowly coming into focus. For example, we have already announced plans to offer a large number of our professional and graduate programs through a hybrid/simultaneous model that allows for in-person and remote learning. Our Office of Research has released a detailed plan for the safe and gradual resumption of clinical and research activities and provided our research community with a comprehensive research recovery toolkit.

There is more to come. Plans for the ways in which we will offer our undergraduate teaching programs, student housing, and dining are nearing completion. We are preparing a “Back to On-Campus Work” guidebook for faculty and staff, and our environmental health, safety, and facilities teams have already begun to assess how workspaces will be adapted to ensure proper physical distancing and other health and safety protocols. This guidebook will be available next week.

We believe ample testing and contact tracing for COVID-19 will be important components of our “return” plan for the fall, and we are actively planning how best to implement these protocols. While there are many pieces of our plans, they share a common foundation: they have been or will be shaped by public health considerations and will be implemented in ways that keep our community healthy and safe.

I also expect to report to you in the upcoming weeks about the financial consequences of the pandemic on Boston University. In my April 17 letter, I said that we would provide an update once we had clearer information about likely fall enrollment numbers and the costs and revenue loss associated with COVID-19, likely in early June. My hope is to be able to report to you sooner than that. No one likes the uncertainty of not knowing how the pandemic will affect our revenue, the budget, and very importantly, our jobs.

Today I can share with you some good news. Recruiting for our undergraduate classes for fall 2020 and January 2021 is essentially complete, and we have exceeded our targets for deposits in both cohorts. The value of a Boston University residential education is as strong as ever, and students have placed deposits to enroll next fall. We must create a safe and welcoming environment for all our students who will join our campus this fall. No goal is more important.

As we continue to project how the fall and spring will unfold, we are moving quickly to put realistic finance and budget assumptions in place. Once that is done, we will share what that is likely to mean for all of us.

These have been remarkable times—both in the tragedy and sadness of what we have all seen, as well as the ways in which members of our own community have surmounted challenges that were unimaginable just a few months ago. We often talk about Boston University being responsive and nimble and entrepreneurial despite our size, and the past several months have been a master class in that regard. It is my privilege to be part of a community that has demonstrated its resilience, creativity, and, most of all, an unwavering commitment to our students and the pursuit of scholarship and knowledge. I know that many of your lives have been upended because of the pandemic, and I want to thank you for what you continue to do for Boston University. The campus may be shuttered, but the energy and resolve of the BU community is alive and well. That is why we are going to be just fine on the other side of this dark and unsettling divide.

If ever there was a time when we are all in this together, it is now. As a matter of respect and common purpose, it is incumbent on us to share our thinking and decision-making with you, and for you to share your experiences and advice with us.

Please stay safe and well.


Robert A. Brown signature
Robert A. Brown