Office of the President
Subject: Spring Semester Information – A Message from President Clark
Dear faculty, librarians and staff,
Happy New Year! At this moment of hope and new beginnings, all of us at BSU are eagerly awaiting the start of Spring semester classes on January 27. As I have said so many times before, I am very proud of our BSU faculty, librarians and staff. In the midst of one of the most difficult periods in history, you did what needed to be done to ensure the continuity of our noble mission. There has been no shortage of challenges to be sure, and I know how much stress the pandemic has caused for everyone, but as a result of your efforts and dedication, BSU was able to complete the Fall 2020 semester without interruption.
As we turn the page to a new semester, there is a tremendous amount of activity across the university. For that reason, I will host an all-employee Town Meeting on Thursday, February 4, at 3 pm so that I can update you on a range of critical issues impacting the future of the university. In the meantime, and since I communicated our Spring plans with you at the end of October, there have been some key changes that I wanted to bring to your attention today. These changes were made in response to input from members of the BSU community about how we could improve the learning experience this upcoming semester and further enhance the health and safety of our campus community. Below are a few important updates:
In prioritizing the health and safety of our campus community, we are announcing the extension of telecommuting work plans for the duration of the Spring semester. Vice President of Human Resources and Talent Management Keri Powers will shortly be in touch with you regarding additional details about telecommuting as well as strategies to maintain the health, safety and wellbeing of our employees.
As we previously announced for the Spring, most classes at BSU will be held remotely, while science labs, studio and performing arts, and selected seminar and capstone courses will blend online and in-person instruction. For this semester, however, we have significantly increased the number of synchronous classes that more closely replicate an in-person classroom experience to about 80 percent of all online classes. We are committed to delivering the courses in the modality, either asynchronous or synchronous, identified at the time of registration, throughout the semester.
In response to student suggestions, BSU is also expanding the hours at Maxwell Library, which will now be open Monday-Thursday from 8:00 A.M. to 6:00 P.M. and Friday from 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
We know that the pandemic is continuing to impose severe financial strains on many of our students and their families. For that reason, BSU disbursed approximately $4.5 million in emergency support to students impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Thanks to new funding from a second round of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and strong support from donors, I am pleased to announce that BSU will increase student emergency funding by 35% by allocating $6 million in new COVID-19 related student emergency funds and student support this calendar year.
More than 700 students participated in our end-of-semester survey. One result was clear: 75% of students indicated they have not used campus supports available to them. BSU offers a wealth of academic, financial, wellness and mental health services, and we are working hard to increase awareness of these resources, especially at a time when most students are away from campus.
We know from the survey and conversations with students that the pandemic has created high levels of anxiety and stress. BSU has a wide range of mental health and counseling services available to students. Last semester, the Wellness Center launched Together All, a virtual peer-to-peer mental and wellbeing support service, and WellTrack, a self-guided and interactive tool for helping students understand their feelings of stress, anxiety and/or depression and teach them techniques to minimize these feelings. Let us do everything we can as a caring community to ensure students are aware of these resources.
Approximately 1,200 students are planning to live on campus this semester, similar to the number of students who were residing in our residence halls at the close of the Fall 2020 semester. The residence halls will officially open for move-in beginning on Saturday, January 23, and continuing through Tuesday, January 26. Residence Life and Housing is ready to welcome back to campus any students who either deferred their housing deposit until Spring 2021 or did not deposit for housing because of concerns pertaining to the pandemic.
Following student input from the Student Government Association, the Residence Halls Association and an ad hoc student dining planning committee, Bridgewater Dining will provide services in the Bear’s Den and East Campus Commons based on current service schedules for the entirety of the Spring semester 2021. Starbucks will remain open in Crimson Dining. In addition to the very popular Bear Bites food truck, which was launched towards the end of the Fall semester, BSU will be the first college in New England to offer a new robot food delivery option beginning next week.
BSU is working with student organizations to offer a variety of student programs. As a result of ongoing public health restrictions, the university will continue to emphasize virtual programming with limited, on-campus, in-person meetings/events. Strict physical distancing and state gathering guidelines currently limit the size of any indoor gatherings to a maximum of 10 persons and outdoor gatherings to 25 persons. Further, BSU will be unable to permit any off-campus organizations from holding events on campus until further notice.
BSU has adopted a four-phase plan based on state guidelines for expanding on-campus, in-person events and will continue to keep student organizations and the campus informed as state guidelines evolve.
COVID-19 Testing & Contact Tracing
BSU will provide enhanced surveillance testing through its partnership with the Broad Institute of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology throughout the Spring semester under guidance of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
BSU has significantly increased the number of COVID-19 tests we will provide to the campus community this semester. All residential students will be tested at the time they move into their residence hall and will be tested every week thereafter. All students coming to campus for classes or to use campus resources are being strongly encouraged to test at least every other week. All residential students and students taking in-person classes will be regularly invited to testing appointments. All asymptomatic employees of BSU are also eligible to voluntarily participate in testing. There is no cost for testing for members of the BSU community.
Last semester, BSU administered 18,842 tests (with only 177 positives, a positive rate of 0.94%), and plans to administer approximately 22,000 tests in the Spring of 2021. COVID-19 testing results are published weekly on Thursday and viewable at the COVID Dashboard.
Our Broad Institute partnership has been very successful, and the rapid turnaround of test results within 24 hours or less has allowed BSU to react quickly in isolating students with a positive result and quarantining any potentially affected members of the BSU community.
BSU implemented a very robust contact tracing process in the Fall semester, which proved effective in identifying and rapidly quarantining students and other members of the BSU community who came in contact with persons who tested positive. We strongly encourage all members of the BSU community to utilize SafeScan on the BSU Mobile App. QR codes have been generated for approximately 500 locations across campus. These codes can be scanned through the BSU Mobile App; the more frequently students and other members of the community scan, the more impactful our contact tracing will be.
Looking Ahead to the Fall 2021 Semester
As a result of the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, I am very optimistic that Massachusetts will get control of the COVID-19 virus this year. Subject to state guidelines, BSU is planning to return to delivering courses primarily in-person starting with the Fall 2021 semester. In pursuing the goal of having the majority of our on-campus experiences returning in the Fall, BSU remains steadfast in its commitment to ensuring the health and safety of all members of its campus community. Importantly, BSU will continue to monitor public health guidance at the state and federal levels through its Fall return planning effort.
We are reconvening the BSU Safe Return Task Force, under the leadership of Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Dr. Karim Ismaili, to make recommendations and begin planning for the Fall semester. At this time, we anticipate BSU returning (essentially) to pre-COVID operations with some continued public health restrictions (e.g., maintaining some level of physical distancing and wearing masks in public).
We will update the campus in regard to our planning efforts throughout the Spring semester. In the meantime, please continue to check the COVID-19 website for new information.
Finally, I want to again express my gratitude to you. I am moved by the work you do every day to teach and support our students and to care for each other. The strength, resilience, courage, determination and pride that our campus community has exhibited over the past year is truly inspirational. In the face of unprecedented obstacles, we are moving forward and reaching higher to be the best BSU we can be. That remarkable BSU spirit continues to motivate all of us as we say in one voice, “We’ve Got This!”
Frederick W. Clark Jr., Esq.