Vaccinations, Working on Campus, and Remote Work—April 16, 2021

To the campus community, 

Thank you for all that you are doing to care for one another and yourselves each day.

I am writing to provide more detailed information on our plans for the fall and an eventual return to the workplace for staff.

As I wrote last month, I am very confident that we will welcome all our students back to campus in the fall, and that all classes will be taught in person, including music, dance, art, theater, and labs. We will very likely have a full athletic schedule, along with the other activities, performances, lectures, and events that make every day at Bowdoin special. There may still be a need for some physical distancing indoors and perhaps the continued use of face coverings in certain situations, but the goal is to return as close as we can to the Bowdoin we knew before the pandemic.

Vaccinations

In order to ensure that our campus is as safe as possible for all of us and for our neighbors, we will require all members of the campus community to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19.

There are a number of benefits to this vaccination requirement, including:

  • it is the best approach for the College to take from a larger, public health perspective; 
  • it creates a safer, more secure environment for Bowdoin community members to avoid having COVID-19 outbreaks on campus in the close learning environment and residential setting, which facilitates the resumption of a more normal semester; 
  • it may mitigate some of the mental health effects of pandemic student isolation;
  • it helps to alleviate anxiety and discomfort for faculty members and students who are fearful of COVID-19;
  • it helps provide clarity about the upcoming academic year;
  • it reduces the foreseeable impact of local community COVID-19 spread; and 
  • it provides clear signals to prospective and admitted students and their parents about the importance of safety and health at Bowdoin.

Proof of vaccination will be required by the following dates:

Students: Friday, August 13
Faculty and staff: Tuesday, August 24 (first-year student arrival day)

Exemptions will be granted for medical reasons for students (and legitimate medical or religious reasons in the case of employees). We will also work individually with any international students who may have difficulty obtaining vaccinations.

I know that at the moment it can be challenging for faculty and staff to schedule a vaccination appointment. We have a number of months before the new academic year begins and there is every indication that the process will get easier in the weeks ahead as more vaccines are made available in Maine and across the country. These vaccinations are essential for returning to normal, allowing us to protect ourselves and one another. I encourage anyone with questions or concerns about the vaccines or the vaccination process to speak with their primary care physician and to review information that is widely available about the safety and efficacy of the vaccines. Here is a sample:

Comparing the COVID-19 Vaccines: How Are They Different? – Yale Medicine
COVID-19 vaccines: Get the facts – Mayo Clinic
COVID-19 Vaccine Information for Specific Groups – US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Is the COVID-19 Vaccine Safe? – Johns Hopkins Medicine
Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines – US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Safety of COVID-19 Vaccines – World Health Organization
Vaccine Safety – US Department of Health and Human Services
Wondering about COVID-19 Vaccines if you’re pregnant or considering pregnancy? – Harvard Medical School

In addition to these outside resources, we have posted responses to a variety of potential questions about the vaccination requirement on the Bowdoin website—one for students and another for faculty and staff. We haven’t covered every possible question but we will add to them over time.

Returning to Work on Campus

With the requirement that all members of our community will be vaccinated, we also plan to have faculty and staff back to work on campus by September 1, 2021. This return to normal will be phased in during the four and a half months between now and then. I know, notwithstanding how much we all desire a return to normal, that the prospect of all being back together on campus brings its own challenges, including protecting our health and managing important personal and family issues. Vaccinations will ease the health concerns, and the long lead time until September 1 is intended to help facilitate planning.

Currently, access to campus facilities is limited to those who are participating in the College’s COVID-19 testing program, and these facilities are limited to 50 percent capacity. For example, a building or set of offices that normally houses ten people may now only have five people working there as long as all five are in the testing program. As has been the case since last summer, this is a cap, not a requirement that all offices be at 50 percent occupancy during business hours, and it is up to senior officers and managers to decide who can be in each space. This set of limits will remain in place until July 1, 2021.

On July 1, the cap will be increased to 75 percent, but again, access will be limited to those in the College’s COVID-19 testing program at the discretion of senior officers and managers. We will continue to test those faculty and staff who are in the program each week until September 1. More details on the testing program for the summer will be forthcoming, including testing schedules and how to enroll.

By September 1—again, with the knowledge that our community will be fully vaccinated by then—we will return to normal and the capacity of our facilities will move to 100 percent. While we are hopeful that frequent testing for COVID-19 will be a thing of the past, we will have a surveillance testing program in the fall.

Remote Work

With our experience over the past fifteen months working in a largely remote fashion, we will be examining whether remote work can be incorporated in some formal way in the future for certain staff. I have asked several members of the staff to serve on a working group chaired by Brian Robinson in human resources that will examine whether remote work would be valuable and feasible for the College. The existence of the project does not signal a decision to change how we work, but if the working group believes there is a case for a model or models of remote work, it will also design a pilot to test this recommendation. The issues the group will consider include, at least: eligibility, equity, professional development, cultural implications, attracting talent, technology needs, and metrics to measure the success of the pilot. I expect the group will work with Institutional Research, Analytics, and Consulting resources to design employee surveys, and I have also encouraged the group to talk with those in other organizations and experts outside of Bowdoin and outside of higher education. In addition to Brian, the members of this group are:

Jim Caton – Communications
Jeff Doring – Information Technology
Bryce Ervin – Admissions
Carmen Greenlee – Library
Stephanie Patterson – Residential Life
Eduardo Pazos – Student Affairs, Diversity and Inclusion
Lynne Toussaint – Controller’s Office

I am grateful to each of these colleagues for their willingness to serve the College in this important way. They will begin their work by June 1 and will finish by October 15, at which point they will deliver their findings to me and the senior staff. We will then share the findings and results of the subsequent conversations with the campus. Given this schedule, any decision to move forward with a remote work pilot program would be implemented for the spring semester, at the earliest.

I hope this message answers questions you may have about our plans for the fall and how we expect to continue protecting the health and safety of students, faculty, and staff and those who live and work in our local community. If you have questions, please submit them here.

Thank you, again, for all you are doing for one another. We still have some way to go, but with every day that passes successfully, we move that much closer to returning to normal.

All the best,

Clayton