Sent June 3, 6:00 p.m.
Dear Gonzaga Students and Family Members:
Greetings from GU! I hope that your summer is off to a good start, and that despite the challenges that continue to be a part of daily life, you are taking time to rest and enjoy some time with family and friends.
Since the beginning of April, we at Gonzaga have been working to prepare for the upcoming academic year. I write today to provide you with an update on our current thinking and plans, in the hope that this is helpful to your own planning.
As the 2019-20 academic year drew to a close, I appointed a Pandemic Response Task Force to continue and expand upon the work of our Emergency Operations Center. The Task Force is comprised of nearly 100 individuals on ten committees, each of which is focused on specific dimensions of University operations, and is charged with the development of plans to support the resumption of campus operations for Fall 2020 in the midst of this public health crisis. Spokane has thus far experienced relatively low rates of COVID-19, but we know that circumstances can change and are taking this dynamic extremely seriously. The development of our plans is occurring with many conversations rooted in our University Mission and in direct consultation with the Spokane Regional Health District and in compliance with the guidance being developed and issued by the State of Washington, as well as other recognized government agencies. Our plans are being developed to allow for optimum flexibility in recognition of the evolving nature of both the virus, and the corresponding guidance from these same agencies.
We believe that together, we can set the stage for a thoughtful and carefully managed educational experience, but it is clear that we will all have to make modifications and each individual will have to be an active participant in the effort of mitigating risk and protecting one another. Our current plan is to resume campus operations, including course instruction, co-curricular activities, and the provision of on-campus housing, dining, and the full array of student services, for Fall Semester 2020. In so doing, we will make every effort to create and maintain the tight-knit and supportive sense of community for which we are so well known. We all will continue to wrestle with the challenge of living, learning, working, and socializing in the context of this COVID-19 pandemic for a long time to come; doing so successfully will require a commitment, on each and every individual’s part, to work to mitigate the transmission of the virus.
Here are some specific hallmarks of the plan we have thus far developed:
- We plan to welcome those returning students who are living in campus housing back to campus using a phased approach, over a three-day period, beginning Saturday, August 29th. (Please note: students who are serving on Residence Hall Staff, New Student Orientation, and other exceptions will receive information specific to their group. New students will also be invited to move in to residence halls using a phased approach, beginning Wednesday, August 26th.) Additional information regarding the housing process, including protocols intended to support the health and welfare of our students in residence halls, is in development and will be forthcoming.
- Over the Opening Weekend and throughout the early following weeks, there will be a host of organized information sessions intended to provide all students with information and strategies for managing and mitigating risk during this extraordinary situation. Specific information about our plan for returning to campus will be made available later this summer.
- Gonzaga has identified and reserved several on-campus facilities to house resident students in the event that a student or students need to isolate due to contracting the virus. We are committed to supporting our students in the event of illness and to this end, Gonzaga will engage in multiple disease mitigation strategies to protect the health of our students and campus community in collaboration with the Spokane Regional Health District. As you are likely aware, Spokane has two major medical centers with whom we work closely in the event that our students need emergency care; both are located close to downtown, within three miles of campus.
- Undergraduate classes for fall semester will begin on Tuesday, September 1, 2020 and conclude on Friday, December 11, 2020, with Friday, December 18, 2020 the last day of finals and/or final projects, or other course-concluding activities.
- Effective teaching and learning – while emphasizing the safety and well-being of our students, faculty and staff – is and will be our guiding principle throughout the year. We seek to facilitate meaningful in-person and “live” interactions with faculty, while lowering the density in classrooms and providing all of our students and faculty the comfort of knowing they are learning in an environment where we are observing and practicing recommended health and safety protocols. Many of our students and faculty engage in learning and research in labs, studios and other hands-on classes, which are difficult to fully recreate in virtual environments. Flexibility and adaptability will be hallmarks of our approach: some classes may be held using a hybrid approach, with students attending classes in person on some days and remotely on others. Some classes will be online, using best practices for student engagement in this setting. Key to our plans is the ability to adapt as circumstances dictate, and to offer flexibility and access regardless of the limitations that this situation imposes upon our work.
- In order to mitigate the risk of the COVID-19 virus, our plan is that all classes following Thanksgiving Break will be taught online, using remote/distance technologies. Gonzaga will ask students who elect to travel outside of Spokane County for the Thanksgiving Break not to return to campus for the remainder of the semester. Our goal is to decrease the chance of introducing the virus at just the point where students are taking final exams and completing end-of-semester projects. (The residence halls and campus dining will remain open through the Thanksgiving holiday, and on through the end of the semester.)
- Students who elect to travel outside of Spokane County for Thanksgiving and remain at home will be able to request a credit of the unused portion of their room and board plan, to be applied towards Spring 2021 charges. The credit will apply only to those students who follow the procedure that will be subsequently outlined by Housing and Residence Life (though all students who are returning for Spring semester may leave their belongings in their rooms). Our goal is to provide options to our students and to keep the Gonzaga community safe. More information regarding this process will be provided later this summer.
Gonzaga University has a long, 130+ year tradition of educating intelligent, creative and caring students in the context of an intellectually challenging, supportive, and values-based community environment. Gonzaga has risen to become one of the top 100 nationally-ranked, independent comprehensive universities in the nation. As a Jesuit university dedicated to academic, professional and personal excellence, we remain committed to educating students for lives of leadership and service to the common good. To this end, we are working this summer to enhance the technology in classrooms throughout campus and to consider the many ways we can expand our capacity to deliver an excellent educational experience despite the challenges of doing so in the face of COVID-19.
We know that you, and your family members, will have additional questions and I want to assure you that we will do our very best to respond to each of them. Over the past several months, we developed a comprehensive website which serves as a repository for all issues “coronavirus-related” (www.gonzaga.edu/coronavirus) and we will continue to update that site. In addition, we soon will be launching a website to provide our students, families, and community members with additional, comprehensive information about resuming campus operations in the fall. You will receive frequent updates and information that will allow you to prepare for resuming your work at Gonzaga this fall. Please do not hesitate to reach out to us in the meantime by contacting Gonzaga’s Call Center at (509) 313-7070. Thank you, and my very best wishes to you.
Thayne M. McCulloh, D.Phil.