The University of Notre Dame will welcome students back to campus for the 2020-21 fall semester the week of Aug. 10, two weeks earlier than originally scheduled, and will forgo fall break in October and end the semester before Thanksgiving, the University’s president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., announced today in letters to the campus community.
In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Notre Dame sent students home in mid-March to complete the 2019-20 spring semester via remote learning. The University also canceled academic and other summer programming through July 6. In his letters, Father Jenkins extended that cancellation through the remainder of the summer, with the exception of a small number of students whose summer work is preparatory for the fall semester.
“By far the most complex challenge before us is the return of our students to campus for the resumption of classes in the fall semester,” Father Jenkins wrote. “Bringing our students 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.”
Notre Dame officials have consulted for months with experts on the faculty, members of the infectious disease departments at several leading institutions, a team of medical specialists from Cleveland Clinic and Dr. Mark Fox from the St. Joseph County Department of Health as they work to develop a robust plan to ensure to the greatest extent possible the health and safety of all members of the campus community.
The plan — conceived for students, faculty and staff — will include comprehensive testing for COVID-19, contact tracing, quarantine and isolation protocols, social distancing and mask requirements, and enhanced cleaning of all campus spaces. As part of its planning, the University has identified facilities to isolate students who test positive and quarantine students who have been in close contact. Testing, contact tracing and the quarantine/isolation protocols will continue throughout the semester and as long as necessary. The University is developing signage and other communications tools to remind the campus community of health expectations and best practices.
“As we adapt to the new normal brought on by the coronavirus, we will do everything we can to provide you with a safe learning, research and working environment,” Father Jenkins said, adding that the University will monitor developments and alter plans should a serious outbreak occur, or should it be unable to acquire what is needed for testing.
To accommodate a return to remote instruction in the event of an outbreak of the virus, Notre Dame faculty have been asked to prepare fall courses with two distinct periods of equal length to allow for a smoother transition, should the University be forced to begin on-campus activities later in the fall or end it earlier than scheduled.
Faculty also have been asked to prepare to offer courses both in person and through remote instruction, the latter of which will allow any student in isolation or quarantine to continue to participate.
Father Jenkins also wrote that the University’s Research Task Force is developing a plan for the safe and gradual re-opening of research labs, studios and libraries in coming weeks. He also reported that Notre Dame International is developing criteria for deciding whether to proceed with study abroad programs in the fall and that a decision will be communicated in June.
In reaching the decision to resume in-person classes on campus, Father Jenkins and other members of the administration were guided by three principles: the safety of all students, faculty, staff and their families; an ongoing commitment to offering an unsurpassed undergraduate education that nurtures the mind, body and spirit; and an equal commitment to advancing human understanding through scholarship, research and post-baccalaureate programs that heal, unify and enlighten.
In addition to the Research Task Force, two other groups of administrators, faculty and staff are working on all aspects of the reopening of the campus:
- The Academic Continuity Working Group has made recommendations about the academic calendar, the modes of delivering instruction and ensuring flexibility should circumstances change.
- The Medical/Health/Operations Working Group is attending to the various steps needed to keep the campus healthy and safe for everyone who resides and works at Notre Dame.
“These groups have developed plans and are giving me the information I need to make decisions,” Father Jenkins wrote. “In addition, we have met with a Faculty Advisory Committee. I have discussed with this committee key recommendations of the working groups and shared with them my own thinking.”
Father Jenkins encouraged every member of the campus community “to be flexible and adopt behaviors that will make our campus as safe as it can be. In the new normal we are facing, we will need to ask everyone to accept some inconveniences and adopt behavioral norms and practices necessary to protect the health of every member of our community.”
Father Jenkins’ letters are available here.