Dear AU Community,
It is impossible to overstate the intensity or complexity of the challenges we have faced these past few months. But as changemakers, you rose to the occasion to help shape our changing world for the better. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted extraordinary resilience, generosity, and determination from across the community. Now, as we look forward to welcoming our students, faculty, and staff back to campus through a phased in-person return, I know we will be guided by this same spirit.
These months have also cast a stark light on the inequities that exist in our country and world. The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black, Latinx, immigrant, and low-income communities, as well as continued examples of police brutality against Black communities, have laid bare another kind of pandemic equally urgent to address in our society and on our own campus—systemic racism.
The path forward for AU is one that must address both challenges, as well as their intersections. This message will focus on our plan for the fall semester in light of COVID-19, with equity among our central guideposts. In the coming weeks, we will share more about additional urgent, campus-wide actions aimed at addressing racism in all of its forms
AU Forward: Our Plan
Our strategic approach for the fall—AU Forward—is based on three key principles: 1) safeguarding the health and well-being of our community; 2) advancing our mission of teaching, research, and learning; and 3) contributing to the health and economic recovery of our AU community, the larger DC region, and beyond. Our work is guided by the District of Columbia’s ReOpen DC plan, which enables universities to open once the city is in stage two. Based on current information and conditions, the fall semester will start on time. It is going to be different and look different, but our mission to deliver a world-class AU education for all our students continues forward.
It is important to remember that COVID-19 is a complex and evolving situation that does not lend itself to easy categories like “open” or “closed.” As we learn more about the trajectory of the pandemic and the effects of reopening, not just on our campus, but across the DMV region and country, we must be ready and able to adapt at any time if conditions change, much like we did in March.
AU Forward: Health and Safety
First and foremost, we must address health and safety. Our commitment to the health and well-being of each member of our community begins with following guidelines from the DC government, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the American College Health Association (ACHA). As part of the ReOpen DC process, the DC government is currently reviewing our health and safety plan, and we will follow their continued guidance.
All members of the AU community will participate in mandatory health and safety trainings before coming back to campus. Face coverings and physical distancing will be required at all times on campus with limited exceptions noted in the Health and Safety Plan. We will have a supply of face coverings available upon request. Guidelines for physical distancing (six feet between individuals) will be posted for every classroom and meeting space.
The Student Health Center will have testing capabilities for students, and testing protocols will follow health guidelines. Testing for faculty and staff should be conducted through their personal healthcare providers. Symptomatic individuals must refrain from coming to work, class, or other on-campus activity and undergo testing. Self-monitoring protocols will be instituted with an online questionnaire that community members must complete. Contact tracing for confirmed cases will be coordinated through the DC Department of Health.
In addition, we will increase cleaning on campus, establish additional sanitizer/handwash stations, and provide Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for designated staff.
AU Forward: The Educational and On-Campus Experience for Fall 2020
Based on current and anticipated conditions related to COVID-19 and the need for a variety of safety protocols, we know that this fall will be different than a typical semester. For instance, we understand that not every student will be able to return to campus; individual circumstances, including travel and other restrictions, must be recognized and respected.
Our plan ensures that we offer learning options to meet our students where they are, provide opportunities to access the AU educational experience, and empower all students to continue to make progress on their degrees.
Classes: In an effort to provide safe and accessible educational opportunities, we will offer a residential campus experience with a blended combination of in-person/online classes and purely online classes. This provides flexibility to navigate changing health and safety conditions and the ability to increase in-person opportunities over time as allowed by health guidelines. Students living in the Washington, DC, region or on campus will have opportunities for some in-person instruction within their courses. Classes will take a variety of formats, ranging from live online sessions with in-person meetings periodically throughout the semester, to online-only courses recommended for students who cannot meet at the scheduled time. More information about individual courses will be provided by the schools and colleges, faculty, and advisors over the summer.
The Washington College of Law (WCL) is planning a hybrid learning experience for Fall 2020. The WCL Tenley campus will be open so students may participate in periodic, on-campus activities.
Study Abroad: All study abroad programs for the fall semester are suspended. While studying abroad in the fall will not be possible, we encourage students to consider classes or internships through our AU Premier Centers Abroad in Madrid, Nairobi, and Brussels.
Fall Calendar: The fall semester will begin on schedule on August 24 (WCL begins on August 21). Fall break (October 9-11) will be transformed into a series of in-person and online symposiums, skill development workshops, and community events. On-campus instruction and activities will end at Thanksgiving break (November 25-29), helping students avoid additional travel costs and exposure to COVID-19. The concluding weeks of courses and final exams will be completed online.
Campus Life and the Student Experience: Student services including advising, academic support, counseling, and the health center will be operational. Throughout the semester, our campus life and academic affairs teams will work with students to prioritize experiential learning, a hallmark of an AU education. Together, we will conceptualize and implement community-building initiatives, deploy virtual and immersive experiences, safely utilize outdoor spaces, and create opportunities for student mentorship. We will also promote opportunities for virtual internships and leverage our DC connections to advance community-based learning on key issues, such as the upcoming US election, research in the time of COVID-19, and policies to advance equity and justice, among others. Although we must modify our behavior, faculty, staff, students, student organizations, alumni, and partners will facilitate programs, guest speakers, and events to foster connections and relationships.
Housing: On-campus housing will be offered to approximately 2,300 first-year and some sophomore students, with all students living in single rooms in the residence halls. Initial room selections are being recalibrated, and new and returning students will soon receive information regarding on-campus housing.
Dining: To provide high-quality, healthy dining options while maintaining a safe environment, packaged meals and limited seating will be offered in dining halls, as well as a mobile ordering system for select retailers on campus. There will be no self-service food stations this fall, and deep cleaning and strict safety measures in food service areas will continue.
Athletics: To fulfill AU’s mission of providing NCAA Division I intercollegiate athletic experiences and recreational fitness opportunities, AU Athletics is preparing for a phased resumption of operations in accordance with all DC and AU health and safety standards. Additional information can be found at AUeagles.com.
AU Forward: Moving to the Next Phase of How We Work
COVID-19 presents a number of challenges for our workforce, and we understand the many impacts on our faculty and staff, from childcare to transportation logistics. We are working to provide support that will help our teams fulfill their job responsibilities and address health, safety, and personal considerations.
We expect that employees who can work remotely, either fully or partially, consistent with their job functions and university needs will continue to do so in the early phases of the plan. Departments will work closely with Human Resources (HR) on next steps, including modified schedules, telework arrangements, and other procedures. With classroom time/space limited due to physical distancing, nearly all faculty (unless they receive an accommodation/modification) will be expected to ensure their students benefit from periodic in-person, face-to-face sessions during the semester.
All faculty and staff must complete the required health and safety training before returning to campus. Only one person will be able to work in a shared office at a time, and six feet of separation will be required. Faculty and staff may request to continue work remotely due to a disability or medical condition, if they are 65 years or older, or if they have a household member who is immunocompromised. More information about the accommodation and modification process will be provided to staff on June 17.
AU Forward: Community of Care
As we move forward, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as our larger DC community, are our top priority. COVID-19 will still be with us in the fall (and potentially longer) as we resume in-person activity. Our plan works to create the safest possible environment on our campus with the most up-to-date information currently available. Unfortunately, there is no scenario that can guarantee zero infections in our community. We must be able to adapt if the trajectory of COVID-19 changes and cases begin to rise again. We will continue to inform our community of any changes over the summer and as we move into the fall semester.
It will be up to each of us to be informed and respectful of the health and safety guidelines and to care for each other’s well-being. We all have a role to play in mitigating the risk of COVID-19 in our AU community and beyond. How we communicate, support, and care for one another is an essential part of how we safely move through the fall semester and beyond and may be among the most important lessons we will learn from this pandemic.
AU Forward: Together
An enormous amount of work went into this plan. At each step, we have been guided by our commitment to health and safety and our mission to produce scholarship and to deliver the high-quality AU education that provides our students with the knowledge and skills to succeed in this changing world.
I want to thank everyone who served on our Health and Safety, Workforce Planning, and Enrollment and Retention Task Forces, and the COVID-19 Working Group. I also want to express my gratitude to the many people who built new procedures, updated programs, and contributed to the comprehensive plan that now guides AU Forward, including our students, faculty, and staff for contributing ideas that informed our approach. I encourage you to read the AU Forward plan’s three documents: the Health and Safety Plan, the Plan for Fall 2020 presentation, and Moving to the Next Phase of How We Work. Each can be found on our website, along with more information and FAQs.
One of the heartening outcomes of COVID-19 is the outpouring of dedication and support from our students, faculty, and staff, as well as our alumni and parents. For that alone, I am grateful to count myself as an AU Eagle.
This period will go down in history as one of the most memorable and impactful in our lifetimes, and I know that our changemakers will accept the challenges by creating change for good. Our resilience, generosity, talent, and care for one another will be our lasting AU legacy during these times, and that is a legacy we can all be proud of.
Be safe and be well.