Update From William James College President Nicholas Covino, July 30, 2021, 10 AM:
Dear William James Community,
When I wrote last to you regarding the pandemic, on June 30, I said, with hope, that I expected that report to be the last “COVID-19 Presidential Update” I would be sending for the foreseeable future. With the emergence of the COVID-19 Delta variant, and the CDC reverting to older guidance about preventative measures and practices for some communities, I anticipate a need to return to more regular information sharing.
First, be assured that we continue to follow CDC updates and related decisions communicated by the Governor’s office. The presidents of the Massachusetts Independent Colleges and Universities also meet every three weeks to share COVID information and to discuss best practices. We are continuing to work proactively to keep our community healthy and we will make informed decisions that are in the best interest of our community.
With August fast approaching, and with classes returning in-person this fall, I am writing today to reiterate some of the policies that have already been shared, and to respond to some of the questions we’ve received recently.
As are most institutions of higher learning in Massachusetts, William James College is requiring staff, faculty, and students who will be working or studying on campus or using campus services to be fully vaccinated. There is no doubt that the available medicines are effective in protecting individuals and that they present the best opportunity to keep our campus community safe. Faculty and staff members are being asked to submit a copy of their vaccination record to Human resources; students, please submit yours to the Registrar’s Office.
Information on how to submit that documentation can be found here: https://www.williamjames.edu/about/welcome/covid-19-faqs.cfm
Masks will not be required on campus for vaccinated persons. CDC guidelines updated this week encourage those who live or who work in an area of substantial or high transmission to wear a mask indoors in public. Our College is not in one of these areas and, at this point, we will not require masks for vaccinated persons. Unvaccinated persons, however, are required to wear a mask and to share proof of a negative COVID test every two weeks. Unvaccinated persons must, also, have an approved accommodation on file in HR or with the Registrar.
Information on how to submit test results will be communicated in mid-August, following an assessment of our community vaccination records.
High Flexibility – Fall Class Option
Students are expected to attend classes through the mode of delivery (in person/online/blended) intended for the program in which they are enrolled. Faculty will be on campus, except for those programs and classes that are delivered online. A high flexibility option will be offered to students during the Fall semester. Students who wish to remain remote for all or for some of the semester will be able to do so and they are asked to inform their Department Chair of their plan. Those who are periodically unable to attend classes in person can make advance arrangements with faculty to attend sessions remotely. The IT and Facilities Departments have invested in large screens and sophisticated audio equipment for most classrooms to improve the online experience for faculty and staff. Our Educational Technology experts have been training faculty in groups and individually to bring their familiarity to this new equipment. Department Chairs work with students who need greater accommodation.
For the fall semester, programs will retain a Credit/No Credit option for all classes through the fall, to ease some of the academic burden during this disruptive time. Students must make a determination for each course before the Fall 2021 deadline. Once selected, the option cannot be reversed. Students who do not submit a request will receive traditional letter grades by default.
In deference to the renewed concerns about the ‘Delta Variant’ and some uncertainty about how and in what way young children will return to school in the fall, I would like to extend our current 3/2 work schedule until October 4th for all employees. Faculty will be present on campus to teach scheduled classes, but they will have some flexibility in September to be on campus as they are able to. Office hours, committee meetings, conferences etc. can be held online as appropriate for this month. Staff will retain the same or similar 2-day remote work schedule that we are currently holding.
This change is an effort to meet the demands that some might have regarding childcare or other family responsibilities. It is not meant to be a benefit; if you and your family do not require this kind of accommodation, I ask that you come to campus for the fourth day to enable us to be as present as possible to our returning students and to each other. If it is a help, please make use of it.
A few words about our learning and our work environment.
We have all been through an extraordinary year and a half, one that has left us with a lot of work to do on systemic racism, behavioral health, and leadership. Health, social, and political strains of this year have made the best of us vigilant, irritable, impatient, self-focused, helpless, and impatient. This is what happens to humans during prolonged and protracted times of trauma.
The William James College community is not immune from the four-fold increase in symptoms of anxiety and depression that the CDC reports. To make matter worse, when we thought that the worst was over, the Delta variant renews the worries of many and interferes with the hopes for a return to normal. While we know that most people in our area are safe, our little children now seem especially vulnerable, and many have PTS when viewing prevalence charts again, even when they present data from other states. It is difficult to be ‘rational’ in an emergency… especially a high-stakes one that is 18 months long.
Although it is challenging, we do have a choice as to how we engage each other and about the type of learning community that we create here. The policies above are not efforts to control, but to protect. The flexibility that is presented is not meant to be confusing, but to provide support if needed. We can choose to be snarky and provocative – or we can choose to be respectful, supportive, and compassionate with each other.
As we return, there will be folks who will have multiple reasons that support their decision to wear a mask; we want to respect them. Some might choose to sit at a distance during class, let’s not judge. It is not appropriate for anyone to ask of another’s vaccination status; this is reserved for HR and the Registrar.
We have parents of small children and folks who live with immunocompromised people, they may ask that we wear a mask when in prolonged contact with them in close quarters, even when vaccinated. I hope that we can accommodate their request. Rather than repeat the political theater that is on display in some parts of the country, I hope that we can work to create a compassionate and respectful culture within our walls that reflects the leadership and healing careers that we value and aspire to.
We are highly likely to see more improvement in the early fall as vaccines become available to our young people – that said, if we do need to tighten our policies, of course that will be done. Thank you to the faculty, students, and staff who have demonstrated a good deal of leadership and generosity during this time. Let’s focus on the world that we can control, practice tolerance, and make time to take care of ourselves and of each other.
With respect and hope,