Updates on Summer and Fall Planning

Sent: February 24, 2021

Dear Colleagues,
I hope this email finds everyone well and safe. We are well into the spring semester and, for many of us, our courses remain remotely delivered and our office work is still operated largely through a parade of Zoom-based meetings. For me, I have been both drained and relieved by remote work. Drained, because I miss the day-to-day connection and energy that comes from interacting with colleagues and students on campus. Relieved, because I know I have the privilege of remaining largely sequestered and relatively safe from the spread of COVID-19. I don’t take that privilege lightly; we all know people who live without that privilege who have suffered from this pandemic. There has been significant loss of life and a real impact on the ability, for some, to work after contracting COVID-19. This, like all pandemics, is affecting different socioeconomic communities differentially. While COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, the structures of support and access certainly do, even when operating without “intent.”

As we enter March, I know that many of you are wondering what the summer and fall will bring. Will I be working on campus? What about my classes? Will they be face-to-face or remote? The campus leadership team is looking at many scenarios and options for summer and fall. In each and every conversation, the health, safety, and welfare of faculty, staff, and students comes first. I imagine you are thinking: “What does this really mean, Vin?” It means we are planning with knowledge we have today, while trying to predict what it will look like five to six months from now. It’s an impossible, but required, task. Given that uncertainty, here are a few points of reference that we currently know:

  1. Santa Clara County, and other surrounding counties, are starting to provide the vaccine to education professionals. This includes the faculty and staff at San José State. The current vaccines appear efficacious and could do a lot to reduce the worst effects of COVID-19. Some models predict we could see “herd immunity” in the late fall of 2021. But, these are models. No one knows if new strains will disrupt current thinking. It is important to recognize that not everyone has to have the vaccine to limit spread, although the more vaccinations given, the better we are as a society.

  2. Based on current state guidelines, we may have to maintain some form of physical distancing in lecture classes and on campus events will be limited in size. In this context, face-to-face courses may have to be taught in larger classrooms to reduce the density of the room to 50% or 75%. We may have to hybridize some courses, such that half the class meets on one day in person while the other students work asynchronously. We have already decided that courses with over 50 persons must stay remote in the fall and we are strongly encouraging hybridization to reduce density on campus. But, we are not 100% sure that the rules of the game won’t change. So, we have to plan while also being prepared to shift. Student surveys suggest that they are definitely eager for some face-to-face again, but students also, in general, are ready to continue with some online education long into the future.

  3. We are fairly confident that we cannot require vaccination of faculty, staff, or students in the fall. That will be a choice left to the individual. This means that no matter what we do, we may have some people on campus who have not been vaccinated. If it appears that very high numbers of students remain unvaccinated (e.g., distribution systems continue to drag behind expectation), it is likely that this will impact how we deliver courses and services in the fall. Right now, we just don’t know enough to be certain.

  4. If we continue to see declines in infection rates in Santa Clara County through the summer, we may have an opportunity to expand the availability of face-to-face classes and experiences on campus in the fall. No matter what, however, these classes and experiences will have to be very well planned. We are looking at all sorts of options for providing additional on-campus space for students to “spread out” in-between classes, for example. We are examining options to utilize spaces close to campus in which we might teach safely. And, we are making sure we make the right investments to keep the campus clean and stocked with appropriate gear for working in a COVID-19 world.

So how does the future look? If we are honest with ourselves, we know that COVID-19 is not “going away” any time soon. It will likely circulate, hopefully at very low levels of infectivity, for years to come. We can, and will, fight against its spread but we have to be prepared for living in a world with COVID-19 (or the next infectious disease). In living in a COVID-19 world, we have to figure out how to bring back the option of face-to-face learning and on-campus co-curricular life. We will do that slowly this fall in a way that does the best we can to protect everyone, but we can’t make any guarantees. The world is just too messy.

In response to all that is going on, I want to hold another divisional Town Hall in March. This is an opportunity for us to collectively discuss our current and future approach to balancing safety and access. I look forward to this conversation.

In the meantime, please do what you can to be safe and healthy. And, thank you for all your amazing work this year. I am so proud to be part of this community. Even in the wake of this unbelievable pandemic everyone continues to give so much to our students and to each other. Thank you.