June 9, 2020
Dear Boston University Students and Families,
I hope this email finds you and your family safe and well during these unsettling times. I am writing to welcome you to the Boston University academic family and the College of General Studies. At Boston University, one of the leading private universities in the world, we are focused on providing an exceptional undergraduate education for all our students, whether they are enrolled in professional schools or our programs in the liberal arts and sciences. We do this at our very special residential campus nestled along the south bank of the Charles River in Boston. The campus offers a vibrant atmosphere for academic and cocurricular engagement in a great global urban center.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty for all of us; the uncertainty is especially pronounced for students (and their parents) as you make your plans to join our community in January. While you will begin in January 2021, we thought you would want to know how our planning is shaping up for the fall and the coming year at Boston University. As you may know, we have been teaching only remotely during the summer as an unavoidable consequence of the pandemic. But we have been working nonstop to develop a comprehensive plan to repopulate our residential campus and return to in-person teaching and learning beginning this fall. This is our focused goal; I want to share our progress with you.
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has announced its four-phase plan for reopening, and we can begin to talk about our phased repopulating of our campuses. The details of the four phases for Boston University are described at the end of this letter. I want to begin with phase 3—when we restore residential life and in-person learning to start classes for the fall semester. This process will begin the deliberate return of our undergraduate and graduate students, as well as faculty and staff, to the campus under very prescriptive public health and safety protocols designed to make our residential and classroom environments as safe as possible while COVID-19 is still in our midst.
Boston University will be a very different campus this coming academic year. First and foremost, we will use physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), viral testing, and contact tracing to help prevent the spread of the virus. We are redesigning life in our residence halls, classrooms, laboratories, and studios to take into account all applicable health and safety protocols. Students will be living in newly defined, smaller residential communities; they will dine and engage in activities outside the classroom in accordance with public health requirements for physical distancing and wearing of PPE.
Equally as important, we will give you flexibility and choice in deciding how to balance the desire for a residential experience with concerns you (and your parents) may have about exposure to COVID-19. Perhaps the most important element in this regard is our plan to teach most of our classes in a new simultaneous in-person and remote mode which we call Learn from Anywhere (LfA). LfA is a blended modality for remote and/or in-person learning for Boston University residential students attending an undergraduate or graduate program of study. This new modality will enable students to participate in the classroom or engage remotely whenever necessary.
Why is LfA important to you?
LfA will give our students the option to either be in the classroom in-person or participate remotely from a dorm room or off-campus home. Students may exercise the remote option for a period of time or for the entire semester. The decision to learn remotely may be driven by a travel restriction or illness that is temporary or simply by a student’s desire to continue strict social distancing. No matter the case, LfA will give you the flexibility you need to begin your studies toward a degree. It will also give your professors a way to manage and limit the number of students in classroom and laboratory spaces at any one time.
We are outfitting the majority of our classrooms with the technology for these simultaneous learning modalities, and we have already announced over 120 graduate professional programs that will be offered this way in the fall.
We have recently announced that LfA will be available for almost all of our undergraduate programs as well. We believe this teaching and learning system will give students the flexibility they need to succeed.
Significant changes will be implemented outside the classroom too. For instance, we have just announced that we are working to establish a COVID-19 testing facility at Boston University based on the best available methodology, the PCR-based detection of the genetic material of the COVID-19 virus. This new facility will enable us to test for cases of COVID-19 among our students, faculty, and staff; to conduct contact tracing for identified cases; and to provide the ability to isolate known or suspected cases in special housing. More announcements about testing and contact tracing protocols will be forthcoming.
With the introduction of LfA, COVID-19 testing, reconfigured residential life, and the implementation of other public health and safety protocols, we are developing a picture of how we will bring students, staff, and faculty back to campus and how we will live, teach, and learn beginning in the fall. Campus life will be different than before. The unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 has caused us to pivot and rethink almost every aspect of our academic community and the operation of the University. We are well on our way to creating a campus environment where you can study and learn with our faculty and staff in as safe an environment as possible.
We will communicate with you about the exact timing in August for the opening of our residential campus. Our goal continues to be to provide as safe and healthy a campus as possible for all members of our community and a world-class learning environment for advancing your educational objectives.
Boston University will be up and running for the 2020–2021 academic year. I look forward to welcoming you to campus in January. Please stay safe and well.
Robert A. Brown
Boston University Four-Phase Plan
Here are the elements of the Boston University four-phase plan as it stands today. Of course, these plans may change as information about the virus and public health strategies continues to evolve.
Phase 1 (which began on May 25): Gradually resume research and clinical services in strict accordance with public health guidelines. Most faculty and staff will continue to work remotely, and the only residential students on campus will be those who cannot go home. The processes involved in Phase 1 are described in the document BACK TO ON-CAMPUS WORK.
Phase 2 (planned to begin by July): The return to campus of very specific student cohorts, such as first-year medical and dental students, with very limited classroom instruction. Additional staff and faculty who are actively involved in these programs will begin to come back to campus, also under strict public health guidelines.
Phase 3 (planned for throughout August): Repopulating our residential campus and preparing for classes in the fall, as described in this letter.
Phase 4 (in the fall): Begin classroom teaching, research, and other residential community activities, all substantially reshaped by COVID-19 public health and safety protocols.