An Update Regarding Plans for the Spring 2021 Semester

The following message was sent to the University of Portland community on October 2, 2020

Dear University of Portland Students and Families,

I begin this message with a sentiment that I have expressed often in emails to the UP community: gratitude. I am grateful for your flexibility and understanding as we have navigated extraordinary challenges together as a University community. I am grateful for the optimism, ingenuity, and resolve with which you have approached remote learning and our University’s modified mode of operations. Most of all, however, I am grateful for how you have supported one another and maintained the close bonds that UP is known for despite the distance that separates us. For all that you have done and will continue to do, know of my heartfelt thanks.

I write to you today with news about a topic that is top-of-mind for many in our community: plans for the Spring 2021 Semester. Before providing details, I must once again emphasize that the course of the COVID-19 pandemic is ever-changing. As we have seen today in news out of Washington, D.C., COVID-19 continues to affect people across the country. We continue to pray for all who have been impacted by this pandemic and all who are on the frontlines. In light of shifting circumstances and the advice we receive from public health authorities, we may need to pivot rapidly. The patience and nimbleness you have demonstrated thus far will be more vital than ever in the coming months.

After consulting with the University’s COVID-19 Steering Committee, members of the Board of Regents, the Provost’s Council, the President’s Leadership Cabinet, and others, I am announcing the following mode of operations for the Spring 2021 Semester.

On-Campus Residency and Dining

At this time, we believe it is possible to welcome some residential students back to campus if we de-densify residence halls, implement a robust testing protocol, and abide by health and safety practices. Students will be welcomed to return and reside in single-occupancy rooms. Capacity on campus will be reduced, so it will be necessary to prioritize requests for housing. First-year students and students who are currently residing on campus will receive priority, followed by upper-class students with compelling needs to reside on campus. All room rates will be based on double-occupancy. First-year students are not required to reside on campus if they so choose.

We understand that some members of the community will question the decision to give on-campus housing priority to first-year students. At UP, we regard shared residency as critical to forming community and creating bonds among students. We believe that the first-year students should be given first opportunity to reside in residence halls and receive the foundational community experience enjoyed by students before them.

Students should know that campus life next semester will be different from previous semesters. Large social gatherings will be strictly prohibited, off-campus travel will be strongly discouraged, and violations of health and safety protocols may result in discipline. The Division of Student Affairs will develop programming and activities for on-campus students that allow for community-building in a responsible way.

We are currently working with our partners at Bon Appétit Management Company on dining plans for next semester.

The Office of Residence Life will provide more information to students by October 19, 2020.

Instruction and Academic Calendar

Most instruction will remain online for the Spring 2021 Semester. A limited number of laboratory, clinical, and experiential courses will be held in-person. We are also exploring the possibility of offering first-year students who reside on or near campus an in-person academic experience, including at least one in-person class. Planning in this area is ongoing.

We plan to delay the start of the semester by two weeks, to Monday, January 25. Doing so will allow students who are moving to campus to have sufficient time to travel, undergo COVID-19 testing, and receive their test results. Final exams will be administered from May 3 through May 6. Similar to other universities and colleges throughout the country, for the health and safety of the campus community, we will forgo the traditional full week of Spring Break. Rather, we will have two 2-day, mid-week pauses during the semester when classes will not be held. Also, the University will not hold classes on Friday, April 2, in recognition of Good Friday. Classes will be held on Easter Monday. The Office of the Provost will provide more specific details about the academic calendar and registration for the Spring 2021 Semester by October 19, 2020.  

Testing, Vaccinations, Isolation, and Health and Safety Protocols

The University has developed a multi-faceted protocol for COVID-19 testing among students.

First, all students residing in on-campus residence halls will be tested at the start of the semester using a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) COVID-19 test. Currently, results are usually being received within 48 hours. Students will be instructed to limit their activity while awaiting their test results. If a student tests positive, they will be required to isolate in the University’s designated isolation residence hall.

Additionally, the University will conduct regular surveillance COVID-19 testing in two manners. First, samples of on-campus students will undergo rapid COVID-19 testing each week. These rapid tests typically provide results in approximately 15 minutes. Second, the University intends to regularly test residence hall wastewater for indications of COVID-19. Taken together, these strategies will help us gather critical data that can assist in mitigating the COVID-19 risk on campus.

Finally, the University will conduct symptomatic COVID-19 testing for all students, regardless of whether they reside on- or off-campus. PCR testing will be provided to students with COVID-19 symptoms, students who test positive during surveillance testing, and students who have been exposed to people with COVID-19.

The University is currently developing a dashboard that will provide information to community members about our COVID-19 testing results. This dashboard will go live in January. UP will also support Multnomah County’s contact tracing efforts, and surveillance testing strategies will be informed by the University’s own exposure tracking.

Further, the University has reserved an on-campus residence hall for isolation. Students in isolation will live in apartment-style accommodations with necessary amenities and close support from our COVID-19 case management team.

We are also strongly encouraging all to students receive an influenza vaccination prior to returning to campus. While getting a flu vaccine does not protect against COVID-19, the vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death, and getting a flu vaccine can save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19. 

The health and safety protocols that were announced during the summer will be in effect for the Spring 2021 Semester. This includes mandatory mask wearing, social distancing requirements, and strict limitations on social gatherings. Additionally, students residing on-campus will be required to complete a daily health check and submit to surveillance testing when requested. Students will also be required to comply with all quarantine and isolation directives they receive from the Health & Counseling Center.

What Has Changed Since Late July?

In my message of July 30, I stated that the main considerations influencing our decision to deliver primarily remote instruction and keep the residence halls closed included the significant upward trends in infection rates over the summer months in Oregon and neighboring states, along with an increasing number of deaths from Covid-19. Likewise, the slow turn-around time in testing (10-12 days in July) was cause for concern. 

While the pandemic has not dissipated as we would have hoped, we now believe that conditions will permit de-densified on-campus residency in the spring if we take additional health and safety precautions. While some recent spikes in infection rates have occurred, overall infection rates on the West Coast have flattened since late July. Also, testing turnaround times have improved dramatically. We are now able to receive PCR results in approximately 48 hours. Further, more accurate, less expensive, and more timely testing has been and is continuing to be developed.

Finally, UP has closely studied the experiences of other colleges and universities across the country. Our COVID-19 Steering Committee members have been in close contact with their counterparts at other institutions and have gained a sense for how to mitigate the risks of COVID-19. As we continue to develop and implement our plans for the Spring, we will remain in contact with colleagues from other colleges and universities.

Once again, however, I emphasize the health and safety of our community members come first. If we determine that conditions no longer permit on-campus residency, we will be ready to pivot to a different mode of operations.

Conclusion

More detailed information on our plans for the Spring 2021 Semester are forthcoming from the Office of Residence Life, the Office of the Provost, and others by October 19. I thank you in advance for your patience. In the meantime, if you have questions, please direct them to pilotsprevent@up.edu.

Making a success of next semester will be our shared responsibility. All of us will have to make sacrifices and remain vigilant if we are to keep our fellow community members safe and successfully return to de-densified on-campus residency next semester. We have all seen vivid examples of what can happen if a university community fails to abide by health and safety protocols.

I am confident, however, that our University of Portland community–a community filled with goodness, wisdom, grace, and care for one another–can succeed. I am confident that, as Pilots, we can unify around our shared desire for a successful semester and a University environment in which students, faculty, and staff feel safe. I thank you in advance for your efforts to make these plans a success, and I thank you for your patience as we continue to communicate important information to the campus community in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,

Fr. Mark

Rev. Mark L. Poorman, C.S.C.
President