The return to campus each fall always comes with a mix of emotions: anticipation, anxiousness, perhaps some fear, but mostly an overwhelming sense of excitement for the future. In some ways, this fall’s opening is no different. However, the world in which we live has changed dramatically, and as a result, many of us have experienced significant change, as well.
When most of us left campus in March, no one knew what the months ahead would hold. We have seen a worldwide pandemic that has caused illness and death. We have seen economic uncertainty and high unemployment. We have seen anti-racist protests and demands for justice locally and throughout the country. We have seen institutions, including our own, work harder to confront systemic racism. To say the first six months of 2020 have been unsettling would be an understatement.
I have been extremely proud of our students, faculty and staff who have engaged in activism and shared their voices on a number of issues. I have been extremely moved by the thoughtful dialogs about race and racism, and seeing our campus working together through these difficult times. I am grateful for everyone’s efforts to continue our mission of higher education while operating in an unprecedented remote learning and working environment.
While there is little I look forward to more than seeing a bustling campus in the fall, I know there are many questions about exactly how we will be learning, teaching and working – with health and safety as our top priority. I can assure you, we’ve been working hard to consider all possibilities and develop a multifaceted plan that will be implemented and modified as conditions change.
Planning Teams As soon as it was clear that we simply would not be able to return to campus in the fall as normal, planning teams were put in place to develop the best strategies for moving forward. As part of Salisbury University’s COVID-19 Task Force, these teams continue meeting regularly to discuss the developing situation.
Return-to-Campus Levels Our return-to-campus plan includes four levels. When we left campus just before spring break, we were in what we are now calling Level 1, or full operations. In that situation there are no class size restrictions or social distancing requirements.
Level 2 is our current return plan for this fall, with classes being offered in a variety of ways, ranging from hybrid, to face-to-face, to completely online. For those classes that meet in person, seats will be spaced with appropriate physical distancing. Live video will be available for those continuing distance learning, while a staggered schedule for a maximum number of students allowed in the classroom also may be put in place.
Level 3 would be in effect if the need arises to limit the number of people allowed on campus to reduce opportunities for virus transmission. Distance learning would be in place for most classes, and University buildings would be closed to the public, but faculty and staff would be allowed to continue working from campus.
Level 4 is where we stood after spring break last March. Mandatory distance learning would return and buildings would remain closed to the public, as well as to most faculty and staff. Those able to telework would be encouraged to do so.
Campus Health and Safety The first step toward a safe campus begins with all of us. We have all heard of the symptoms that accompany COVID-19: shortness of breath, chills, headaches, muscle aches, sore throat, and loss of sense of taste or smell. Screenings for these conditions are mandatory for faculty and staff reporting to campus. Students will be required to self-report similar health conditions via app. Those suffering from any of these symptoms are asked to stay home and, if they persist, seek medical attention.
Our housekeeping staff also has enacted new cleaning protocols, with deeper disinfecting substances and a major focus on high-touch areas.
Instruction and Learning Classes will be in session this fall on campus. We understand that underlying health and safety concerns can make it difficult to decide to attend a class in-person, especially for those with or caring for someone with other health concerns. To address this, classes will be offered in a variety of ways this fall, with faculty members working with their departments/programs chairs and deans on course delivery mode and location (for in-person courses). Faculty who would prefer to talk to someone outside of their department/program regarding concerns about returning to campus should contact the Office of Human Resources.
In-person classes will require adjustments for social distancing and possible staggered attendance on certain days due to limited physical space. Those determinations will be based on class size and location, with further information to follow. We hope to have an initial schedule drafted by mid-July regarding which classes will be taught face-to-face and which will be taught online or in hybrid fashion.
Our faculty adapted in impressive fashion in the spring to offer the same education that has made SU one of the best values in higher education, and I’m excited to welcome them back to the classrooms in which I know they have missed teaching.
Housing and Residence Life Campus housing will have a new look this semester, with more single rooms available. Other housing options are still being investigated. Students will be expected to physically distance while in social areas, which will also see more regular cleaning and disinfecting.
The return of cultural events, student activities events, fraternity and sorority life, intramural sports and more will all be decided on a case-by-case basis to ensure the safest environment possible, but please expect the campus to look different than in previous years.
Student Health Services Our Student Health Services staff has worked throughout the summer in planning for the new challenges associated with the pandemic and our return of students. Additional precautions will be taken to limit spread of infection in the office. Along with preparing for more students to come through the Student Health Center, our staff also will have the ability to test students for COVID-19 this fall on campus. We also will continue our partnership with local medical offices and the Wicomico County Health Department, and have the ability to refer students for additional care as needed.
Counseling Center During the COVID-19 pandemic, fight for social justice, and other recent and ongoing national and local events, one of the most important departments on campus for some students has been the Counseling Center. Counseling staff remain available through the summer in a virtual setting, and in-person meetings will be available beginning in August as we return to campus.
Intercollegiate Athletics Our student-athletes are eager to return to the fields and courts for competition this fall, and our fans are eager to return to the stands. Working with guidance from the NCAA, Capital Athletic Conference and New Jersey Athletic Conference, we expect our fall student-athletes to be back on campus preparing for their seasons this August, with special health and safety precautions in place.
Campus Budget As an institution, we have always been fiscally responsible, and that has allowed us to take appropriate measures to absorb and mitigate the devastating economic impact of COVID-19, and minimize the impact on our faculty, staff and students. That said, we are not sure of the financial challenges ahead and must be prepared for further impacts on our budgets should they arise.
Please know that I and the rest of the SU administration have spent the past several months discussing, researching, planning and doing all we can to ensure the most beneficial and safest experience for our students, staff and faculty for the 2020-21 academic year. I look forward to seeing all of you on campus this fall.
Typically, SU’s President annually addresses committees of the Maryland General Assembly, delivering legislative testimony on various topics related to University operations, enrollment, budgets, capital projects and more. Briefings from 2010 to the present are available to view.
Dr. Charles Wight began his tenure as SU’s ninth president in July 2018. Originally a professor of chemistry and an expert in chemical explosions, he came to SU after serving as president of Weber State University in Utah. Read his full biography.