The college’s hybrid learning reopening plan announcement last week answered questions that had been lingering on the minds of students and faculty for months. But the vague nature of “One Emerson Flex Learning” conjured up more queries from students and professors alike.
A faculty assembly meeting Tuesday, intended to provide professors a forum for discussion about the plan, began with a 50-minute presentation from multiple administrators. It detailed how the college might function again in the fall in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The majority of proposed changes to campus life will focus on what the college has referred to as “de-densifying,” or having fewer people packed tightly into the vertical Boston campus. Typically, the college has students on up to 18 floors in different buildings throughout all hours of the day.
In order to reduce density, the administration has proposed classes that alternate between in-person and online throughout the week. A Tuesday-Thursday class, for example, would be in-person for one of the meetings and online for the other. Each class will be limited to two hours, and no more than 35 students will be allowed in each course.
Reduced and alternating classes could lead to further questions surrounding tuition fees for the fall semester. Students, including Student Government Association Executive President Claire Rodenbush, have called for reduced tuition rates to accommodate the amended semester. The college has yet to make an official announcement on tuition for the fall.
“I don’t have a lot of details to share right now in terms of tuition and costs,” Vice President and Dean of Campus Life Jim Hoppe said in a phone interview with The Beacon last week.
To supplement alternating classes, far fewer classrooms will be utilized in order to maintain social distancing.
As many classes as possible will be held on sub-levels, first, second, and third floors of buildings. Some classes that require classrooms further up in buildings, like labs, will still be able to utilize the necessary spaces. With classes on lower floors, the college will direct student and faculty traffic through regular and emergency stairwells in order to limit elevator capacity. Some bigger classes may also be held in the college’s various theater spaces around campus.
Under the proposed changes, the college will also place emphasis on cleaning as many classrooms between classes as possible, utilizing its four Clorox Total 360 machines—large machines often used in schools to disinfect classrooms and other spaces. Students would also have access to sanitizing wipes in each classroom to wipe down individual workspaces.
On-campus housing would also see significant alterations under the proposed changes. Triple room occupancy would be eliminated, with students forced out of those spaces and potentially moved into hotels for the semester. No guests would be allowed in dorms, and the college’s move-in would be spread out across different time slots over three days in late August.
The Dining Center, along with all other spaces on campus, would require masks when in the building, with the exception of students sitting at tables to eat. Self-serve options would be eliminated, and the college would direct foot traffic to maintain social distancing, reduce seating, and increase cleaning services. The presentation did not comment on potential lines and wait times that could form as a result of the regulations.
Student organizations would face significant limitations. Some student organizations typically hold weekly meetings with between 50 and 60 people. The college plans to limit the number of meetings an organization can have and the number of students that can attend a meeting.
Events may also be limited, and the college plans to enact a system for tracking who attends events in order to stay ahead of potential outbreaks. It remains unclear how organizations that operate in studio space will be affected.
“We felt that [the hybrid model] was the best way to ensure safety,” President M. Lee Pelton said in the faculty assembly meeting. “And I will repeat that it is safety, safety, safety. The health of this community is our utmost priority. I hope that you will see how all the actions that we have taken and plan to take will contribute to the safety of our community.”
In addition to existing classes, under the new changes the college would create an additional menu of three different groups of online classes. The first group of classes would be designated for first year students. Some liberal arts classes would be offered, along with some first-year, major-specific courses.
A smaller, specialized group of online classes would be created for continuing students that may have a difficult time getting to campus for medical or travel reasons. Those classes would be focused in liberal arts and major-specific courses with the intention of allowing students to check off more than one course requirement.
Additional online classes may be created for graduate students and 400 and 600 level courses.
The four-week winter term will offer optional remote classes for any student that wants to take them.
It remains unclear if professors would be able to choose to hold classes entirely online out of concerns for personal safety. A form for faculty to request to teach online will eventually be available, administration officials said, but it is unclear how the college will decide what professors will be approved to do so. So far, there are no details on how hands-on classes in the Performing Arts, Visual and Media Arts, and Journalism departments will proceed.
COVID-19 testing and symptom tracking remains an ill-defined area of the college’s reopening plan, as testing options will be contingent on the availability of tests in Boston, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., and the Netherlands.
The first option, potentially unattainable due to testing shortages, would be universal testing, Health and Wellness Center Director Jane Powers said. Though Powers said this option would likely be unnecessary, chunks of the community could be tested at different times throughout the semester, or the whole community could receive periodic testing.
A second option for testing would be randomized testing. The option would entail choosing students at random to be subject to COVID-19 testing. The rate at which students are tested would again be contingent on testing availability.
The final option would be testing just those who are symptomatic, which Powers said now appears to be the most likely choice the college would pursue. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends more robust testing strategies, mainly focused on testing those with possible exposure. In a high-density area like Boston, exposure could prove difficult to track, and more universal testing could potentially stop outbreaks from becoming more widespread, according to the CDC.
Powers also briefly mentioned the college’s outbreak management strategy, which she labeled as “robust.” This strategy, she said, has been utilized in the past for tracking SARS—another infectious disease caused by a coronavirus that targets the respiratory system.