Protecting our community and each other

August 28, 2020

Dear Friends,

The fall semester is about to start. Our residential students have been moving to campus over the last two weeks, and all will be here by the end of the coming weekend. You can feel the energy returning as we resume living and learning on campus. As students return or join us for the first time, they are entering a new and different environment.

We have used many of our unique capabilities as a leading research university to design and implement our response to COVID-19:

  • The scientific expertise from epidemiologists, biostatisticians, and infectious disease doctors
  • A detailed model of the spread of the disease within Boston University, developed by data scientists in the Hariri Institute
  • The expertise of our Biomedical Engineering faculty to design and build our testing capability
  • The effort of countless staff from across the University, who have worked against the clock to upgrade ventilation and information technology in classrooms; rethink dining and housing operations; create new information systems; design, build, and manage our testing sample collection facilities; procure the supplies for thousands of tests per day—to name just a few of the critical projects
  • The work of Student Health Services and Occupational Health to redesign our health services for students, faculty, and staff as the heart of our COVID-19 response
  • And finally, the efforts of our faculty and graduate assistants to implement the LfA teaching format, to give our students the choice of being in-person or remote

None of this would have been possible without our highly talented and dedicated faculty and staff. We have developed one of the most comprehensive programs in the country for monitoring and controlling the spread of COVID-19 with an in-house testing system capable of analyzing a large number of samples on a daily basis with a rapid turnaround time.

The changes brought by the presence of COVID-19 are readily evident all over campus. The most important change—one that is less physically evident but absolutely critical—is in what each of us does to ensure we succeed in protecting our community and each other.

We share a great responsibility for the health of the Boston University community.

To keep the virus at bay, we all must do the following three things:

  1. We must adhere to the testing and daily symptom reporting processes. Each test not taken, each attestation not filed or submitted with inaccurate responses, is a hole in the net we have built to catch the disease before it spreads. Each hole leaves us needlessly vulnerable.
  2. We must adhere to the protocols for face coverings and physical distancing at all gatherings, both on and off campus.
  3. We must use good judgment about our actions outside the University. Attending parties or other gatherings without practicing physical distancing and wearing face coverings is behavior that endangers the entire academic community and threatens our ability to maintain our in-person learning and residential community. We are working closely with our students to promote their compliance.

We have all read of the failures at the University of North Carolina and Notre Dame last week. Our testing protocols are far more extensive than the protocols in place at these two universities and those at most other institutions. At both institutions, the starting points for the spread of COVID-19 were off-campus parties that are typically associated with the start of the fall semester on or near a college campus. Minimizing such events is critical and a major focus of our compliance efforts.

I want to especially recognize those of you who will be working and teaching on campus this fall. I know the fall semester brings extra challenges and anxiety. You will be on campus, as will I, and I can promise that we will begin and end every day by asking, how are the health and safety of those people who were on campus today? Providing a world-class residential education and best-in-class public health and safety are not mutually exclusive. In fact, done well, they make each other possible in this COVID-19 world.

At no time in the history of the University has our ability to fulfill our missions of teaching and research been so dependent on the collective actions of each and every member of our community. Our processes and protocols are in place. We are beginning to live in the new normal that will continue until an effective vaccine is widely available. Together, we can show how a well-developed plan, based on science and implemented by a focused academic community, can overcome COVID-19 and reestablish the living and learning community that defines Boston University.


Robert A. Brown signature
Robert A. Brown