October 05, 2020 | Office of the President

Spring Semester Plan (October 5, 2020)


This message was updated on January 13, 2021 to reflect the change to February 5, 2021 for when students returning to campus will be permitted to be in their rooms. 

To the Bowdoin community,

I am writing with more information on the spring semester, including a plan that should allow our seniors, juniors, and sophomores to be on campus for the second half of this unprecedented academic year.

Please take the time to read this message carefully.

The news from Washington these last several days is a stark reminder that the novel coronavirus knows no bounds. It can infect anyone, and the chances of infection are closely tied to whether someone takes the key safety measures seriously and observes them with discipline—face coverings, social distancing, avoiding large gatherings, good hygiene, and symptom monitoring. If these practices are not followed, the virus can spread rapidly and have serious consequences.

As the number of people who have been infected continues to grow worldwide, and with deaths now exceeding one million, we know we are in this until a widely distributed vaccine is available. This is almost certainly not going to happen for many months, at the earliest. In Maine, conditions continue to be better than most places around the country, although there is currently a surge of COVID-19 cases in York County, and there were nine new cases in Brunswick over the last two weeks. It is clear that we cannot let down our guard, and that life at the College must continue to focus on health and safety while we also deliver an excellent Bowdoin education. The good news is that, with some limited exceptions, our students, faculty, and staff on campus and in the area have been diligent about following the protocols and testing regime and we have done well on campus so far.

When our plans for the fall semester were announced in June, we said our primary goal was to bring our seniors back for their final semester, and we hoped to also have our juniors and sophomores on campus, all of which was subject to the state of COVID-19 and what we learned about our systems and protocols in the fall.

So far this semester, we have had three students test positive for COVID-19, one of whom received the result as they were traveling to campus in August, and the other two were almost certainly infected while in transit to the College. To date, there have been no additional student infections. We have had one staff member test positive, but they subsequently had two tests that were both negative. By the end of last week, we had performed about 17,000 tests, and the Broad Institute COVID-19 testing program has worked very well.

Of course, all of this has taken place during a time when we can be outside. As the weather in Maine and elsewhere around the country turns colder, we will have to remain vigilant and will have to continue to observe strict protocols, including decreased density on campus, frequent testing and isolation of those who test positive before they can spread the virus, quarantining those identified as at risk in contract tracing, and strict adherence to the use of face coverings, physical distancing, proper hygiene, and limits to the size of gatherings.

The Spring Plan

Our plans for the spring take all of this into account and include the following:
  • We will bring seniors, juniors, and sophomores back to campus, plus first-year students for whom home is not a place where they can learn, including first-year international students. All other first-year students will study remotely.
  • Classes will continue to be offered primarily online. Faculty will have the opportunity to offer in-person classes, and we expect that there will be a number of in-person upper-level classes, including laboratory courses. With few exceptions, senior seminars that are required for graduation will be online to ensure that all students have access.
  • Seniors will have the option to live off campus and still be “in residence” at the College (i.e., be able to take any in-person classes, have access to College facilities, and engage safely with students living on campus.) Any senior living off campus and who is “in residence” will also have to abide by a set of expectations and rules, including participating fully in the College’s COVID-19 testing program. These expectations and rules all revolve around protecting health and safety—face coverings, no large gatherings (including parties), and so forth. While they should be pretty obvious to all of us by now, more examples will be provided in the FAQs before long. Noncompliance with these rules and expectations could result in a student losing their “in-residence” privileges, possibly jeopardizing the ability of a senior in this position to graduate, because there may be in-person classes that are required for graduation that cannot be taken when a student is studying remotely.
  • All juniors and sophomores who are not studying remotely will be required to live in campus housing.
  • First-year students, including international students, for whom circumstances at home make it difficult to be academically successful will have the opportunity to live “in residence” on campus.
  • All students who choose to live “in residence” will be required to sign a community agreement on behavioral protocols and an understanding of the sanctions in violating those protocols.
  • All students living on campus will have single bedrooms.
  • We will have significant space for isolation and quarantining.
  • We will again use the Broad Institute COVID-19 testing program, as structured this semester.
  • Prearrival COVID-19 testing and proof of a seasonal flu vaccination will be required of all students.
  • As was the case this fall, students will be tested immediately upon arrival and there will be a period of restricted movement and access (campus status level “orange”) until we have completed several rounds of testing.
  • Dining service will provide meals, including for the seniors “in residence” who live off campus, without adding space or compromising the established safety protocols.
  • An announcement should be coming from NESCAC before long regarding winter sports competition.
  • We continue to monitor the study abroad situation and will make an announcement about Spring 2021 study abroad by November 1.
  • Students on financial aid who have questions about their aid package for the spring semester, including questions stemming from a return to campus next semester or moving to a remote status, should speak with a counselor in the student aid office.
  • Those sophomores, juniors, and seniors who wish to return from a personal leave of absence and those students who may wish to take a leave should contact the Office of the Dean of Students or their dean directly.
These are the broad outlines of our plan, and more details and answers to specific questions about the spring will be developed over the coming weeks and posted to the FAQ section of the College’s COVID-19 website. If you have questions, please send them to Spring2021@bowdoin.edu, and we will strive to include the answers in the FAQs. We will also conduct one or more virtual “town hall” meetings in the coming weeks. Details for these will be provided once they are scheduled.

Key Dates

  • The course registration period will be from Tuesday, December 1, through Thursday, December 17.
  • The deadline for requesting or ending a personal leave of absence will be Monday, November 30. Please contact your dean directly to discuss this option.
  • First-year students (including international first-year students) who need to be on campus because home is not a place where learning can be done successfully should submit a request to do so by Friday, November 6. More information about this process will be shared with the Class of 2024 in the next few days.
  • Seniors, juniors, and sophomores who want to study remotely (not “in residence”) will be required to notify the Office of the Dean of Students by Monday, November 30. More information about this process will be shared in the next few days.
  • Seniors who would like to be “in residence” but not live on campus will need to notify the Office of the Dean of Students by Monday, November 30. More information about this process will be shared in the next few days.
  • A housing lottery for the spring semester will be held beginning Tuesday, December 1.
  • The spring semester will begin on Monday, February 8—two weeks later than normal.
  • Students returning to campus will be permitted to be in their rooms beginning on Friday,
    February 5.
  • A short spring break will begin after the last class on Friday, March 19, with classes resuming on Wednesday, March 24. Students will not be permitted to travel off campus or, in the case of those seniors “in residence” but off campus, leave their area of residence during this short break.
  • Classes will end on Tuesday, May 18. Reading period will be May 19–20, with final exams conducted May 21–24.
  • College housing will close for non-graduating students at 10:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 25.
  • Time for a “Senior Celebration” (slightly shorter than the normal “Senior Week”) will begin on Tuesday, May 25, followed by Baccalaureate on Friday, May 28, and Commencement for the Class of 2021 on Saturday, May 29. Reunion Weekend for the alumni classes of 1s and 6s and 0s and 5s (not including the Class of 2020) will be Thursday, June 3, through Sunday, June 6.
  • A celebration for the Class of 2020 will be held on campus on Friday, June 11, and Saturday, June 12.
It is important to keep in mind that if conditions change before the spring semester begins or during the semester, the plan will change, and fewer students may be on campus.
I am grateful to everyone on campus, and in particular to our first-year students, for your successful efforts to follow our safety protocols and for the good cheer and care for one another that has been so evident. We are looking forward to having sophomores, juniors, and seniors here in the spring, and we will miss our first-year students. As I have written many times, our overarching goals are to protect the health and safety of those on campus as well as our neighbors in Brunswick while simultaneously delivering an excellent Bowdoin education to all of our students. Notwithstanding the challenges and uncertainties we face, I am hopeful that our plans for the spring will allow us to continue to meet both of these goals.

Thank you for all that you do to support one another and the entire Bowdoin community.