Message to the Bowdoin Community—The Spring Semester (September 16, 2020)

To the Bowdoin community,

As I write, there are no active cases of COVID-19 at Bowdoin. All three of the students who tested positive since arrival day on August 29—one of whom received a positive test before arriving on campus—are now out of isolation.
Four other students who came into contact with the students who tested positive were placed in quarantine. Of these, one student has now been allowed to return to their residence hall. None of these students has tested positive for the virus.

This is excellent news, and I am tremendously grateful to everyone in our community for their diligence in observing our protocols for health and safety. We have a long way to go, but so far, so good.

It’s been a little over six months since the College was forced to change the way we operate, and unfortunately, the virus is still with us. Experiences in Maine and elsewhere point to the challenges associated with the spread of COVID-19. This is the reality we face, and it will not change until we have a widely distributed vaccine, which the experts tell us is not likely until 2021, perhaps later.

It is clear that COVID-19 is highly communicable, that it can be transmitted by both asymptomatic and presymptomatic individuals, and that the disease can have very serious short- and long-term consequences, including for younger people. We have seen time and time again that all it takes is one infected person to go undetected and a large group can be infected. So, until an effective vaccine is developed and distributed widely, we will have to continue to observe the protocols that help keep the virus at bay. These include decreased density on campus (to reduce the possibility of transmission and to better manage an outbreak, should one occur), frequent testing and isolation of those who test positive before they can spread the virus, and strict adherence to the protocols of proper hygiene, the use of face coverings, physical distancing, and limits to the size of gatherings.
With all of this in mind, we have been at work to determine how we will manage the spring semester at the College, and while we don’t yet have all the answers, I want to share what we do know.

Key Dates
  • The College will close on Wednesday, December 23, and will remain closed until Monday, January 11, in order to give faculty and staff a well-earned and much-deserved break. While almost all departments will be closed, all benefits-eligible hourly staff will receive holiday pay for this period based on their regular weekly hours.
  • The spring semester will begin two weeks later than normal, on Monday, February 8.
  • Students returning to campus will be permitted in their rooms beginning on Saturday, February 6.
  • Pre-arrival 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 until we have completed several rounds of testing.
  • A short spring break will begin after the last class on Friday, March 19, with classes resuming on Wednesday, March 24.
  • 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.
  • Commencement activities for the Class of 2020 will be held on campus on Friday, June 11, and Saturday, June 12.
Most classes will continue to be taught online. There are two reasons for this. The first is about classroom space. This summer, we performed an engineering study of all of our spaces on campus to learn which ones provide the appropriate combination of outside airflow, filtration, and spacing of seats to be safe. As a result, some of our spaces were taken offline for teaching (e.g., Massachusetts Hall and Hubbard Hall). The spaces that can be used have limited seating in order to satisfy the need for safe distancing. As a result, we have limited safe classroom capacity on campus. Second, we want to continue to ensure that we provide an excellent Bowdoin education to every student wherever they are, and we want to make sure we can provide this without missing a beat, should the virus force us to shut down as we did last spring. The number of in-person classes offered will depend on several factors, including which students and how many students are on campus, the availability of faculty for in-person teaching, and curricular coherence. For example, some faculty may want to offer independent study projects or a selection of other in-person classes for seniors or for other small groups of students who can be accommodated safely indoors.

We do not yet know which students will be on campus in the spring. I know this is information that many of you want to know, but the decision will have to wait until closer to Thanksgiving when we have a clearer picture of how our systems and protocols are working this fall, and until we know more about how the virus and the disease it causes may spread when the weather changes and we are all back indoors.

We have made no decision on athletics. The NESCAC presidents will not be meeting until November, at which point decisions on athletics for the spring will begin to be considered.

In addition, we are undecided on study away. A decision here depends on the trajectory of the virus internationally, as well as in the US, and guidance from the US Department of State and the US Centers for Disease Control.

As we all know well, there is much uncertainty regarding COVID-19 and, as a result, all of this is subject to change. We will continue to be guided by the same principles: to protect the health and safety of everyone on campus and our neighbors in Brunswick while also providing an excellent Bowdoin education for all of our students.

Thank you again for everything you’re doing for yourselves and for others during these difficult days. I will be back in touch when we have more information about the spring.

All the best,