Fr. Jenkins letter to returning students on reopening campus

Author: Olivia Hall

Dear Notre Dame Student:

Congratulations on bringing the work of the spring semester to a good conclusion despite challenging circumstances. I hope this letter finds you safe and well, and settling into what will be for most of us an unusual summer.

I write to share with you our current plans for the fall semester, as I know this is very much on your minds. As we think about the fall, we are committed to taking all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of the campus community, yet, within the bounds of health considerations, we want to welcome you back to campus and resume in-person instruction as we adapt to the new normal brought on by the novel coronavirus.

Recently, here in Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb announced that, barring any resurgence of the coronavirus, he expects to lift all restrictions associated with it on July 4. We are working with state and local officials to return to full operations on campus but doing so carefully and gradually. We want to be equipped to take the necessary steps to ensure your environment on campus is as safe as possible when you return. Working with faculty experts, an infectious disease specialist from Johns Hopkins, and a team of physicians from the Cleveland Clinic, a special University working group is developing appropriate campus protocols. We are also working closely with local and state health officials. While we will continue to monitor developments through the summer, the outline below describes our current objectives.

Fall Semester on Campus

By far the most complex challenge before us is your return to campus for the resumption of classes in the fall semester. Bringing everyone back is in effect assembling a small city of people from many parts of the nation and the world, who may bring with them pathogens to which they have been exposed. We recognize the challenge, but we believe it is one we can meet.

A major hurdle, of course, is to identify students who are carrying the novel coronavirus and prevent them from spreading it to others. We will institute a comprehensive testing protocol, and we are developing plans to isolate those who test positive and quarantine those students who have come in close contact. We will continue the testing, contact tracing and quarantining protocol throughout the semester, acting aggressively to isolate or quarantine as necessary. We will also institute a number of other health and safety measures.

Some institutions are electing to reduce the number of students on campus by inviting only a portion of the student body at any time. We have resisted that course, because we believe in the educational value of the on-campus experience for all our students, and we recognize it is particularly valuable for students whose living situations away from campus may not be as conducive to study. We intend to bring all our students to campus for the semester, though we may stage your return to allow for testing and orientation. We believe that, with extensive protocols of testing, contact tracing and quarantining, coupled with preventive measures such as an emphasis on hand-washing and norms for social distancing and wearing masks in certain settings, we can keep our campus environment safe.

A particular epidemiological challenge for college campuses arises when students leave for breaks, are exposed to infectious agents, and return to campus and possibly spread infections to others. To minimize this possibility, we plan to begin classes during the week of August 10, continue through without a fall break and conclude the semester before Thanksgiving. More details about the schedule for the fall semester will be forthcoming from the Registrar’s Office.

We will, in addition to our testing, contact tracing, quarantining and preventive protocols for students, have parallel protocols for faculty and staff.

We realize, of course, that these adjustments will create inconveniences for many and demand flexibility from all of us, and we thank you in advance for your patience and understanding.

2020 Summer Session

Given our focus on fully reopening for the fall semester, we cannot host many, if any, programs even during the second half of the summer session. We are considering options that will allow the return of a very small number of students in July, mainly those whose summer work is preparatory for the fall semester. Limiting the numbers of this group will allow us to devote time, energy and resources to reopen in the fall semester. The Provost’s Office will communicate with relevant programs about their status for the summer.

Research Labs, Studios and Libraries

A Research Task Force is currently developing a plan for the safe and gradual reopening of our campus research labs, studios and libraries in the coming weeks. We expect a phased reactivation of the labs, studios and libraries in the coming weeks and months. An upcoming letter from Vice President for Research Bob Bernhard to faculty and graduate students will provide greater detail around the reopening of these facilities.

Fall Study Abroad Programs

As was recently communicated to students who had signed up to study abroad in the fall, Notre Dame International is currently evaluating the feasibility of proceeding with study abroad programs on a country-by-country basis. Their team is looking at official health advisories and travel bans, local health care systems, isolation and quarantine requirements and availability of facilities. We hope to make a decision on study abroad programs in early June. Students enrolled for study abroad have also enrolled for classes on campus and will have housing on campus, should it be necessary to cancel these programs.

Necessary Adaptations

We must also be prepared for the possibility of an unexpected, severe new outbreak of COVID-19. If such an outbreak occurs, we may need to return to remote instruction. We have asked faculty to be prepared to move instruction online should this be necessary, and to provide remote learning opportunities to students who may be in isolation or quarantined.

Notre Dame is as beautiful as it has ever been, but it has seemed distressingly empty without you, our students. We look forward to welcoming you back to a campus bustling with activity. We will all need to make adjustments and be flexible because of the coronavirus pandemic, and we will need your cooperation and help. Together we can begin again the work of learning, inquiry and growth that is the life of the Notre Dame campus. Together, we can do this.

Know of my continued prayers for you and your loved ones.

In Notre Dame,

Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C.
President