8.20.20: Success Is Up to All of Us

A message from Nathan Urban and Ric Hall to students and families.

Dear Lehigh Students and Parents,

As we approach the first day of classes in this unprecedented year at Lehigh, we wanted to write with some perspectives on this Fall term. We hope you are as excited as we are about continuing your education at Lehigh.

As you know, Lehigh has worked to provide a range of educational opportunities for students who will be in residence halls, off campus in Bethlehem or living in other locations. These plans include reopening the campus for limited in-person education and significant investments in training and technology to enhance online learning.

We have been particularly focused on working to provide our incoming first-year students with an engaging in-person experience this Fall. We recognize that for most of you, your high school careers did not end as you expected or hoped, as the pandemic canceled or changed many graduation events and other farewells. All of us at Lehigh—administration, faculty and staff—understand the significance of the start of a new semester of college. We realize that in the midst of a global pandemic your experience will be different, and we wish that weren’t the case. We know, however, that you have much to look forward to as a Lehigh student, and we anticipate the positive contributions you will make to our community in the days to come. We’re glad you’re here.

As you would expect, we have contingency plans in place in case changes in public health or other factors necessitate a shift in our approach. We are monitoring case numbers on campus and in the region, and we are carefully tracking our capacity to respond to outbreaks with testing and contact tracing, and through use of isolation and quarantine processes. Some of the information that we are tracking about cases on campus and in the region is available on the Lehigh University COVID-19 Dashboard.

Recent news from colleges and universities across the country is sobering. Many universities that have spent months preparing for the Fall semester, putting in place well-designed plans for in-person instruction, campus life and COVID testing, have been forced to change these plans. In some cases, universities have shifted to fully remote instruction for the remainder of the semester after only a short time on campus. In most cases, these decisions have been precipitated by clusters of COVID cases among students and concerns about further spread among students and to other members of the university and local communities.

One theme is emerging from these developments on other campuses. Much of the spread can be traced to students attending off-campus parties, typically while not following guidance on social distancing and mask wearing. On some campuses, single events of this sort have led to tens of students contracting COVID-19 at multiple parties. These students then have the potential to infect dozens more people—both students and residents living close to campus.

While parties of this sort are for many students a part of their college experience, this year must be different at Lehigh. Such events threaten to create conditions that are unacceptably dangerous, both for individual students and for the Bethlehem community. If we observe such outbreaks, we will not be able to maintain in-person activities this semester. The actions of a few people hosting or attending parties can easily prevent thousands of students from engaging in on-campus activities. There will be plenty of opportunities for large gatherings and parties after the pandemic is over, but now is not the time.

Therefore, we are reminding all students to follow the rules that we have set out and that you have agreed to. Avoid attending any gathering of more than ten people, practice social distancing, wear a mask and wash your hands frequently.

To prevent such spreading events, we will be implementing a zero tolerance policy for people hosting events that violate our policy against gatherings of more than ten people. These are considered violations of our university code of conduct. Students should not host or attend such events. If students are aware of gatherings that violate these rules, we encourage students to provide information about these events to: http://lehigh.edu/go/covidreporting. Unfortunately, we have already learned about some large planned events and are acting to intervene to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students.

Student Affairs will be working hard to create alternative activities and events for students, especially those living on campus. We will create opportunities to connect and build the Lehigh community safely.

The good news that we are seeing from campuses and businesses across the country is that few cases of COVID-19 transmission have been tied to classrooms or other activities when social distancing and mask wearing are practiced. So we believe that our preparations and plans will allow us to provide an outstanding, though limited, in-person education and also to take part in many other activities safely, if we all follow the rules. This should remind us that in so many ways, we are depending on each other to get through this crisis. My mask keeps you safe, and when you follow the rules, it helps us all stay together in person this semester.

Nathan Urban
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Ric Hall
Vice President for Student Affairs