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COVID-19: Safe Return Task Force

Bridgewater Announces Fall 2020 Safe Return Plan

The Safe Return Task Force has released its Fall 2020 Safe Return Report. View the details and report here.
Martin Richard Statue with Mask

Responding to the COVID-19 global pandemic and its effects on the Bridgewater State University community, President Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq. launched the Safe Return Task Force on May 5, 2020. Led by Provost Karim Ismaili, the Task Force was charged with planning and coordinating the safe return of students, faculty, librarians and staff to campus in fall 2020.

While the Safe Return Task Force met weekly from May 13 through June 18, its work was largely conducted by four subcommittees – Facilities and Logistics, Academic Continuity, Student Life and External Community Outreach. Two working groups were also developed to focus on BSUs health response and on the safe return of employees to campus. Their efforts were integral to the work of the Task Force.

At each of its meetings, the Task Force discussed developments in higher education across the nation and the most up-to-date guidance provided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In addition to weekly Task Force meetings, Provost Ismaili met separately with the subcommittee chairs and working group coordinators each week for updates and to ensure appropriate information sharing.

More than a hundred individuals at the university were officially engaged in this work, with many others consulted along the way.

The Task Force also developed a survey that received more than 1,700 responses from students, staff, faculty and librarians, which helped to shape the implementation of campus planning. One major concern of note: balancing the need for safety without compromising BSU’s welcoming environment.

For the fall 2020 semester, as the remainder of this report will detail, Bridgewater State University will be delivering most of its classes online, while science labs, studio and performing arts, and selected seminar and capstone courses will blend online and in-person instruction. All residence halls will be open and the university will offer housing to all students who have made their residence hall deposit.

Six key planning assumptions guided the work of the Task Force, its subcommittees and working groups as members identified a number of issues and a series of plans to prepare the campus for the fall 2020 semester.

  1. The Task Force recognized early on that BSU would likely not have a normal start to the fall 2020 semester and that the density of the campus would need to be reduced to ensure safety. Decisions regarding more remote learning and de-densifying the campus would have implications for many aspects of campus life such as class sizes, occupancy in residence halls, navigating campus, the delivery of food and other services, as well as student activities and extracurricular learning experiences.
  2. Decisions for any possible delay to the start of the fall semester would be based on state and public health guidance.
  3. The determination of which courses can be offered in-person would be driven first by public health and safety considerations, and second, by curricular needs.
  4. Because the university needs to be prepared for a possible surge in cases or other public health situations – such as a second wave of COVID-19 statewide or a localized outbreak – all classes for the fall semester would be delivered either fully online or blended with a combination of in-person and online learning. The university should also anticipate moving fully online at any point during the fall semester.
  5. Given a possible second wave of COVID-19 that could coincide with the onset of the traditional cold and flu season, the university will conclude in-person instruction by Thanksgiving, with all classes moving online to end the semester.
  6. Decisions must be guided by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other relevant governmental entities when applicable.

These planning assumptions focused the work of the Task Force and its subcommittees and working groups. The assumptions were shared with faculty and librarians on May 27 and with the larger campus community at the Town Hall meeting held on June 4.

Honest and candid discussions about how COVID-19 has impacted the campus community were shared among members of the Task Force, subcommittees and working groups, and those discussions reinforced that BSU is a caring community positioned to confidently rise to meet the challenge ahead. The Task Force specifically noted that the community must be sensitive to the following:

  • That the transformational aspects of the BSU experience not be lost for students, especially on how critical thinking, problem solving, and leadership skills develop both within and outside the classroom.
  • That the university take steps to ensure that staff and students do not feel isolated from the university, and that mental health resources are available.
  • That BSU ensures that it does not lose sight of its commitment to equity to students, faculty, librarians and staff.

The Task Force remains confident that the campus has – and will continue – to work through these challenges with care and compassion.

In the course of the Task Force’s discussions and subcommittee work, a set of guiding principles emerged to inform the work of the university as it reopens during the summer with an eye toward the start of the fall 2020 semester.

  • Prioritize safety above all else.
  • Ensure that science and data guide university decisions.
  • Recognize that planning at BSU must be aligned with evolving state and federal guidance.
  • Prioritize a high-quality educational experience and protect student progression while maintaining academic standards.
  • Emphasize mutual accountability and collective responsibility for the wellbeing of one another as being essential to successfully navigating the challenges before us.
  • Encourage creativity, flexibility and adaptability during this time of uncertainty.
  • Provide effective and frequent communication, which is essential to a successful safe fall return.
  • Consider the financial constraints and impacts of recommendations and decisions.
  • Emphasize the need for the university to continue to work cross-divisionally to achieve the best possible outcomes.

As mentioned earlier, the Task Force was comprised of four subcommittees and two working groups. Guided by the assumptions and principles noted above, the reports produced by the subcommittees and working groups present recommendations and examples of work underway to ensure a safe fall return.

The beginning of much of this work was organized as early as late-February under the auspices of the original COVID-19 Planning and Response Team, which continues to meet frequently and will be fully reactivated to implement the recommendations of the Task Force now that its work is complete.

  • Karim Ismaili, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs (Task Force Chair)
  • Janet Cartwright, BSU Campus Unit I Steward, AFSCME
  • Jeanean Davis-Street, Dean, Ricciardi College of Business
  • Sherry Dray, Project Manager, President’s Office
  • Chris Frazer, Executive Director, Wellness Center
  • Mary Grant, Senior Administrative Fellow for Civics and Social Justice
  • Maria Hegbloom, BSU Chapter President, MSCA
  • Karen Jason, Vice President for Operations 
  • Paul Jean, Vice President for Marketing and Communications
  • Cindy Kane, Special Assistant to the Provost for Strategic Initiatives
  • Deniz Leuenberger, Chief of Staff and Vice President for Planning and Strategy
  • Brenda Molife, Vice President for Outreach and Engagement
  • Joe Oravecz, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management
  • Keri Powers, Vice President for Human Resources and Talent Management
  • Anna Rice, President, Student Government Association (SGA)
  • Libby Sergey, President, Graduate Professional Student Association (GPSA)
  • Mike Storey, BSU Chapter President, APA
  • Doug Shropshire, Vice President for Finance
  • Michael Young, Senior Associate Provost and Chief Data Officer
  • Steve Zuromski, Acting Vice President for Information Technology and Chief Information Officer
  • Karen Jason, Vice President for Operations (Chair, Facilities and Logistics Subcommittee)
  • Brenda Molife, Vice President for Outreach and Engagement (Chair, External Community Outreach Subcommittee)
  • Joe Oravecz, Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management (Chair, Student Affairs and Residence Life Subcommittee)
  • Michael Young, Senior Associate Provost and Chief Data Officer (Chair, Academic Continuity Subcommittee)


May 13: Task Force Meeting

May 20: Task Force Meeting

May 21: Update to Campus Community

May 27: Task Force Meeting

May 28: Update to Campus Community


June 3: Task Force Meeting

June 4: Update to Campus Community

June 10: Task Force Meeting

June 11: Update to Campus Community

June 17: Final Task Force Meeting

June 18: Update to Campus Community