On July 30, 2020, President Mary-Beth Cooper, PhD, DM, conducted an open forum for students and parents regarding the return to campus for fall semester under COVID-19 guidelines and best practices. The following is an excerpt from that forum.

Dr. Cooper:  This is our first ever open forum with students and parents and family …  I am Zooming to you tonight from my kitchen on Alden Street.  A very quiet campus.  It’s been a quiet campus for a number of months. I can’t tell you how excited I am to welcome our community back to campus.  Living on the street all alone makes for a quiet place. I thought this would be helpful, as we sent out our planning information last week — we sent that out on July 23.  We knew it was dense.  And the COVID website is dense and there are lots of questions.  And, so, as we sent that information out, I suggested to my terrific leadership team … Why don’t we do an open forum?  Our work force is about 50 percent on campus.  We’re getting back to everyone we can as quickly as possible, but I thought this might be the most efficient way for us to go ahead and reach out to you and make it a little bit more personal….

Are we confident that Springfield College will be able to open this fall as planned?  And we are as confident as we can be today.  The circumstances around COVID are changing regularly.  I will tell you in the last four months every day brings new information.  We are closely monitoring what we’re learning from the CDC, what we’re learning from the Governor’s Office in Massachusetts.  Every morning we get information.  And our leadership team is meeting and planning.  And, again, making sure that all this information is informing us.  It’s as science‑based as we can be.

Will there be a discount on tuition on room and board this fall?  The answer to that is no.  At least right now it is no.  Even though we are not 100% in person, our faculty and staff have been working really long hours in the spring and this fall, getting ready to make sure that the Springfield College experience is what you expect it to be. The student services are supporting that ‑‑ whether it be online support, the advising, counseling center ‑‑ all the programs are being provided.  And so at this point all fees will remain as is.

Can you talk a little bit about what the plan is as it relates to club sports?  The access to the wellness center?  Some of recreational activities on campus? Many of you may know that we reluctantly, last Friday, canceled our sports season for the fall semester.  And that was done in concert with the NEWMAC league.  We looked at everything available to us that was safe.  Really, our guiding light has been the safety and welfare of our students.  That doesn’t mean our sports teams and intramurals will stop.  We will be having strength and conditioning, there will be inter-squad competition.  They will be prepared to play in the spring, if all goes as planned.

There will be activities.  We have been working on the environment on campus.  Very similar to the world you are living in right now.  There will be 6‑feet separators.  We’ve been putting up barriers.  We will be asking students and faculty and staff to wear masks.  Putting up shields.  There will be social distancing that will be required.  Students will live on campus in residence halls.  We’ll talk about testing in a minute.  But in terms of the campus, you will find it similar to the environment you’re living in right now. 

A first-year student at New Student Orientation

Knowing the lively level of activity that is not only on our campus but the lives that our students have off campus as well, can you talk a little bit more about any restrictions that might be in place for students coming to and from campus?  Will they be allowed to go home on a weekend?  Can they leave campus to go to a job in the local community or at home?  How are we planning to control traffic in and out of campus? That’s probably the most difficult piece … about 93% of our students are on campus.  We are staggering the move onto campus …  We are going to do our very best to restrict guests from coming to campus.  All of this is really going to be up to the community.  We won’t know exactly who is a guest or a student during the first couple weeks … But we’ll restrict that and encourage students to stay here once they come here.  

We’ve changed the academic schedule.  We’ve moved it forward a week.  Students will be moving in a week earlier ‑‑ actually 10 to 14 days earlier than otherwise — and we’re going to have students be on campus.  They will be leaving the week of Thanksgiving.

What classes will be conducted face‑to‑face?  What classes will be held remotely?  How are we helping to prevent students from having a 100% online experience? We’re not preventing students from having a 100% online experience.  If there are students who want to have a 100% online experience, they need to talk with their academic adviser.  A number of students have said they want to stay home and take courses online.  That is not the majority.  The majority — I think we have about 622 incoming students — want an in‑person experience.  About a third of the courses will be online. 

What about testing?  I would point you to the website on the Massachusetts governor’s office … If you’re coming from a state that the governor has deemed to be unsafe, you’re going to need to present a negative test 72 hours in advance of coming to campus. We will be testing all students once they arrive on campus. 

Students check in for COVID-19 testing at the Health Center.

What about the dining hall?  We are working with our very new food service partner, Harvest Table.  And they have refigured — again, what you’re experiencing if you happen to go to restaurants, if your state allows in dining, there will be opportunities for the students to pick up food and carry out … You’ll see lot of tents we’ve put up and will be putting up.  Those spaces will be used for a variety of not only teaching and instruction, but also other activities like dining.  Students will be able to eat outside.

How are faculty and staff being prepared?  Faculty Senate and I have had lots of conversation as well as all faculty talking about what their classrooms are going to look like.  We’ve gone in and de‑densified the classrooms.  Again, putting up tents.  Making sure the classes are safe.  You can imagine our faculty has concerns as well.  Although I’m deeply concerned about our students.  But I also want our faculty to feel safe enough to return to campus and teach.  Again, those who have ADA compliance issues, we’ll be teaching you remotely.  Again, I’m optimistic.  I believe we’ll be able to get through this fall and get on the other side of it.  Again, depending on what happens with the virus and what we see in terms of spikes 

Do you have a threshold of number of cases before you will decide to close the campus? We don’t … There’s not a trigger or a number that tells us that it is unsafe to continue.  But we’ll know …  We hope we can make it to Thanksgiving.  If we do not, we’ll communicate it as quickly and effectively as we can to not only our students but also faculty and families.

What about the library?  How will we manage traffic flow in and out of the learning commons? That is going to be set up as well with a 6‑foot distance requirement.  Luckily, … it’s a very large space with lots of seating … A number of years ago when the learning commons wasn’t open, we opened up other spaces for students to gather and study in small groups.  We’ll need to take a look at that again to see if we can make some of those spaces available so students have adequate space to study, especially after hours.  We want to make sure they have a safe place to go to and is well lit. 

Will there be a fee for students to be [COVID-10] tested through the Broad Institute program? No.  We will be covering that … We’ve set aside funds from an endowment so students come back safely.  We’ve made a commitment to doing not only the testing but a great deal of equipment.  PPE.  Masks.  We will have masks on campus, so if a student is going into the learning commons or goes into a classroom and has forgotten their mask. 

Will the surveillance testing and the incoming student testing apply to students who are living off campus?  Graduate students who may be living on campus?  Commuter students? Yes.  We’ll be doing testing of commuter students as well.  They are an important part of our community.  They will be tested as well.

Part of the Springfield College experience, especially for new students, is meeting other students.  How will that happen in our new COVID environment?  What are the organized activities going to be like for new students during the beginning of the academic year? They’ll be very similar to the past.  Annie and her student leadership team, they do a wonderful job in making that experience with heightened activity, high touch — well, that’s going to now look a little different.  But it looks different in everything we do.  But I assure you even over the summer, Annie and her team have been working on it.

Those of you who were in orientation — the sessions with BINGO and things that can be done safely — we will be do our very best to make sure that a Humanics philosophy will be embedded in our students.  You understand the mission of Springfield College.  And we will get past this.  Understand that we are very aware cognizant of the risks involved and we’re doing everything we can to keep students safe. 

Additional information is available on our COVID-19 Information page at springfield.edu/covid. End of article