Fall 2020 Semester Plans

Wednesday, June 24, 2020 News Image


To the Muhlenberg Community:

I know that the big question on everyone’s mind has been what the fall semester will be like at Muhlenberg. I would like to thank you for your patience as we evaluated multiple scenarios for the fall semester. The complexities of this situation are unlike any that colleges and universities have experienced in the past. Thus, our planning required thoughtful, evidence-based decision-making and careful consideration of all factors involved in reopening campus. I am happy to announce that we plan to welcome students back to campus and begin fall semester classes on August 24.

The work of our Fall Planning Committee and senior leadership has been informed by guidance from the CDC and other national public health experts, state health guidance and regulations, as well as recommendations from local health care networks, the Allentown Health Bureau and our College experts. I am grateful for the work that the fall planning group did to outline options and provide recommendations on the academic program, health & safety, community & campus life and facilities & infrastructure.

Planning for the fall semester prioritizes the health and safety of the members of our community and upholds our residential liberal arts mission ensuring that all students have access to the high quality Muhlenberg education we provide. Our plan also allows us to be agile in case the health situation changes. Today I want to provide you with a framework of our fall plans. This will be posted to our website and additional details and updates about the fall semester and health and safety measures will be regularly added as plans are finalized.

One of the primary changes to support the health and safety of the community involves adjustments to the academic calendar for fall 2020. 

  • Classes will start one week early on Monday, August 24. 
  • We will not have fall break and will end on-campus instruction on Friday, November 20.
  • Students will leave campus for a week-long Thanksgiving break and resume classes on November 30 remotely with one week of classes and one week of finals.

These changes allow us to reduce the risk of infection that could occur with students traveling for breaks and enables us to have 13 weeks of on-campus courses and co-curricular activities. A detailed fall 2020 calendar is in development. We will continue to monitor the situation and determine if any adjustments to the spring 2021 calendar are necessary.

Health & Safety Measures

The health and safety of all members of our community has been a priority in our responses and decision-making to address the COVID-19 pandemic. Each of us must act in ways that prevent the spread of the virus. We are all responsible for the health of our community.

The College has already put in place several preventative measures. All students, faculty and staff will be required to wear masks and adhere to handwashing and social distancing protocols. Wearing a mask, hand washing and maintaining social distance guidelines are the most effective ways to maintain health and safety. Individuals with medical conditions precluding them from wearing a mask will be offered alternative solutions. 

We are finalizing our protocols for testing, contact tracing, and daily health monitoring and will share them when we have the details.

Throughout campus, we are installing hands-free faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel holders, toilets and urinals. Signage and floor markings will support social distancing practices. Extensive cleaning and disinfecting protocols will continue, and we will place plexiglass dividers in high traffic areas. These measures are consistent with the state guidance on reopening colleges and universities.

Academics

A Muhlenberg education prioritizes deep student engagement with professors and classmates. We are committed to providing that experience, though with the recognition that teaching and learning in the fall will be different. Courses will be offered in a variety of formats, in-person with social distancing practices, blended with a combination of in-person and online instruction, and fully remote. We know that some students may have to remain at home for health or personal reasons. Some faculty may need to teach fully remote for similar reasons. A mix of modalities allows us to offer courses in ways that support deep student engagement while ensuring that our classrooms and learning spaces support social distancing guidelines.

Our faculty are spending the summer participating in an intense digital pedagogy program working together and with the digital learning team as they develop their fall courses. Trained students who serve as digital learning assistants are available to support professors and their peers this summer and during the academic year. Building on the digital learning work our faculty have done over the past six years, our approach to online learning within a liberal arts framework has gained national attention with our digital learning team sharing their expertise with other institutions.

Athletics

We expect that the Centennial Conference will make a decision about the fall athletic season in early July. We will communicate this decision as soon as we are able.

Campus Life & Housing

The residential and campus experience will be different when you return to campus as well. Residence halls must be de-densified to be in accordance with available public health recommendations and to ensure that we have adequate space available for quarantine housing as needed. 

This means we will have to employ new and different strategies to house students on campus. The strategies we are considering include possibly allowing for more students to move off-campus, supporting a longer commuter distance or offering supplemental housing at a nearby hotel. None of these strategies will be determined until we have confirmed students’ preferences for housing on campus in the coming days.  

What we know for sure is that students who live in the same suite, apartment or individual residence hall rooms as roommates will be treated as “family units.” Students will be assigned to specific shower and sink fixtures in our hall bathrooms. In addition, all first-year students will still be housed in our first-year residence halls, however, some upperclass housing assignments will need to be adjusted. More information about these changes will be available soon.

Many campus events, such as lectures, presentations and meetings will occur virtually. Over the course of the Spring semester, we held many virtual student activities that were well attended and enjoyed by students—and we plan to continue providing these opportunities. Virtual events and programming will be complemented by small gatherings employing proper social distancing. 

We are currently exploring the best options to provide safe dining experiences for our students. As we learn more about the number of students who will be on campus, we will share details regarding both meal plan options and the precautions we will take in our dining facilities to ensure health and safety.

I realize that there are many more questions about the fall semester. The announcement of our plans to be on campus sets in motion the additional preparation required to provide our community with the answers to these questions. We will provide regular updates via email, as well as post information to our website, as more details develop. Additionally, we will hold four webinars in July for our students and families around specific topics regarding the return to campus to help answer more of your questions and provide updates. These will take place on Tuesdays at 6 p.m. beginning July 7—please watch your email for information to register to attend. The topics and dates include:

  • July 7: Health & Safety
  • July 14: Housing
  • July 21: Academic Life
  • July 28: Extracurricular and Community Life 

In the midst of this extraordinary time, Muhlenberg remains strong. We are more than a College, we are a community—of students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends. Over the past few months, we have shown great care and compassion for one another and a commitment to our institutional mission. As we return to campus, each one of us needs to take responsibility for our actions to support the health, safety and well-being of our community. Together, we can navigate the necessary changes on our campus with resilience and generosity. I look forward to welcoming our community back to our beautiful campus in the fall.

Be safe. Be well.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Harring
Interim President