Letter to Students: Fall 2020 Planning

June 11, 2020

Dear Students,

The University of Richmond has continued to engage in careful and comprehensive planning in recent weeks as we prepare to reopen our campus and begin the new academic year. Our planning is guided by two fundamental priorities: promoting the health and safety of our entire campus community and ensuring an excellent academic experience for you. Today, I write you to share important updates about our plans for the fall semester.

Fall Semester

I am pleased to affirm that the University intends to resume in-person instruction and the residential educational experience at the beginning of the fall semester, as originally scheduled. Consistent with the published academic calendar, fall semester classes will begin August 24 and the semester will end December 18. We are, however, making two important modifications to the academic calendar, informed by public health guidance. Fall Break will be eliminated and in-person courses and student residency will end prior to Thanksgiving. The final week of classes and the study and exam period will occur remotely after Thanksgiving.

More specifically, our plans are as follows:

  • In-person classes will conclude on Saturday, November 21.
  • Students will move out of campus housing following their last in-person class in order to return home prior to Thanksgiving.
  • There will be no classes the week of Thanksgiving (Monday, November 23 to Friday, November 27).
  • Classes will resume remotely on the Monday after Thanksgiving (November 30).
  • Classes conclude for the fall semester on Saturday, December 5.
  • Reading days and the exam period will be held remotely from December 6–15. Please see the official academic calendar for more detail.

As always, provisions will be made for students who cannot return home at Thanksgiving or between semesters, overseen by the Richmond and Westhampton College deans’ offices. No decision has been made at this time about the spring calendar.

Let me offer some additional information on issues that I know are important to you, and, indeed, crucial to the success of the coming academic year: academic life, student housing, our robust health and safety planning, and the new norms that we all must adopt given the continued presence of COVID-19. 

Academic Life

The University of Richmond is known for dynamic instruction in small classes organized around robust discussion, group problem-solving, and personal faculty attention. In our planning, we have sought to preserve these hallmarks of a Richmond education while making necessary adjustments to conform to public health guidance to promote health and safety.

All in-person classes will be assigned to a classroom that allows for appropriate physical distancing. Some classes will need to be rescheduled to provide an appropriately sized room. To that end, the University will hold classes at all available times (including evenings) and days of the week, as well as convert many campus spaces that have traditionally been used for other purposes to academic classrooms.

Our faculty, where possible, will offer classes simultaneously in person and remotely for students who are high risk for COVID-19 and wish an accommodation or need to be out of class due to illness or quarantine. Students who are high risk for COVID-19, as defined by the CDC, may request an accommodation by completing the University’s request for disability accommodations. Finally, some classes, such as those taught by faculty who are at high risk for COVID-19, will only be offered remotely (and will be noted as such in the online catalogue).

Residential Life

In addition to resuming on-campus instruction and safeguarding the health of our community, we also set a goal of safely housing as many students on campus as possible, given the University’s commitment to offering a meaningful residential education experience. After carefully analyzing whether our residence halls have the capacity to allow for necessary physical distancing, we have determined the University is able to offer its customary residential experience in a manner consistent with public health guidelines. All students who registered to live on campus this fall will be able to do so.

In the majority of cases, students’ original room assignments will remain unchanged, since nearly all our rooms, apartments, and suites have sufficient square footage to allow for full occupancy under the physical distancing guidelines required for residential education. We have, however, eliminated triple rooms and converted them to doubles, while also converting some additional rooms to singles. The Residence Life and Housing Office will work directly with all students affected by these changes, as well as with students who had planned to study abroad in the fall and will now enroll on campus. We are currently evaluating the opportunity for students who had intended to study abroad to reside in a nearby hotel. More information about these plans will be provided to impacted students in July.

In the event that any students contract COVID-19 during the semester, we have secured sufficient residential capacity for isolation and quarantine. These rooms will be on campus in modular units, not within residential buildings. Please know that if you do become ill, the University will be there for you to ensure you receive the proper care and support.

Health, Safety, and Resilience

As we continue to prepare for the fall, I cannot stress enough that the health and safety of the campus community has been of paramount importance in our planning efforts. Ensuring the health of the campus community is a responsibility we all share and will require a shared commitment from all of us as we modify the way we live, learn, and work together.

The University’s Resilience of Operations Working Group, in consultation with an infectious disease specialist and other physicians, has identified complementary interventions to mitigate the campus risks associated with COVID-19. The University will invest aggressively in a series of strategies, which taken as a whole, will augment community health and safety. They include:

  • A rigorous and phased Physical Distancing Framework that will apply to all aspects of campus life, including dining facilities, libraries, and classrooms
  • COVID-19 testing and contact tracing protocols
  • Daily health and temperature screenings for students, faculty and staff
  • Plans and resources for isolating students who test positive for COVID-19 and quarantining close contacts, including the provision of health care and the ability to participate in classes remotely
  • Clinical protocols for treating COVID-19 and meeting student health care needs in the Student Health Center
  • Cleaning and disinfecting protocols consistent with CDC standards
  • Plans designed to promote healthy building environments, including enhancements to air handling systems

We will write you throughout the summer with more information about our health and safety measures for the fall, including details about how our Physical Distancing Framework will work in practice. These measures may be eased during the fall if conditions on campus and in the local community permit.

Returning to Campus and Community Life

Appropriate testing and screening protocols will be in place for all faculty, staff, and students. To promote physical distancing, student move-in for all classes will be phased over a period of several days, rather than having all first-year students arrive on campus on the same day, followed by all upper-class students returning on the same day. Other adjustments to daily life will be necessary beyond the classroom precautions outlined above. Campus dining operations and formats, for example, will be adjusted. Cloth face coverings are, at present, required (and may likewise be required in the fall semester) in all buildings, including classrooms, dining facilities, common areas within residence halls, and in outdoor settings where physical distancing measures are difficult to maintain. We will provide additional information about returning to campus and community life over the summer.

A Shared Responsibility

We have always been a community of Spiders inhabiting a shared web that connects and sustains us all. That will never be truer than in the coming academic year. Each of us must do our part to take care of ourselves and one another — remaining flexible in ever-changing circumstances, adopting new norms, and adhering to public health requirements that will limit the spread of COVID-19 and protect the most vulnerable among us. This semester will be unlike any other, but the reward for embracing our shared responsibility will be great: a return to our treasured residential and academic community where all members can thrive

Contingency Planning

It is important to note that while we are fully committed to resuming residential education, we understand that public health conditions and the course of the pandemic may change at any time. Should conditions ultimately preclude campus residency, we will be prepared to support the continued academic progress of our students as well as job and internship placements, student activities, clubs, and counseling.

Next Steps for Students

From now through July, you will receive additional information about the fall semester, including: the timeline and process for open registration when students are informed of schedule and classroom reassignments that have been made in order to ensure adequate physical distancing — and will be able to make changes to their schedule; details regarding our anticipated staged move-in process; and for first-year and transfer students, facts about orientation and transition programs. In addition, we will continue to provide information about health and safety measures, including instructions related to screening for COVID-19. And we will continue to confer with a student advisory group on plans for the fall.

In the meantime, we invite you to attend a Zoom-based conversation about our fall plans:

  • Incoming student and parent meeting: Wednesday, June 17, at 4:30 p.m. EST
  • Returning student and parent meeting: Thursday, June 18, at 4:30 p.m. EST

Incoming students may register for the Wednesday meeting here, while continuing students may register for the Thursday meeting here.

These meetings will be recorded for those who cannot attend live. When you register for a meeting, you will have the opportunity to submit questions. University leaders and I will respond to your questions and discuss the University’s continued planning for the year ahead.

I would like to conclude by reassuring you that all of us are working intently to prepare for a safe and enriching fall semester for our students. Much has already been asked of every member of our community, including our students and their families, and there are surely more challenges ahead. But I know that together we will continue to meet this moment with creativity, determination, generosity, and success — and, once again, demonstrate the distinct and transformative power of a Richmond education.

I look forward to staying in touch with you over the summer and to welcoming our new and returning students in the fall, to an active and vibrant Richmond campus and to another academic year of significant achievement by our students.

Please continue to take good care of yourselves and each other.

With best wishes,

Ronald A. Crutcher