To mitigate the pandemic’s impact, the University will allow undergraduates back for two terms in a three-term model, reduce the density of students in campus housing, offer instruction in person and remotely, and implement extensive testing, tracing and public health measures.
With plans to reduce the density of students on campus and to implement an extensive set of public health measures to protect the health and safety of students, faculty, staff and community members, Brown University plans to welcome some students back to campus in September.
President Christina H. Paxson outlined the University’s “Plan for a Healthy and Safe 2020-21” on July 7 in a series of letters to members of the Brown community, detailing a three-term academic model that integrates both on-campus and remote instruction.
The plan is based on the recommendations of multiple working groups at Brown, which since late spring have explored a range of options for safely providing teaching and learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. The plan’s policies and protocols are founded on the best available guidance and recommendations from medical and public health professionals and agencies, Paxson said.
“The focus at all times has been how we can best protect the health of our students, staff, faculty and Providence residents while delivering Brown’s world-class education, critical research, and remaining a valued neighbor in our city, state and region,” she said.
Amid the ongoing pandemic, Brown’s plan provides details on changes in modes of instruction, housing, dining and extracurricular activities, as well as the implementation of strict protocols for personal health, distancing, mask-wearing, cleaning and regular testing that will be essential for safeguarding community well-being.
All students will be given the option to take courses remotely, whether they are on campus or not, while faculty with health or other concerns have the option to teach, mentor and advise students online in the fall, and employees of Brown who are able to work remotely will continue to do so at least through early fall.
“Even with these public health steps, it is impossible to ensure that no one in our community will become ill with COVID-19 during the coming academic year,” Paxson said. “In fact, our plan is based upon the forthright acknowledgement that any college, university or community will likely see diagnosed cases of COVID-19 until the point that a vaccine is widely available, just as is the case in the general population.”
Given the significant uncertainty about how the pandemic will evolve across regions of the country and the world, and the pace at which treatments and vaccines will be developed, “everyone in our community will have to approach this year understanding that we may need to make mid-course changes or adjustments to how instruction is offered, housing is configured and public health protocols are implemented on campus,” she said.
All plans for 2020-21 are based on the prospect that the state of the pandemic and the virus’s spread will enable a return to in-person operations. If needed, Brown would approach any changes based on community principles that place a premium on the health and well-being of students and employees and the University’s commitment to providing an excellent educational experience, Paxson said.
At the heart of the University’s plan are three primary elements:
(1) Reduced Density of Students on Campus
Barring a major resurgence of coronavirus in the coming weeks, Brown will follow a three-term academic calendar (fall, spring and summer) in which undergraduate students are on campus for two of the three terms. Shortened terms with fewer breaks will reduce the density of students on campus and give all students the opportunity to spend two semesters in Providence.
All undergraduates living in residence halls in the fall will have single rooms, and classrooms, libraries and other campus spaces will be “de-densified.” In addition, all classes with more than 20 students will be taught remotely. Limiting in-person class sizes to 20 students will enable safe distancing of students and instructors within classrooms.
Paxson said that the expectation is that sophomores, juniors and seniors will return in the fall with new first-year students arriving for the spring term and continuing to the summer term. During the fall, new first-year students will be able to take one Brown course remotely for credit, free of charge, and will also be able to participate in remote orientation, mentoring and enrichment opportunities.
“Although I am deeply disappointed that we can’t welcome our first-year students to campus in the fall, we simply don’t think that it is safe to have all undergraduates on campus simultaneously,” Paxson said. “We hope that by the time the spring term begins, the public health situation will have improved enough that we no longer need a de-densified campus.”
To provide options for students and faculty unable to come to campus (for travel, health or other reasons) and for the possibility of students in isolation or quarantine during the semester, all courses will have a remote learning option.
All graduate students will have the option to study in person or remotely.
(2) Testing and Contact Tracing
Testing and contact tracing for all Brown students and employees is an essential element of Brown’s plans to mitigate the impact of coronavirus, Paxson said. The plan outlines measures to monitor for and address cases identified on campus — from contract tracers in Health Services and Human Resources, to designated isolation and quarantine spaces, to protocols for closing and cleaning facilities.
All students will be tested for COVID-19 when they return to Brown, and students will be required to participate in random testing to monitor for community spread of coronavirus, identify the proportion of asymptomatic positive cases and identify the proportion of community members with potential immunity to the disease over time. Students and employees will use a digital tool to schedule tests and record daily symptoms.
“Brown’s plans have been informed by epidemiological models, and the University will closely monitor evolving developments in testing methods to take advantage of the most effective testing strategies,” Paxson said.
In the event that someone at Brown tests positive, trained contact tracers at the University will work with the Rhode Island Department of Health to locate people who may have been exposed to COVID-19. Specific residential spaces have been reserved for isolation (for students who contract the virus) and quarantine (for students who have been exposed).
(3) Campus Public Health Practices
Paxson said that students returning to Brown must understand that life on campus will be different.
All community members will be required to wear masks and practice social distancing in public places. Many classes will be offered remotely, and it is possible that all classes could shift to remote mode if the health conditions in Rhode Island worsen during the fall. Dining will be on a “grab and go” basis. Group gatherings will be limited, and activities that require travel to other locations will be restricted.
In addition, single residency in dorms will greatly reduce the number of students who live in proximity to each other, and students will be clustered into small, identifiable “pods” to reduce the number of students who need to be quarantined if an infection is positively identified. Extracurricular activities and events will be shaped by reduced capacity of spaces, social distancing, hand washing, masks and other health protocols. And cleaning and disinfecting high-touch surfaces will become part of daily routines.
A public health campaign will address the need for personal reasonability in protecting individual and community health, and students will be required to sign an attestation that they will follow required public health practices.
“We celebrate the fact that Brown is a community filled with people who care about each other,” Paxson said. “Now, in the midst of a pandemic, that culture of caring must translate into scrupulous attention to evidence-based public health practices. Caring as much about others as we do ourselves will be critical and essential.”
Major events and sports
Paxson’s letter to students noted that a decision on fall athletics competition is expected from the Ivy League on July 8. It also provided a date for Commencement and Reunion Weekend. If public health conditions allow for large events to safely take place, and public health guidance continues to support the University’s current plans for its revised academic calendar, Brown will honor the Class of 2020, which had its Commencement activities delayed, and the Class of 2021 from April 30 to May 2, 2021.
Paxson wrote separately to undergraduate, graduate and medical students, as well as to faculty, staff and members of the extended Brown community. The full text of her letter to undergraduate students is included below, and other major communications are included on the University’s Healthy Brown 2020 website.