Rensselaer reveals details for Fall reopening
As the Capital Region moves towards Phase Four of reopening, Jackson and several administrative staff gathered together for this summer’s second Town Meeting to further address and elaborate on Rensselaer’s plan for the Fall semester.
Only freshmen, junior, and senior cohorts have been invited to return to campus this fall, while the sophomore cohort is required to take remote classes. Fourth-year architecture students will be considered juniors and return to campus in the fall, according to Provost Prabhat Hajela, while third-year architecture students will be required to take classes remotely.
Living in Greek housing is no longer an option for students this Fall. Greek or not, juniors and seniors must find housing off campus. Undergraduate research and athletics have been cancelled for this upcoming Fall semester—when they are to resume remains unknown.
Social gatherings will be limited to 10 people, and amongst other changes to living arrangements, students will have to make reservations for dining hall seating. The Spring semester is planned to start a week later, with classes in lieu of spring break. Students living on campus are required to have a 19-meals-per-week meal plan.
During the Town Meeting, Jackson said, “the plan is always subject to change …depending upon what the overall public health situation is.”
Academics and Research
Students—excluding rising sophomores—will be assigned dates to move in early before the fall semester begins on August 31 to be tested for COVID-19, to learn required protocols, and for RPI to distribute PPE, cleaners, and disinfectants. In-person instruction will start after an in-person two-week quarantine and end in time for Thanksgiving break.
The remainder of the Fall semester, including study days and finals, will be conducted online, and remain as scheduled on the academic calendar.
Jackson announced RPI’s plan to start the Spring semester a week later—on January 19, 2021—furthering that courses will continue during spring break “so that we can end the semester and not overlap with the beginning of the Arch.” Like the Fall 2020 semester, RPI intends to have students arrive early for testing, distribution of PPE, cleaners, and disinfectant, and for students to begin classes online if they have to be quarantined.
In addition, undergraduate research will not occur on campus this fall, unless students are part of an accelerated program which includes laboratory research as a graduation requirement. On-campus undergraduate research is expected to resume by Spring 2021.
Students seeking housing—including juniors that now need housing because of the Spring away requirement and an estimated 381 Greek students—were advised by RPI administrators during the town meeting to contact staff in Student Living and Learning in Off Campus Commons.
Vice President of Student Life Peter Konwerski advised students to look out for future communications through “each class cluster” as well as the COVID-19 FAQ page, which is updated by the Institute.
Regarding spring plans, Jackson said “we will review our experience in the fall and where we are with COVID-19 relative to a decision for the spring.”
During the meeting—Liz Brady ’21, a member of the Student Athletic Advisory Committee Executive Board and RPI Women’s Lacrosse team—spoke here concerns regarding RPI’s ability to fit both the freshmen and sophomore classes on campus in the spring semester.
If the housing protocols implemented in the fall—a maximum of two students to a bathroom and two students to a living space—continue into the spring semester, RPI likely will not currently have the capacity to house both the freshmen and sophomores, as the freshmen would be spread out over all of the on-campus housing that RPI has available. Juniors and seniors have also expressed concern about whether they will be permitted to enter the campus if their off-campus housing cannot abide by these protocols.
Konwerski stated “we do hope that there’s the ability to have higher density” after learning from the Fall semester, and Jackson said “we also are looking assiduously for additional housing that's not within our usual housing stock.”
Jackson continued, saying RPI is looking to have “some of the shared facilities ... to be de-densified” and will “do more testing and be more stringent about protocols” during the Spring semester.
Services from the Health Center and the Counseling Center will be expanding, as confirmed by Executive Director for Health and Wellness Dr. Leslie Lawrence during the Town Meeting on July 1. Students arriving to campus form certain states will be required to quarantine for two weeks, and all students on campus will have to undergo continuous testing.
Rensselaer is required to “report any COVID positive case to the New York State Department of Health,” according to Jackson, who stressed that RPI will do so “while preserving privacy as much as possible.”
Executive Director for Health and Wellness Dr. Leslie Lawrence added that the Institute would tell other students of positive COVID cases, and that “it’s something I want to do because it’ll remind us if we’re all behaving” in reference to following social distancing, wearing masks, and following cleaning and sanitizing procedures.
Financial Aid and Work Study
Work study will be available for students that are on campus, but because of social distancing, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Jonathan Wexler, work study opportunities could be “slimmed down,” “roles could be different,” or “there could be fewer [work study positions] available.” He added, “when you come back to campus, investigate…what’s available.”
Wexler clarified the availability of financial aid for RPI’s coterm students, explaining that “any Rensselaer financial aid that you were getting as an undergrad…will continue into your graduate years upon being accepted and approved for it, so it will be very much the same.”
In the event of a resurgence of COVID-19, RPI has a two-phase shutdown plan. If contact tracing and isolation aren’t able to contain the spread of a large number of positive cases amongst students, that would be cause to launch phase one: a temporary implementation of an in-place quarantine and remote instruction until Student Health Services and Environmental Health and Safety decide that the spread of infection is under control.
Phase 2, which could also be implemented through New York State directives, would be initiated if the “significant and unchecked growth in positive cases that exceeds [RPI’s] ability to quarantine and isolate and care for our students,” according to Jackson.
In the case that RPI goes through the second phase, all students will have 72 hours to vacate the campus, all work would transfer online, and there would be a week-long break to fully shut down the campus. All instruction and research labs would be shut down, all campus buildings and infrastructure would be closed, and only identified essential workers would be allowed on campus.
Classes would resume remotely a week after the shutdown date until the end of the semester.
Faculty Senate Vice President Professor Emily Liu asked if students have the choice of opting out of coming to campus even if they might not have any health conditions that would normally be cause for an exemption, but are instead uncomfortable with returning.
Jackson said “if a student wishes to matriculate at Rensselaer, we expect them to come if they are part of the cohort that would be on the campus. There will be specific criteria for students to be able to have an exception if that is warranted.” Jackson did not elaborate any further on the criteria.
In response to a parent’s question regarding a process to exempt students from coming to campus for students with COVID-19 vulnerabilities, Lawrence responded that “any students who are in that situation can apply through Health Services now, or through Disability Services.”
The Remote Learning Request Form, sent in an email by Assistant Vice President for Student Life Travis Apgar on Thursday, is due on July 31 for students in a cohort scheduled to be on campus but who wish to take Fall classes online.
RPI will not be participating in intercollegiate athletics this fall. Intramural and recreational sports will need to align with federal, state, county, and institutional health and safety protocols, but general campus gatherings outside of classroom and lab settings are limited to fewer than 10 people. Decisions regarding Winter 2020 and Spring 2021 intercollegiate athletics have yet to be made.
Sophomores will not be allowed on campus and will not be able to utilize campus facilities, even if they are local residents and would like to commute to campus. Jackson cited both the need to de-densify the campus and RPI’s residency requirement for freshmen and sophomore cohorts, as reasoning for this decision.