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 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 many of you. However, the health and safety of our university community members are our top priorities and must always 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.
What is not changing is the high-quality education UMass Lowell continues to provide. While we only had seven days to move courses online in the spring, faculty have been working hard for months to create a much stronger and engaging online educational experience. I’m very proud of what we were able to do in so short a time in March, but I want to be clear that virtual instruction this fall will be greatly enhanced by the time we have had to prepare and all we have learned in the last five months.
We plan tomorrow to send additional information on your courses, including when schedule updates will be posted in SiS. Residence Life will reach out with more details to students who were planning to live on campus, and we will begin issuing financial adjustments for any prepaid housing, meal plan or parking costs. A petition process for students who feel they need to live on campus will also be communicated to you later today, with decisions expected to be made this week. We are in the process of updating the Fall Plan and the Return to School Guide, so please continue to check the UML website.
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 which 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.
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.
We remain in the midst of one of the most widespread and challenging periods in history. But we will get through it. And UMass Lowell is committed to helping you achieve your educational goals so that when we reach the other side of this pandemic, you are ready to accelerate your career and keep moving forward.
I look forward to the day when we can all be together, in person, safely.