August 10, 2020
Dear Holy Cross Students and Families,
It is with great sadness and deep disappointment that I write to share with you that, with the full backing of our Board of Trustees, we have made the painful decision to change course for the fall semester. We are shifting all learning to a remote model and we will allow only a very limited number of students to live on campus. While we all hoped that we would be able to welcome our community back to campus this fall, recent developments have made it clear that a shift to remote learning is now the only course that allows us to meet our varied responsibilities to our students, faculty, staff and local Worcester community.
Over the past several months, we have been doing everything we can to effect as safe an opening as possible this fall. We have reengineered almost every aspect of academics and student life in the hopes of offering our students a meaningful campus experience while protecting the health and safety of our community. At the same time, we have been monitoring trends in virus transmission, locally and across the country. We have watched with some alarm as the virus has spread quickly at some schools and other organizations that have recently reopened. We have monitored the implications of the virus on all people across age, gender, race, socioeconomic status.
Throughout this crisis, we have said that our highest priorities would be the health and safety of our community and the quality of the academic and student life experience. A number of things have changed since the beginning of August. In response to increasing concerns about virus transmission within the state, a few days ago Governor Baker has imposed a mandatory 14 day quarantine for persons traveling from anywhere outside seven states designated as “lower risk,” has tightened restrictions on gathering sizes both on public and private property, and announced that the next step of the current phase of the Commonwealth’s reopening plan has been postponed indefinitely. Local authorities are now recommending more restrictive guidelines for on-campus dining operations. Recently, we were notified that we should expect delays in testing results, especially during the critically important initial weeks of the semester. In addition, the significant outbreaks we are seeing across the country have raised concerns about the availability of the materials needed for rapid testing and adequate supplies of PPE nationally. The restrictions and modifications that we would have to put in place to comply with the guidelines and to mitigate the spread of the virus on campus and in our local community would leave students with an extremely limited campus experience.
We realize that there are some students who need to return to campus. These exceptions will be limited so that as many of these students as possible can live in single rooms which will help us to de-densify all other campus spaces. Students who require access to campus resources in order to succeed academically, students whose academic work requires access to campus facilities in order to meet research and graduation requirements, international students who were unable to return home in the spring, and a limited number of athletes who need proper training to compete in the winter season can apply to live on campus via the Exception to Live on Campus Form.
As you can imagine, this has been an extremely difficult and heart-wrenching decision to make. We know that we are disappointing many, many members of our community who were making plans to return to campus and, for the members of the class of 2024, to come to campus for the first time to begin their college experience.
Our faculty and staff have been diligently planning for all eventualities this fall, including this virtual scenario. Over the summer, faculty have been participating in professional development workshops on instructional design and online course development. The College has invested significantly in new technologies to support course development and delivery and we have set aside funds to provide broad technology support to our students who may have limited access to technology and internet connectivity. Faculty, class deans, and academic advisors are committed to supporting students and engaging with students via zoom for office hours, class time and advising appointments. As they already have for several months, the Chaplains Office, the Office of Student Involvement, the Office of Multicultural Education, the McFarland Center, our academic programs, our libraries and others are prepared to offer virtual events, meetings and experiences to provide our students with a meaningful Holy Cross experience in a virtual mode. While our method of interaction is changing, our commitment to academic excellence and care for the whole person is unwavering.
We will all return to campus when we believe it is safe to do so. We will continue to monitor the virus and public health guidance in order to make final decisions on the January term and spring semester as they approach. Because we have developed the plans for a full return already, we will be able to quickly implement them when the conditions allow.
We know this decision raises many questions and decisions for our students and their families, as well as our faculty and staff. We have posted a Fall FAQ to our COVID-19 Response and Recovery website in order to respond to some of these questions about the implications of this decision. We will continue to add to the FAQ this week. Students will receive a followup email tomorrow with more detailed information on academics and student life. We will also host the following Town Hall webinars this week so that we may respond to your specific concerns:
- Tuesday, August 11, 7 p.m. EDT for all students and families
- Wednesday, August 12, 6 p.m. EDT for seniors and families.
- Wednesday, August 12, 7:30 p.m. EDT for first year students and families.
I invite you to continue to send any questions not answered through these other methods to Coronavirus@holycross.edu.
Thank you all for your continued flexibility and patience as we navigate this pandemic together. The uncertainty with which the global community has been forced to live is deeply unsettling, and this decision adds another dimension to the sense of loss that all of us connected to Holy Cross are carrying. Personally, I am deeply disappointed as I struggle to accept the cancellation of most of our cherished fall experiences. The palpable excitement and energy they generate are unique graces. However, I also recognize that I am gaining new strength and hope from the care, concern and generosity that so many within our community are extending as we create something new for each other. As people of Faith, we believe that God is with us in both moments of sadness and joy to bring us new life and hope. I am confident that, with God’s help, our sense of community will be strengthened, our creativity will be invigorated, and our commitment to our educational mission will be reaffirmed as we face the challenges of the present and the opportunities of the future.
Philip L. Boroughs, S.J.