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Fall 2020: Living and Learning on Campus

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Jeremy Haefner

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Dear Students and Families,

One month ago, I announced the University of Denver’s plans to reopen with face-to-face classes when we begin our fall term in mid-September (Sturm College of Law in mid-August), even if delivery had to be modified in some way. At the time, I noted that our decisions are dependent upon guidance from federal, state and local government and public health officials. We promised to be mindful of faculty and students who are immunocompromised or have other health issues that would prevent them from fully participating in face-to-face classes by the fall. These plans and important considerations remain intact and we can now share more details of how we will open up in the fall.

First, let me share the details of a slightly modified academic calendar. The Sturm College of Law’s fall semester will begin Aug. 17, and the fall quarter for the rest of the campus will begin Sept. 12. Classes will be primarily face-to-face, combined with a mixture of hybrid and online courses. The Sturm College of Law will finish fall semester classes by Nov. 23, prior to Thanksgiving and their finals will be online as scheduled Dec. 2–16. For all other schools, the fall quarter classes will end on Nov. 20, and final exams will be administered online the week after Thanksgiving. With the addition of a week-long reading period, fall quarter final exams will end on Dec. 4.

To ensure that we are thoroughly prepared to re-open our campus, DU’s University Planning Framework task forces have been meeting, gathering data, and making recommendations for fall logistics, digital and online strategy, and financial scenarios and planning. The task force chairs and co-chairs have been communicating with me and with the University Planning Steering Committee, to ensure that we effectively knit together the many related details, data points and best practices in the context of DU’s over-arching goal: to adopt the best courses of action to promote the health and safety of our community, the quality of the educational experience students receive, and ensure the financial security of the University. In addition, as always, we have kept the University’s core values, including equity, at the forefront of our deliberations.

At this time, I will address four issues as clearly and transparently as possible, while acknowledging that the good and thorough work that has been done so far will continue to evolve: (I) how we will deliver courses and experiential learning; (II) what options will be available for on-campus housing; (III) how student support services and campus life may be impacted by physical distancing; and (IV) what additional resources and services will be available for the health of our community members.

I.  Teaching and Learning—DU will offer a combination of in-person, hybrid and online courses and an expanded class schedule.

We are creating a dynamic strategy that will reduce population density on our campus, while also allowing us to prioritize our highest-impact learning experiences for face-to face instruction and ensure that students can meet the requirements of their majors. Our classroom capacity will be reduced to approximately one-third of what is typical, based on federal and state guidance for physical distancing and dedensification. Therefore, to increase this capacity, classes will likely be offered across more hours of the day and more days of the week. This will enable us to accommodate the logistics and timing needed for cleaning, class transitions, and other health-and-safety protocols.

As each unit plans for fall, deans and faculty will be looking across the curriculum at which courses are best suited for our three delivery types:

  • Each unit will offer a variety of in-person classes that include the level of engagement and interaction for which DU is known. When assigning classroom space, we will prioritize these high-impact learning courses, as well as those that are most dependent on physical participation in order to be successful.
  • Hybrid courses will combine online delivery with some in-person teaching, to ensure that specific learning outcomes and experiences are achieved with creativity and meaningfulness. While subgroups of students may meet in-person on different days of the week, and exams may be offered online, these courses will satisfy all accreditation and visa requirements.
  • Online instruction will be reserved for large courses that cannot be delivered on campus in a healthy or safe manner; and those that can be most successfully delivered without compromising the content or the student experience.

Throughout the summer, we will be leveraging what we learned during the fully online spring term, and also testing and refining creative new ways to deliver hybrid courses that combine cocurricular engagement between faculty and students, both in-person and online. Our instructional support subcommittee is creating resources that will help our faculty deliver the highest quality learning experience for students, regardless of where they are physically.

Finally, it is important to note that if public health officials require an abrupt end to in-person teaching, our in-person and hybrid courses would convert immediately to online delivery, thereby ensuring that teaching and learning can continue without disruption.

II.  Housing—DU will accommodate all first-year students on campus, and as many second-year students as possible depending upon density guidelines and room configurations.

The housing subcommittee reviewed a variety of scenarios for room occupancy and square footage per resident. After careful consultation with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, we will accommodate approximately 77 percent of normal on campus housing needs of our students and will identify comparable proximate housing for the approximately 700 students who cannot be accommodated.

We will soon have an exact list of rooms that can be offered by lottery, but in any scenario we choose, we can guarantee that all first-year students will be able to live on campus so they can establish their sense of community and have the residential college experience they desire and expect. We will also try to house as many second-year students as possible on campus.

A few other decisions have been made:

  • To help adjust for our reduced capacity during the 2020–2021 academic year, we will waive the live-on requirement for second-year students. If you had been planning to live in a fraternity or sorority but no longer wish to, please contact your chapter president or housing corporation for specific housing requirements prior to waiving your on-campus release.
  • Rising second-year students who want to be released from their housing contract for the 2020–2021 academic year will continue to receive their residence housing grant. As always, these funds will be distributed on a quarterly basis to students who are registered for classes in each quarter.
  • We will expand the allowable commuting radius from 25 miles to 45 miles from campus for incoming first-year students who may prefer to live at home for a variety of reasons.
  • We are exploring the use of nearby hotels and apartment buildings to create additional capacity within close proximity to campus.

There will be much more detail about housing options available within the next few weeks. Please check the Housing FAQ for additional details as well.

III.  Student support services—DU will continue to offer comprehensive support services and co-curricular programming that empowers students to succeed in the classroom while also developing dimensions of character, physical and emotional well-being, and preparing for future careers.

The student support subcommittee of the Fall Logistics Task Force is focusing on ways to identify and meet student needs while remaining flexible, nimble, and innovative. This may mean creating student cohorts or a buddy system to facilitate connection and engagement, perhaps also in a hybrid fashion, to result in the most effective combination of face-to-face and digital relationship building.

  • National data shows that having a large number of students living in single rooms may negatively impact their social engagement and mental health. We also know that the coronavirus created significant new stress for our students last spring. Our Health and Counseling Center will continue to offer 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week student mental health support through tele-mental health platforms.
  • Technology support will also continue to be important to student success. We will ensure that wireless access is available to all students, and that opportunities are built in for students to have meetings with advisors and faculty either digitally or in person at safe physical distances.
  • To encourage safe and healthy behaviors on campus, we will adapt our Student Code of Conduct to include new expectations around wearing facial coverings and following physical distancing guidelines. Our Health Promotion team is also leading a group of campus partners and students to create programming that will help students understand their responsibility to follow all health and safety guidelines.
  • Throughout the summer we will engage new students and their families in a virtual orientation program including Canvas modules, webinars and remote events. We are currently developing a plan for a staggered move-in process and a fall cohort Discoveries Orientation that will include a blend of small in-person experiences, as well as virtual programming.
  • Of course, we want our students to enjoy their residential experience fully and will be creating new and imaginative ways for students to experience campus together while still staying healthy and safe. Much more on our campus life programming will follow a bit later this summer.

IV.  Health and safety services—DU will offer additional medical services to test, monitor and track the coronavirus.

The healthcare subcommittee will soon identify healthcare providers that can augment the University’s capacity to test students, staff and faculty for the coronavirus. The University has already deployed a comprehensive symptom monitoring system and will implement contact tracing and other virus surveillance approaches. While the exact methodology is actively under discussion, we expect to provide more details by Aug. 1.

As our plans for fall and beyond become increasingly clear, I will continue to provide relevant updates. In the meantime, I hope you’ll join me on Zoom on Tuesday, June 2, from Noon to 1:00 p.m. (MT) for Ask the Administrators: A Town Hall for Families and Students. My colleagues and I will do our best to answer your questions fully and transparently, and to build your confidence that we are actively preparing for a successful return to campus in the fall. We cannot wait to see our students again.


Jeremy Haefner