Dear Colby Community,
Last week Maine’s governor, Janet Mills, released an initial plan for reopening businesses, workplaces, state parks, and schools. It is a gradual, phased approach that envisions all of Maine’s businesses fully open by the end of the summer and schools open in the fall, with appropriate safety protocols and practices enacted. Governor Mills rightly offers many caveats and cautions indicating that the plan will need to be adapted to the evolving public health situation. The governor’s plan is of great importance to all of us since Colby—like all colleges and universities—is legally required to abide by state regulations such as those outlined in the reopening plan.
The governor’s timeline offers hope that Colby can resume an on-campus program in September, and our plan is to do just that if we have the means to protect the health and safety of the College and local communities. But we also recognize the need to be prepared to respond to a changing environment and new information as it becomes available. I write today to provide my current thinking about the fall semester and the timing for decision-making.
Seven weeks ago, when we first faced closing many of our campus operations, I said that our decisions would be based on protecting the health and safety of our community, concentrating on the primacy of our educational program, and whenever possible, preserving the experiences outside the classroom that enrich a Colby education and foster growth and personal development. Those remain three guiding principles for me. In addition, we have maintained our investments in people and programs to ensure the quality of our educational experiences will be as high as ever when we resume in Waterville.
I know we are at our best when our campus is buzzing with activity; when classrooms, laboratories, and studios are places of exciting discovery and deep learning; when speakers, performers, and other visitors challenge our understanding and offer new insights; when clubs and teams push us to lead and stretch our potential; when our engagement in the community reflects the commitment and humility that are essential to any enduring partnership; and when our daily interactions lead to sustaining and healthy relationships that last a lifetime.
We are at our best when we are together, and I am focused on making that possible again. In fact, while our primary plan is to open on our regular schedule, should we need to delay for reasons outside of our control, my continued priority will be to have a full academic year on campus. That could mean a later opening with the possibility of using the January term for regular-semester instruction or extending the spring semester into the summer.
The timing for our on-campus opening will depend on state directives and the larger public health environment. There is a growing consensus that colleges will need to institute several new protocols for the fall, including regular and rigorous testing, contact tracing, and the ability to quarantine students as required. Of course, we will also need to be able to accommodate members of our community who have special vulnerabilities to infection, and we will have to be cognizant of our engagement in the local community to prevent creating any unnecessary risks for our friends and neighbors. We are developing partnerships with healthcare providers for testing and tracing protocols and exploring housing options for any quarantine needs. But this is, naturally, just a start, and many questions remain. Will physical distancing practices still be necessary, and if so, how would those function on a residential campus? How will we meet the needs of students who might not be able to return to campus because of travel restrictions or medical issues? What will the public health challenges mean for cherished college activities such as study abroad, intercollegiate athletics, and creative performances?
We have working groups exploring all of these issues and many more with the expectation that we will need to implement multiple changes when we resume on-campus activities. We will know much more in the coming weeks and months as we better understand the virus and the timing of delivery for therapeutic drugs and as we learn from the experiences of relaxing restrictions in the U.S. and abroad. I ask for your patience as information becomes available, lessons unfold, and progress is made globally on addressing these pressing challenges. The longer we can wait on making final decisions the more likely it will be that we can definitively announce a fall opening. Our current intention is to announce a plan no later than early July.
I am in regular contact with academic colleagues across the country and with experts from a variety of fields who are offering helpful insights on the issues higher education must address. My sense is that national standards will be promulgated for many of these matters, likely leading to a coalescing around opening dates for residential colleges, how intercollegiate activities like athletics can proceed, and so on. We will not be determining our course forward in isolation, but we will always be acting with the best interests of the Colby community and our broader community in mind.
It has been a challenging few months, and we have all been deeply affected by the devastating impact of COVID-19. I am so grateful to our courageous and tireless healthcare professionals, first responders, essential workers, and so many others who have put themselves at significant risk to serve others. I am inspired by the brilliance and determination of our scientific community to quickly and effectively identify medical solutions to the pandemic. And I find even deeper meaning than usual in the everyday acts of kindness and generosity that reveal our humanity and capacity for goodness. These seem to be in abundance in the Colby community, and I cannot thank you enough for them.
I also believe in the seemingly infinite talent in this country—and indeed, the global community—to end this health crisis and all of its attendant costs. There is much at stake, and this situation calls on all of us to do our part to find the best way forward. I am committed to doing that with all of you for Colby and what we, and all of higher learning, represent in the world.
Until we can all be together again,
David A. Greene