Friday, June 5, 2020

Dear Students,

From the time we transitioned to remote learning in March, we have longed for our collective return to campus. So much of what we do is rooted in the daily interactions that we previously took for granted. Though I have only been a part of the Wilkes community for a brief amount of time, I understand fully the feeling that campus is missing a piece of its soul when students are not present. Today, I am pleased to share with you our initial thinking on how we will welcome you back to the Wilkes campus this fall.

Our COVID-19 task force, encompassing professionals from every area of our University, has been hard at work developing the appropriate campus protocols that will be required of us in the year ahead. All of our decisions have been made with your health and safety at top of mind and under the guidance of national and state health officials. Please understand that planning is still underway. Specific guidelines about class sizes and formats, residence halls, athletics and campus dining services will be announced in the coming weeks.

Revised Fall Calendar
Fall classes for undergraduate students will begin on Monday, Aug. 24. This is one week earlier than our planned start date. Residential students will move back to campus in staggered fashion during the week of Aug. 17. We will conclude all face-to-face instruction and examinations by Wednesday, Nov. 25. The week after Thanksgiving will be reserved for the completion of any additional virtual assignments.

An early start and an early end to the semester requires us to complete course requirements in a slightly condensed timeframe. As a result, we will conduct classes on Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 7, and during the days in October traditionally reserved for our fall break.

This decision was made with several important factors in mind. First, many health experts predict that cases of the coronavirus may increase later this year, perhaps in the form of a second wave in the late fall or early winter. By starting the semester early and canceling planned breaks, it increases the likelihood that we can complete the semester uninterrupted. Second, the risk to our community and the communities around us only increases as students leave on break, are potentially exposed to the virus during their travels, and then return to campus. By eliminating extended breaks, we lessen the chance for infection in this way. And finally, we can engage in this new format and only reduce the amount of class days by four.

It is important to note that the start dates of our graduate programs remain unchanged. Most of these programs are already conducted online and we look forward to welcoming our graduate students as scheduled. If changes to your graduate program are anticipated, department faculty will be in touch.

Campus Health and Safety
Testing and contact tracing are key ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. But what’s most important are the habits we practice amongst ourselves. Wilkes will institute a number of health and safety standards to promote a safe environment to learn and live. In coordination with federal guidance, we will ask you to practice social distancing, wash your hands often, use hand sanitizer, maintain clean spaces and wear appropriate face masks. Our facilities team will utilize CDC recommended cleaning protocols throughout the campus, particularly on high-contact surfaces. We will also control the flow of individuals in high-traffic areas with designated entrances and exits and single-direction stairwells. Specific policies and procedures are under development. Our comprehensive health and safety plan will be shared with the campus community prior to resuming in-person instruction and operations.

Wilkes will also introduce COVID-19 protocols that will emphasize screening and make testing available for students who exhibit symptoms throughout the semester. We are developing procedures for students to isolate themselves if they have tested positive or are awaiting test results. Wilkes is working with Wilkes-Barre health officials on contact tracing protocols.

Above all else, we must honestly and mindfully monitor our own health. Only we can truly know when we are not well. Individuals with COVID-19 symptoms or knowledge of exposure must not report to work or class. We will post signage in campus buildings with these important reminders.

Adapting as Necessary
Despite our best planning, unexpected developments in the world health situation may require us to change our thinking. If a new outbreak occurs, we will take all the necessary steps to protect the health and well-being of our campus community, which may include some level of virtual learning. We are also exploring ways that we can provide remote learning opportunities to students who may be in isolation, or have health challenges that require them to avoid crowds.

There is much still under development, but we felt it was important to share this initial information with you as soon as possible, especially with the start of the fall semester occurring earlier than anticipated. More information will be shared with you in the coming weeks.

This academic year will feel different to all of us. I hesitate to call this the new normal, because in some ways it feels anything but normal. We must all take reasonable steps to protect our health and the health of those around us. The fall semester will require our patience, creativity and resolve. But we will get through this together. And together, we will enjoy the full benefits of the Wilkes experience.

As many of you know, I am a new member of the Wilkes community. In fact, today marks the end of just my second week at Wilkes. It brings me great joy to share our fall plans with you. And it brings even greater joy to know that we will be together again very soon.

Please continue to monitor your Wilkes email and the Wilkes fall 2020 COVID-19 information page for the latest on the fall semester.