Dear AU Community,
Today, we are sharing the high-level framework for the spring 2021 semester, which is based on our core principles for decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic—protecting the health and safety of our community, advancing our education and research mission, and supporting the broader COVID-19 response in the Washington, DC, region. This announcement comes at a time of record COVID-19 case counts nationwide and difficult projections for the coming months, but we are committed to a robust spring experience across our community that continues to expand in-person opportunities throughout the semester. We intend to ramp up activity as we carefully monitor the fundamental indicators of the pandemic and evolving public health conditions.
This creative approach allows for more in-person community engagement, flexibility for students who are online, and a continuing focus on equity. Importantly, all health and safety measures remain in place and we are prepared to adapt as needed. We are going to do everything possible to make the spring successful, but we need the capacity, conditions, and cooperation to make it successful. If we can act together as a community, we can stay safe, meet our shared goal of increased in-person opportunities on campus, and achieve even more rapid acceleration on our ramp of activity through the spring months and into the summer.
We heard your requests for spring information as soon as possible and we worked to get this announcement to you as quickly as we could. In doing so, there are decisions and implementation steps still in progress. This initial information is designed to help members of our community plan for the spring. We will be providing additional details in the coming weeks.
As we have learned throughout the pandemic, we face a complex situation that can change rapidly and offers no simple answers. Our creative approach reflects this reality, with a variety of elements that can be scaled based on evolving conditions. We are on an upward path designed for more immediate opportunities for students, maximum flexibility within the overall health and safety parameters, and progress toward extensive in-person curricular and housing operations for next summer and fall.
To arrive at the spring plan, we again evaluated our existing criteria—case count and trajectory of the virus; availability, reliability, and speed of COVID-19 testing; local public health requirements; and the operating status of local K-12 schools. We reviewed data from local and national health agencies, engaged with public health and higher education experts, and learned a great deal from both our experience and from other universities and institutions. These inputs, along with our health and safety protocols, help to determine the additional spring activities and operations.
- Case Count: Infections are currently rising in the DC area and nationwide, which will require ongoing vigilance. Campus health and safety efforts and the cooperation of our community will enable us to take steps forward for more in-person opportunities, but we are prepared to adjust certain operations as needed.
- Testing: AU will expand COVID-19 testing availability and requirements in the spring for students, faculty, and staff with on-campus presence.
- Local Public Health Requirements: AU will continue to comply with all DC public health measures. Importantly, we also need to consider the impact of our in-person opportunities on our broader DC community.
- Local K-12 Schools: With a wide range of school operations in the DC region, AU will provide support/flexibility for faculty and staff so they can manage family needs.
Class Modality (Curricular)
We will increase in-person classes in the sciences, visual and performing arts, media studies, and select other areas. While the majority of classes will be offered online in the spring, this will double the number of in-person classes available this fall, and additional opportunities are currently being evaluated with our faculty. When spring registration opens on November 2, class modalities will be marked in Eagle Service.
Our specialized facilities, such as the Hall of Science, the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building, and the Media Production Center can be utilized for these classes in compliance with health and safety guidelines. We will seek to avoid simulcast situations, where some students are in person while others are online, as experiences show this model has not worked well for students or faculty. Beginning in January, we will work to offer additional creative in-person opportunities for students, including faculty-led museum outings and other DC area field trips, faculty-student research collaborations, mentoring and career coaching, and engagements with alumni.
Building on lessons learned in the fall, we will continue with a robust online learning experience. Students can participate in classes remotely and progress toward their degrees. We are also working to support students in online classes by addressing the need for breaks in screen time, striking the right balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities, and scheduling to account for students in different time zones. The Student Technology Taskforce will continue to assist students with connectivity, software, and other technology aspects of online instruction. The updated pass/fail option will remain in effect for undergraduate and graduate students.
The AU Community of Care spring tuition discount will be 10 percent for undergraduate students and graduate students, and 5 percent for WCL students. These discounts continue our commitment to support students and families in these challenging times. Undergraduate and graduate student activity fees will remain the same as the fall semester, WCL activity fees will be reduced by 22 percent (an additional discount from fall levels), and the sports center fee will again be waived. Discussions are in progress about the U∙PASS® program and further information will be provided when it becomes available.
To support health and safety of our community, we will adjust the spring semester calendar. It is likely that COVID-19 case counts and community spread will continue at high levels throughout the winter months and the following changes will help safeguard AU students, faculty, and staff. Spring classes will begin on Tuesday, January 19, one week later than originally planned and following the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday (January 18). Spring break will be canceled to avoid a situation where travel and social gatherings can cause an increase in cases locally and potential expose our community members to COVID-19. We know that breaks are important, and we will look for additional creative ways to help our students recharge throughout the semester.
Finally, based on current information about the trajectory of COVID-19 and the status of international travel, study abroad programs that require students to arrive in their host country before February 6, 2021 will be suspended. Programs that start after February 6 will be reviewed next month and further announcements will be made.
The Student Experience (Co-Curricular)
Community is fundamental to the AU experience, and we are committed to creating opportunities for students to build connections both inside and outside of class. We will be increasing both in-person co-curricular activity and virtual engagements in the spring. While specific programs are currently being developed, examples of potential activities include expanded in-person and virtual meetings and office hours with faculty; study groups; wellness activities; outdoor events when weather permits; and DC experiences and exploring local spaces. We are also focused on ensuring a dynamic virtual experience for students living outside of DC, with creative engagements beyond Zoom. This includes our ongoing commitment to enhancing the AU Together-Eagles Everywhere program.
Our students, including our sophomores and juniors in the midst of their AU experience, are seeking these opportunities and we are committed to fostering community in many ways. We will also be continuing virtual career services and skills development. Our seniors and graduate students will be entering a transformed workforce and we are here to support their pursuits.
Additional buildings and campus spaces will be available for studying, small group meetings that comply with safety guidelines, and other in-person activity. Recently, we launched a reservation system for students to book meetings of up to three people in select rooms in Mary Graydon Center and the Don Myers Technology and Innovation Building. In November, we will expand available spaces on the ground floor of the SIS building and pilot limited, reservation-based access to the Cassell Fitness Center. Using these buildings and spaces for in-person activity remains predicated on health and safety conditions. If case counts increase significantly or local public health guidelines require a change, we will use caution and adjust operations accordingly.
We understand that there is strong interest for increased on-campus housing and we are developing additional options that align with health requirements. To move forward and provide a safe residential experience, we will provide increased university housing in a limited way for students with specific requirements to be on-campus and/or acute housing needs. Details for emergency housing applications can be found on the Housing and Residence Life website.
We are also exploring a residential “mini-mester” idea where several hundred additional first-year students could live on campus for the latter half of the spring semester. The ability to implement this program will be based on case counts, testing, and other health and safety conditions. This creative program only involves housing; it will not affect any class modalities. Additional information will be provided as details are confirmed.
Health and Safety
The foundation of expanded in-person opportunities is increased COVID-19 testing, adherence to health and safety guidelines, and cooperation across our community. We will expand testing availability on campus, and all students living in university housing will be tested regularly. Any student living off campus but coming to campus for academic or community activities will also be tested. If students do not comply with the testing protocol, access to campus buildings via their AU ID card may be suspended.
The AU Forward Health and Safety Plan remains in effect and all community members must continue to wear face coverings, practice physical distancing, and follow other public health protocols. To help bolster awareness and compliance, AU will partner with students on a community education and engagement campaign, as well as health and safety monitoring and enforcement mechanisms. Further information about these efforts will be provided in advance of the spring semester. This is an opportunity for our students to creatively engage and support one another and our entire community.
Most faculty and staff will continue to telework through the spring semester. As we increase on-campus activity, there will be a corresponding need for some faculty and staff to be physically present. COVID-19 testing will be available on-campus for faculty and staff who regularly have a physical presence for work requirements. Health and safety measures, including face coverings and sanitizing stations, will also be available. Individual departments will work with their teams on specific needs for spring, and the accommodation and modification requests that were submitted and processed in the fall will be relied upon to the extent possible. Faculty and staff needing support can access the FSAP or the new supplemental mental health service (BHS).
These staffing arrangements do not impact the upcoming furlough days. However, with the change to the academic calendar and the cancellation of spring break, we will extend the deadline for faculty and staff to complete the five furlough days to April 9. Faculty and staff who were planning to take furlough days during spring break may consider shifting their days to the weeks of January 4 or 11 (or other dates), in consultation with their manager or department chair. We know the updated calendar may affect plans and we want to support our teams in managing schedules and workload.
An Evolving Future
As we work to increase opportunities in the spring, we will also learn what additional activities may be possible in the summer and fall. Our intention is to continue expanding opportunities—for example, using more outdoor campus spaces when the weather improves—so that even more student curricular and co-curricular engagement can occur. Our intention is to have significantly expanded housing and course options in summer 2021. We hope to have many opportunities for creative avenues for student engagement and on-campus activity.
However, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present many uncertainties. As flu season begins and we enter the winter months, it is likely that cases will continue to rise (remember to get your flu shot!) and caution will be needed. The health and safety of our community will always be our first priority. We will closely monitor conditions and utilize the flexibility of our spring plan to adapt as needed.
We know the past months have been incredibly difficult in a number of ways. It is not the experience any of us want, but thanks to the hard work of our students, faculty, and staff, we are successfully navigating the fall semester and learning what is both possible and needed to thrive in these challenging times. But more than that, we want to thank each and every one of you for your commitment, perseverance, and spirit. You are the heart of the AU community and you show every day what makes AU Eagles unique.
We look forward to a creative spring semester that features increasing on-campus activity and more opportunities for our community to engage and learn.
Be safe and be well.
Sylvia M. Burwell
Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence
Vice President and Chief Communications Officer
Vice President, General Counsel, and Board Secretary
Vice President, People and External Affairs & Chief of Staff and Counselor to the President
Chief Financial Officer, Vice President, and Treasurer
Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Vice President, Development and Alumni Relations
Director, Athletics and Recreation