Office of the President
Subject: COVID-19: Safe Return Update and Student Fees – A Message from President Clark
Dear BSU Community,
As I stated in my communication last week, I am deeply grateful for all the work our campus accomplished in getting our students to the finish line this semester. Many of our graduating students visited campus on what would have been their commencement on Saturday. I had the opportunity to share some smiles and laughs with them (all with proper social distancing of course) and was inspired by their BSU stories, which spoke to the extraordinary community we have here.
As challenging as the spring semester has been, our work is far from complete as we shift our focus to the safe return of our BSU community – students, faculty and staff – to campus.
Massachusetts Economic Reopening
This week, Massachusetts took its first tentative steps towards reopening the state economy when Governor Baker released the Reopening Advisory Board report. The report adopts a data-driven, four-phase approach beginning this week and next and is based upon the public health risk and the economic benefit of reopening each of the closed sectors.
The report only briefly addressed higher education by authorizing the “repopulation” of limited areas in Phase I, including research laboratories, medical, dental, veterinary and allied health clinical education and services, and restart functions necessary to prepare campuses to repopulate in the fall. We anticipate the state releasing higher education-specific guidelines next week, which will assist our planning moving forward. Within the parameters set by the state guidelines, each institution, including BSU, will develop its own plans for course delivery and residence life in the fall semester and for the return to campus of its workforce.
BSU Safe Return Task Force
BSU’s planning for the safe return of students and employees to campus is well underway. Two weeks ago I announced the formation of the Safe Return Task Force led by Provost Karim Ismaili. The Task Force and its four subcommittees – Academic Continuity, Student Life, Facilities and Logistics, and External Community Outreach – have identified several possible scenarios and are actively developing plans for each contingency.
The four subcommittees have been tasked with submitting their recommendations to the Safe Return Task Force by June 3. The Task Force is expected to complete its review of these recommendations one week later and submit a final report to me by June 18. The university will announce its fall semester plans by July 1.
This work is highly complex, and these are aggressive timelines, but it is critical that we make definitive plans within the next six weeks so our community has sufficient time to prepare for the fall semester. While conditions are constantly evolving, academic offerings will almost assuredly involve a combination of in-person and remote learning in order to minimize the density and enhance the safety of the on-campus population. While we are planning to be on campus come the fall, next semester will be very different than prior openings.
In order to share information with the BSU campus community, the Safe Return Task Force has developed a webpage where we will post information on an ongoing basis, similar to BSU’s COVID-19 webpage.
I also am extending the telecommuting option offered to employees from June 1, 2020 to June 15, 2020. This two-week extension will minimize the number of staff on campus, reducing the possible transmission of the virus, and afford the university additional time to plan for a gradual, safe and effective reentry of its workforce, consistent with the state’s mandatory workplace safety standards and higher education sector protocol. BSU will deploy best practices related to social distancing, hygiene, face coverings, staffing density, classroom and office configurations and cleaning and disinfecting strategies. The safety of our employees and students will be the overarching consideration for the university as we approach the issue of returning employees and students to campus.
As with our prior extension of the telecommuting option, managers and supervisors should begin reviewing their employees’ workplans to ensure the plans are continuous in their description of employee job responsibilities and provide adequate work until June 15, 2020. If a workplan should be amended to include additional projects or job responsibilities, please update the workplan previously completed and send the updated version to firstname.lastname@example.org. If the workplan is continuous, accurately reflects the work being performed remotely, and provides adequate work until June 15, 2020, no additional action is required. Any employee requiring a continuation of an established accommodation to perform the essential functions of their position remotely should contact the Office of Equal Opportunity.
Essential employees who currently report to campus to perform their job responsibilities should continue to do so unless otherwise directed by their manager or supervisor.
Further updates regarding the gradual, safe return of employees to campus will be communicated within the next two weeks.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created a serious financial strain for our students, as demand on our BSU Student Emergency Fund attests. In order to assist students in continuing or starting their college careers, BSU will not increase student fees in the 2020-2021 academic year. Student refunds of unused residence, dining and parking services and the costs of transitioning to online teaching, learning and working in the spring imposed a heavy financial burden on the university. The next fiscal year will be one of the most challenging in our history, however, BSU’s responsible stewardship of resources and focused efforts to enhance enrollments in the summer months and the fall – coupled with federal stimulus funding – places us in a sufficiently stable and strong position to be able to keep costs flat for our students for the upcoming academic year.
BSU has already awarded $750,000 from our Student Emergency Fund to assist more than a thousand students (and counting) who have suffered job and income losses as well as other impacts of the pandemic. We are hopeful that this decision to freeze fees will help to relieve some of the economic pressure on our students and their families.
Once again, I thank you for your dedication to BSU and our students. Please join me for an all employee Town Meeting on June 4th at 2 p.m. where we will provide further updates in regard to enrollment, retention, university budget, capital projects and our progress in strategizing for the fall. I will continue to keep the campus informed as decisions emerge from this period of intensive information gathering, analysis and planning.
Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq.