Special Campus Memo: Planning Considerations for Academic Year 2020-21 Classes

June 01, 2020

Dear Grinnellians,

With the close of the 2019-20 academic year and the start of summer, we know many of you are wondering about the next academic year. Like you, we are eager to prepare for what Grinnell's fall term might look and feel like in these exceptional times.

Throughout the spring, members of our College community have been carefully considering how we can meet the ongoing challenges of living and learning at Grinnell in a world dramatically changed by the coronavirus. We have pursued creative approaches to the situation we face and carefully examined public health recommendations and guidelines as well as the actions of other colleges and universities across the country for lessons to be learned, while remaining focused on our academic mission and the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community.

We cannot expect a traditional academic year in 2020-21 as we build an academic experience within a public health framework. It will be a year of change and adaptation as we seek to manage the number of students, faculty, and staff on campus at a given time and to create as safe a campus environment as possible. We know that no matter how carefully we plan, we must be prepared to exercise flexibility and agility.

We are writing today to share our planning framework for the 2020-21 academic year, built on a public health foundation, and using the best tools, knowledge, and guidance we have available to us. This framework has been shared with the Board of Trustees executive committee, and will be shared for discussion with the full Board later this week. Pending the endorsement of specifics by Executive Council, and review by the president and trustees, this framework will guide our planning process throughout the summer and into the fall as more information becomes available. In sharing this framework with you today, we are committing to provide you with regular detailed updates on the path forward.

We recognize that any decisions for the fall will present challenges. Members of our community, whether from Grinnell or elsewhere across the state, country, or world, find themselves amid different circumstances and with different hopes and expectations for the fall. We cannot yet determine every detail, but we do know that Grinnellians are resourceful and resilient - that, indeed, it is a Grinnell education itself that furnishes us with the ingenuity and determination to continue to learn and be a community under these extraordinary circumstances. No matter what develops, we maintain our commitment to providing the very best educational opportunities possible for our students.

Our Guiding Principles

The Recovery, Stewardship, and Renaissance Steering Committee (RS)2 formed as part of Grinnell's pandemic response has been working to develop recommendations for forward-looking policy and financial considerations. Working with partners from across campus, the (RS)2 committee has organized its response and planning into five primary areas:

  • Curriculum Planning, working to ensure that all students have the same opportunities to continue making good academic progress toward graduation, is co-led by Caleb Elfenbein (History and Religious Studies, Executive Council member) and Mark Levandoski (Chemistry, Associate Dean)  and includes members of staff, associate deans, and faculty members from the Curriculum Committee and Executive Council.
  • Health and Living, focused on providing a good residential experience and minimizing disruption for students, and protecting human resources, is co-led by Heather Cox (Associate Director of Emergency Management) and Sarah Moschenross (Associate Vice President of Student Affairs).
  • Campus Climate, working on plans to develop guidelines for faculty, staff, and students to live, learn, and work together, while promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion, is co-led by Lakesia Johnson (Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies, Assistant Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion) and Mark Peltz (Daniel and Patricia Jipp Finkelman Dean of Careers, Life, and Service).
  • Academic Program Allocations, focused on determining essential budget needs to provide quality curricular and co-curricular programming while facing the financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, is co-led by Todd Armstrong (Russian, Chair of the Faculty) and Vida Praitis (Biology, Executive Council member, incoming Chair of the Faculty) and includes staff and faculty representation from the Dean's office, accounting, the libraries, events planning, athletics, and the Institute for Global Engagement.
  • Administrative Program Allocations, focused on providing guidelines to divisions for making adjustments to operating budgets that honor the ongoing commitment to financial stewardship while addressing the increasing financial demands associated with planning for the pandemic, is co-led by Keith Archer (Vice President for Finance and Treasurer of the College) and Jaci Thiede (Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations).

All plans and decisions about our future must reflect our mission, values, and priorities, and we are committed to ensuring that they:

  • maintain academic excellence and the quality of the student experience,
  • are socially responsible, increase equity and provide access to a Grinnell education,
  • support the health, safety, and job security of our faculty and staff,
  • advance community, diversity, and inclusion,
  • continue adhering to our institutional responsibility for financial stewardship and sustainability.

Living and Learning as Grinnellians

We know that members of our community are currently experiencing the pandemic in vastly different ways because of their specific personal and family circumstances and due to different local conditions and public health requirements across the country and around the world. Given our variety of circumstances - and because of our need for continued adherence to public health guidelines without a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19 - living and learning as Grinnellians will be different next year.

Recently we shared news of a testing partnership that guarantees capacity for initial and regularized diagnostic (PCR) COVID-19 testing for students, faculty, and staff who may be on campus. This is an important measure that allows us to consider different scenarios for the fall. Three more measures are currently under review, having been brought forth for consideration in recommendations from the (RS)2 committee:

  • Next year will require some level of remote instruction, particularly for students unable to attend in-person classes for health or personal reasons. We also must protect the health and safety of the faculty and staff who support our students, and planning is ongoing for how we return to the workplace or transition to new ways of working.
  • Based on current public health guidance and available tools, we anticipate a low-density population on campus, that initially prioritizes first-year students, while being mindful of international students and other students with compelling need to be on campus. 
  • We also are considering condensed academic terms that allow us to bring students onto campus in phases. 

Additional details will be forthcoming as we continue to plan with faculty, staff, and campus partners.

It is our hope and intention that every student who can do so will have some time on campus during the academic year. We are working to ensure that the plans we make provide as equitable an education as possible and allow for us to make reasonable accommodations for our students' learning differences and needs.

In addition to participation in the testing program, community members who might be on campus will need to:

  • consistently practice physical distancing and avoid large gatherings,
  • wear masks, shields, or other face coverings regularly,
  • self-report COVID-19 symptoms,
  • isolate if they are sick or receive a positive test result,
  • quarantine if they have had close contact with someone who has tested positive. 

We also anticipate implementing travel restrictions and reporting as a part of any on-campus experience. Once on campus, students likely will be asked not to travel outside the local area. If they must travel for an emergency, they may be asked to self-isolate upon returning to campus.

While no one is eager for such steps, these measures will be critical to our ability to look out for each other and safely live and learn together next year. Ultimately, we know that we can rely upon Grinnellians' commitment to the common good to do our collective best to protect the health and safety of everyone in our community.

Our Way Forward

As colleges and universities across the country begin to announce their fall plans, we are gratified that they too are taking many of the same issues into account even as their announcements reflect their community's unique needs and circumstances - just as the framework for our path forward is shaped by Grinnell's principles and rooted in the needs of our College community.

We may not have answers to every question, and it is simply impossible to address every individual "what if ..." that may arise. However, we deeply appreciate all who took the time to participate in our faculty, staff, and parent forums, and we will be rescheduling a student forum in the very near future. We have learned a great deal from the questions and concerns you have brought forward. Please continue to share your questions and thoughts about the fall.

We send our wishes of continued health and wellbeing for you and your loved ones. We look forward to sharing more information about our plans for fall following the Board of Trustees June meeting. Even more, we look forward to the time all Grinnellians can start to come together once again.

Sincerely,

Raynard S. Kington, President
Anne F. Harris, Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College

Related News

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Nov. 23

For the week of Nov. 16, 2020, 319 unique students were tested with 319 being negative and 0 positive resulting in a 0% positivity rate. A total of 254 faculty and staff were tested with 252 being negative and 2 positives resulting in a 0.79% positivity rate.

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Nov. 16

For the week of Nov. 9, 2020, 316 unique students were tested with 316 being negative and 0 positive resulting in a 0% positivity rate. A total of 243 faculty and staff were tested with 240 being negative and 3 positives resulting in a 1.23% positivity rate.

Weekly COVID-19 Testing Clinic Update: Nov. 9

For the week of Nov. 2, 2020, 315 unique students were tested with 312 being negative and 3 positive resulting in a 0.95% positivity rate. A total of 242 faculty and staff were tested with 239 being negative and 3 positive resulting in a 1.24% positivity rate.

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