As we approach a full year of the effects of the pandemic, many of you have asked questions about our plans for the summer and fall. By fall, we believe that vaccination will likely be widespread and infection rates likely will be significantly lower. Therefore, we anticipate that the restoration of a more typical campus experience will be possible by late August. Our goal is to initiate discussion internally on this topic with faculty and staff and to share it with students and Lehigh families as well.
This past year, your tremendous dedication and work were critical to supporting our students and ensuring the high-quality academic and overall Lehigh experience we all value. The adaptation and demands required during the pandemic have been great, and we know everyone is looking forward to a bit more normalcy in the months ahead. With all its challenges, the last year has been a time of experimentation and remarkable creativity, and we believe that we should carry some of the most important lessons and new approaches with us as we move forward.
We are making plans for the fall semester in many areas, including:
Availability of Vaccination:
Many of our plans will depend on making sure that the risk of contracting COVID is reduced. Widespread vaccination will provide substantial protection for the Lehigh community and the broader population of Bethlehem. Current estimates are that vaccines will be widely available by mid-summer, and we are considering adding the COVID vaccine to our list of required vaccinations for students. We also encourage all community members, including faculty and staff, to get the vaccine when they can do so. Lehigh does not have a role in distributing the vaccine at this time; however, we are staying current on the progress of its rollout.
Classes and Academic Work:
We anticipate the fall semester will begin as planned on August 23 for undergraduate and graduate students and that classes will be in person as a default. The expertise we have developed in online and hybrid instruction will be used to provide flexibility—such as allowing students to take certain courses online or to allow for “flipped classroom” models of instruction. Some large classes may employ remote lectures. However, the value of in-person instruction and experiential learning has been reinforced by the experience of the pandemic. Students want to learn in person. They want to participate in activities and connect with faculty and their fellow students in ways that are only possible in person. We know, too, that faculty and staff recognize the value of these interactions and have missed them as well. We want to provide all members of the Lehigh community with the best possible environment for a robust and meaningful in-person experience.
A robust residential experience has long been an important part of the Lehigh undergraduate student experience. We are planning for on-campus undergraduate housing to be similar to the system that was in place pre-pandemic, with students having the option to live in single, double and in some cases triple and quad rooms in the residence halls. We also anticipate that the Greek houses will be available as a housing option for students in these organizations. Isolation housing will still be available for students who contract COVID, as no vaccine is 100% effective.
Large Gatherings and Events:
Large in-person gatherings will likely resume within limits based on state guidelines and recommendations from health officials. Restrictions on gathering size may affect our largest events, especially those held indoors. For example, audience size at sports competitions and arts performances may be limited. The operations of our intercollegiate athletics will be influenced by NCAA and Patriot League regulations. We are planning for other fall events, such as The Rally, Convocation and Founder’s Weekend, to be in person with modifications and density reductions if needed.
In many offices and functions across the university, we have learned how to work remotely with great success. We are reviewing our policies and best practices on remote work to determine how we can improve flexibility and efficiency through the expansion of remote work opportunities for faculty and staff. We expect new policies governing remote work will be in place by the fall. We cannot understate, though, the value of being together. At this time we believe most faculty and staff will be able to work in person by the fall. With safety protocols in place, routine in-person interactions and meetings will help to connect people to each other and to Lehigh in ways that are not easy to replicate remotely. These policy changes will be announced with plenty of lead time to allow faculty, staff and supervisors to have conversations and make needed arrangements.
We anticipate that we will continue to use COVID testing as a tool for assessing and promoting the health of our campus. High-reliability rapid testing may supplant the current approach as its quality improves.
We expect travel will gradually return to normal, and we are in the process of developing guidelines around how we will gradually restore the usual processes for booking and approval of university-sponsored travel. Travel to areas where COVID or COVID variants are more common or where vaccination is not prevalent may still require specific approval. Quarantining or testing requirements following travel may continue in these situations. We anticipate there will be some limited opportunities for students to study abroad during the fall semester; study abroad staff will communicate with students as we learn more about which countries and programs will reopen to international students.
Guests will be welcome on campus. Seminar speakers will begin to make in-person visits. Conferences and other events in which large numbers of people from across the country gather may need to follow testing procedures. We anticipate that weddings will again be held in the church.
We have established an FAQ that will be updated as we collect questions and information from the community. We are also planning opportunities for faculty, staff and students to discuss plans for the fall semester. ERAC and Faculty Senate will be reaching out with information on how faculty and staff can ask questions and provide feedback.
This year has not been an easy one, and we are hopeful for better days ahead. Thank you for your ongoing support and work, which is essential to getting us there. We are looking forward to sharing more in the coming weeks.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs
Vice President for Finance and Administration