Months of careful thought and focused attention have been invested in St. Ambrose University's planning and preparations for a Fall 2020 return to campus in the midst of a global pandemic.
The fall semester will begin Monday, Aug. 17 under a plan conceived and implemented in accordance with guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and based upon recommendations of regional, state and local health professionals.
At every step, the University's efforts were guided by direct input and expertise provided by faculty leaders of the St. Ambrose Master of Public Health (MPH) program, university scholars and campus leaders. The MPH faculty has been a significant resource to the wider community as well.
Since the University turned to distance delivery of all courses in March, Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, PhD, president of St. Ambrose, has met several times each week with members of the Cabinet to discuss plans and challenges for the upcoming academic semester.
In late April, Sr. Joan appointed a nine-person task force representing varied segments of the campus community and charged the group with researching the pros and cons of various options for Fall 2020.
The Task Force came together twice weekly, with sub-groups meeting even more frequently, to consider the viability of a return to campus learning, and then to identify a process for doing so that would mitigate risk and promote the safety and wellbeing of the entire campus community.
Included in the Task Force's research were surveys of multiple constituencies. Students and parents expressed a clear preference for face-to-face learning and the fullest campus experience possible under the circumstances.
In late May, the Task Force submitted a 74-page report that identified and fully researched several potential approaches, including: start and end on schedule, start a week early, or return to the distance-delivery model used through the second half of the 2020 spring semester.
Recommended stipulations for any return to campus during the pandemic included the following protocols and practices:
- Regular symptom monitoring, testing, and tracing;
- Social distancing in classrooms and all public spaces;
- Use of face coverings and CDC-standard hygiene and sanitation measures;
- Flexibility for class delivery and work arrangements.
Following much deliberation in consultation with the Task Force chairs, Sister Joan and the Cabinet identified an early start with provisions for hybrid scheduling for most courses in order to accommodate social distancing and measures to achieve each of the above-listed safety stipulations.
In early June, Sister Joan charged a 12-person Implementation Team with developing polices and procedures to facilitate the Fall 2020 opening on Monday, August 17. Tasks included addressing needs or anticipating issues in academics, housing, employee relations, prevention and response, facilities/cleaning, athletics, community outreach and more.
That team has led the planning and preparation for a return to campus in August. Among many, many important steps, the implementation process included:
- multiple variations of class schedules prepared by the registrar's office;
- more than 200 hours of work and consultation with an architectural firm and classroom furniture vendor to design and incorporate CDC recommendations for social distancing in SAU classrooms;
- purchasing and stocking of more than $50,000 worth of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disinfecting/cleaning supplies;
- numerous informational forums for students, faculty and staff featuring University leaders and implementation team members;
- the creation of the Bee Safe, Bee Responsible Promise, a campus-wide commitment to wearing face-coverings, honoring social-distancing practices, and observing the many safe behaviors required to help mitigate the potential spread of the virus among the SAU community (scroll down for video);
- keeping abreast of coronavirus trends and surges and changes to recommended practices in partnership with the SAU MPH program;
- and negotiating a memorandum of understanding with a local healthcare provider in Davenport to ensure testing is readily and quickly available to SAU students and employees.
A contingency plan to return to distance delivery and close most campus services and buildings can be enacted at the Cabinet's discretion should conditions warrant.