Eyes on Fall: A Time for Creativity

Dear RIT family,

We have made it to the homestretch of the academic year! This will long be remembered as a surreal spring semester, with COVID-19, but one marked by your inspiring dedication, resolve and ingenuity. I am so proud of all RIT students, faculty, and staff ­for rising to the occasion and overcoming every obstacle.

So, what is next? When will RIT return to normal? Will we be open this fall? Will it be safe to return? These are questions we all are pondering.

Let me outline our vision for moving forward and reimagining RIT in a new normal.

First, through creative development of strategies and contingency plans, we are optimistic about a fall opening on campus. We eagerly are planning the best and safest ways in which to bring the residential academic experience back, with public health considerations at the forefront. As we proceed, we will follow the latest guidance and direction of local and state health officials, the Governor, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also is our intention to be open on our global campuses in China, Croatia, Dubai, and Kosovo.

A return to campus in the fall will require innovative new practices and new safety standards related to places and spaces, and how we learn, study, conduct research, collaborate, and engage with one another. University leaders, in consultation with subject-matter experts, currently are researching and crafting a plan of action that we believe will ensure a healthy environment for our fall return. Integral to this effort is the Fall Planning Task Force, which will coordinate and synthesize the work of three committees:

  1. Academic Planning: Overseen by the Office of the Provost, this team will recommend the processes and structure for delivering an outstanding educational experience for our students. Among the scenarios considered will be a hybrid option with mixed face-to-face and online instruction. This committee will consider size limits on lectures, mechanisms for small-group discussions and projects, extended scheduling, and more. The group will identify best formats for lab, studio, and capstone experiences with appropriate social distancing.
  2. Infrastructure and Health Technologies: Operating out of Finance and Administration, this group will identify improvements to campus infrastructure and processes, and new health technologies to help safeguard us in the new reality brought on by the pandemic. Residence halls, dining halls, academic facilities, and public spaces all will be studied and potentially upgraded. Areas to be examined include virus and antibody testing, daily monitoring, quarantine housing and related student comfort services, enhanced disinfection, new food service models, touchless technologies, sanitized air handling, and procurement.
  3. Community Readiness: Based in Student Affairs, this committee will consist of students, parents, faculty, staff, and medical professionals. This team will review the readiness of our campus, in the eyes of the committee members, to offer an appealing and safe living environment, robust academics, and engaging student activities. This assessment will recognize that extra precautions may be necessary for individuals in high-risk categories. Areas of consideration will include protocols for testing and daily monitoring; means of contact tracing and quarantine support for students; potential availability of therapeutics; social distancing measures; format for educational delivery; scope of campus programs and events; and level of student support services. This committee will be informed by and work in collaboration with the other two committees.   

Information on the Fall Planning Task Force and each of the committees will be posted soon on RIT’s Coronavirus website.

We have an enormous amount of exciting work in front of us prior to Aug. 24, the first day of the fall semester, but I am confident that with our creative talent and the thinking that’s already been done, we will craft a solid plan. It is good news that we are not in this alone. We are collaborating heavily with other universities, especially through the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU) in New York State and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU).  We are learning from one another. 

We all know that the Coronavirus will not truly be defeated until a vaccine is widely available. Until then, campus life will be different, but it can incorporate the best of what we all cherish about a residential experience. We pledge to work creatively to reopen RIT as safely and fully as possible for our entire community.

For now, good luck to all of our students on your final exams. And congratulations to the Class of 2020!

Yours in Tiger Pride,

David C. Munson Jr.

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