Emory announces plans for fall semester

Emory Report | June 11, 2020

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Visit the Emory Forward website for information and resources.

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Students will return to Emory this fall for an on-campus experience that pairs the university’s acclaimed academic programs with extensive new safety protocols and an adjusted semester schedule with options for both in-person and online learning.

Fall semester plans for Emory’s Atlanta and Oxford College campuses were announced in a June 11 message from President Claire E. Sterk and President-elect Gregory L. Fenves. They emphasized that while the fall semester will bring changes — from face coverings and social distancing requirements to mandatory COVID-19 testing — core aspects of the Emory experience will remain intact. 

“We will deliver courses that meet Emory’s rigorous standards and that are taught by our world-renowned faculty, members of the academic campus community will have access to the tremendous resources of our research university, and students will be part of a community known for its support while our students are pursuing degrees with us and throughout their careers,” they wrote. 

“It will be a different kind of semester, one filled with changes and choices, with new ways to connect and build relationships. But it will still be a uniquely Emory experience,” they concluded.

Like most American universities, Emory transitioned to remote learning in mid-March in response to the pandemic. At that time, a majority of students left campus and classes were completed via distance learning.

The decision to return to on-campus instruction for the fall semester followed weeks of research, deliberation and consultation with leadership from across the university, as well as leading medical and science experts, and aligns with local, state and federal health directives, according to Sterk and Fenves. 

The result is a science- and data-based plan that works for Emory — one that delivers “an equivalent Emory experience, knowing the necessity of health and safety protocols will prevent us from providing an identical experience to past years,” they stated.

Key decisions for the fall semester include: 

  • Faculty, staff and students will have options for returning to campus or interacting remotely.
  • Both online and in-person classes will be offered to help meet student needs.
  • Classes will begin Aug. 19 and end by Thanksgiving, with final exams conducted remotely. Classes will be held through the Labor Day holiday and fall break. Graduate and professional schools may amend this schedule slightly to meet curricular needs.
  • COVID-19 testing will be mandatory for all students living in residence halls, along with those taking in-person classes, upon or shortly before returning to campus, and will be available at any time during the semester for those who are symptomatic and for their close contacts. Faculty and staff will have access to testing on demand.
  • Campus residence halls will reopen, with no more than two students per room.
  • Enhanced cleaning protocols will be in employed for residential, classroom and common spaces. 

“Our goal is for everyone to feel comfortable participating in the community and to have options that reflect your preferences for continuing your education, conducting research and teaching, or serving our students,” Sterk and Fenves wrote.

Adjusting to classroom changes

The recommendation to return to campus for in-person instruction was unanimously approved by the deans of Emory’s academic colleges and professional schools during a five-hour retreat May 21-22 and then affirmed by the university’s executive leadership.

In welcoming back students, campus leaders felt it was critical to provide choices for both students and faculty members, while putting health and safety concerns first, said Jan Love, interim provost and executive vice president for academic affairs. 

“We have surveyed faculty in all nine schools to ensure that when they teach, it will be in the safest way possible,” Love said in an interview.

Based upon those survey results, about one-third of faculty members at each school have elected to teach online classes this fall. In preparation, faculty members across the system have been offered in-depth resources and training to help “pivot into whatever mode of instruction is required,” she added. 

Most students will find their class schedules are a blend of in-person and expanded online formats, with options for a comprehensive remote learning experience. In fact, it may be rare for students to have an entire class schedule offered in person, Love noted.

Campus classes will be held in spaces that accommodate physical distancing, with essential large lecture classes held in larger, non-traditional classrooms, such as the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. “We are commandeering spaces across campus not typically used as classrooms for instructional purposes,” Love explained.

Class times will also be staggered to promote physical distancing in hallways, with 30 minutes scheduled between classes, she added.

Students will receive additional emails explaining the new process and options in more detail, and it is expected that students will need to adjust their schedules to accommodate changes in course offerings and formats.

Tuition will be applied uniformly regardless of the mix of online and in-person courses, as equivalent experiences will be provided regardless of how classes are delivered.

Living and learning on campus

Among the 15,000-16,000 undergraduate and graduate students expected to attend Emory this fall, some 4,500 will be housed in campus residence halls.

This year, Emory and Oxford Colleges will offer residential housing that limits occupancy to two students per room. Campus staff will work to accommodate single room requests for students who are immunocompromised or have other health considerations.

Housing options will also be expanded to the Emory Conference Center Hotel, with localized hotel options also offered for Oxford College students. Housing decisions were made after consulting with national housing experts and Emory medical and health-based faculty and in accordance with multi-level health directives, according to Sterk and Fenves.

“For our students in our residence halls, know that this fall’s experience will be different,” they said. “Students may be taking online courses from their rooms, community spaces will have new distancing and restricted occupancy expectations, and we will limit the size of gatherings — including those held in residence halls — to maintain a healthy environment. “

Similar to classroom and common campus spaces, enhanced cleaning protocols will be in place  for residence halls, and all student residents will be made aware of shared responsibilities to maintain a healthy environment.

More information about the transition back to campus — including move-in dates, procedures and policies, fee schedules and additional checklists — will be emailed to students and their families in coming weeks.

To follow ongoing developments, learn more about campus resources and find answers to emerging questions, visit the Emory Forward website.

Supporting a safe, healthy environment

This fall, COVID-19 testing will be mandatory and provided at no cost for students living in Emory and Oxford College residence halls and for all students taking in-person classes, Love said. Students will also receive thermometers in their welcome packets, along with instructions to check their own temperatures and self-monitor a checklist of specific symptoms.

Graduate and professional students will also be tested; details are being finalized. Testing for faculty and staff will be available on demand and offered throughout the semester for those who suspect they are symptomatic, as well as their close contacts.

Housing options will be available for students who may become infected with COVID-19 and need to self-isolate. Those students will be supported with food and health care services while attending classes remotely, Love added.

Face coverings will be mandatory for everyone on campus, both inside and outside of classes, she said. And to support physical distancing, student food service will be delivered in a variety of new locations, with food stations and boxed meals available at venues across campus, including outdoor tents as weather allows.

Plans for Emory athletic seasons are still being determined, with final decisions expected by collegiate athletic associations in the coming weeks. Overall, “we will not have a lot of co-curricular and extracurricular events,” Love said. “We’ll ask students to be physically separated at gatherings.”

To reinforce healthy behaviors, students will be asked to sign an agreement that outlines health and safety regulations and expectations and provides basic information to assist with contact tracing, should that be needed.

All members of the Emory community who come to campus will be required to self-monitor on a daily basis for signs of COVID-19. Trained university staff will be on hand to conduct random temperature checks across campus each day. Those with fevers will be required to have a clinical evaluation and to be tested.

Adapting to changing conditions

Despite extensive planning for a return to campus, Sterk and Fenves indicated “there are still elements we are working through based on a changing virus and world.”

The plan will need to be adjusted as conditions warrant and as more information emerges from medical and research communities that help improve our knowledge of COVID-19 and how it is transmitted, they said.

That information will influence policies regarding issues such as campus visitation and decisions about social events, such as Emory’s Family Weekend and Homecoming. Likewise, protocols for cleaning, testing and contact tracing may need to be updated over time, and those changes will be quickly shared, they said. 

To help guide final decisions and advance ongoing planning, Emory community members will receive a survey, and participation will be important. “We want your experience this fall to reflect your preferences, and this will be a critical step in our planning process,” said Sterk and Fenves, who invite questions and feedback. 

Further information and details about fall planning will be shared in coming days through emails and online town hall presentations, which will be archived on the Emory Forward website.