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UMass Lowell Scales Back Fall 2020 Return to Campus

By Jacquie Moloney

In the weeks since we announced our plans for the fall semester, the spread of COVID-19 has increased in New England, surged in many regions around the country and, most importantly, risen in some of the communities where our students live. 

Given these infection trends, the tightening of restrictions in our state, and the advice of elected leaders and public health experts, UMass Lowell will scale back and minimize our on-campus presence for students and employees for Fall 2020 after:

  • Seeing cases of COVID-19 rise in Massachusetts and surge in many regions across the country;
  • Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced that the state will pause its reopening and tighten some restrictions based on his concerns over the increasing rate of infections; 
  • Hearing the concerns raised by many of you and your union representatives about our plans to open up our campus more broadly in the coming weeks;
  • Seeking the advice from the UMass President’s Office and our colleagues across the UMass System including the medical experts at UMass Medical School; and
  • Seeing more and more universities moving to virtual education.

This was a difficult decision. As recently as late last week, we remained optimistic we could keep moving toward a larger on-campus experience and I know this change is a disappointment for some of you. However, the health and safety of our university community members are our top priorities and must always the tip the balance we sought between normalcy and risk mitigation. 

As has been the case during the summer, only those courses that must be taught in person, such as labs and studio classes, will continue on campus with most others moving to a fully virtual mode. Further, only students who have to be physically on campus to progress in their education or have extenuating circumstances will be able to take in-person classes or live in the residence halls. 

All residential students will live on East Campus in single rooms and will still be tested weekly for COVID-19. Select cohorts of commuter students and faculty and staff who frequently interact with others on campus also will be tested weekly. 

Facilities that need to accommodate classes will be open and limited transportation services will be available. Library resources and most student support services will be offered virtually. 

Socially distanced research activities that have resumed on campus in recent weeks may continue under existing rules and scheduling guidelines. 

I know this decision may seem sudden, but the ever-changing reality of COVID-19 in our society has been an ever-present counterweight to our plans and calculations since last spring. We have been relentlessly planning to find ways to make everything go right for 16 consecutive weeks and while I sincerely believe we had an excellent chance of success, it is out of an abundance of caution that we believe we can’t take that risk. 

The planning we have developed for a return to campus during the COVID-19 era is likely to remain relevant as we head into a Spring semester that hopefully coincides with vaccinations and more effective disease treatments. 

Additional announcements in the days ahead from me, senior university leaders and your managers will provide further details about our next steps. We are in the process of updating the Fall Plan, so please continue to check the UML website. We still have a UMass Lowell education to provide, knowledge to share and discover, and communities that depend on our efforts to reach their goals. We have a challenging semester ahead, but our history clearly demonstrates that our ability to achieve in the face of obstacles has long been at the core of the people who together are UMass Lowell. 

Thank you for all you do for our students, and for each other. I look forward to the day when we can all be together again, in person, safely.