Skidmore College Plan for Fall 2020
This plan was introduced to the community in a message from President Marc Conner on July 2, 2020.For up to date information regarding various items, please refer to the Messages and Updates and FAQs sections of this website.
Dear Skidmore Community:
Following weeks of extensive, collaborative work, information-gathering and outreach, we have determined that Skidmore will bring back all or nearly all of its student body for in-person learning and a residential experience this fall. To that end, we have developed a fall semester plan that covers the following topics:
- Academic Instruction
- Residential Life
- Campus Life and Engagement
- Athletics and Fitness
- Health and Safety
- Testing, Isolation and Quarantine, and Contact Tracing
- Financial Implications
- Personal Accountability and Conduct Commitment
- Student Code of Conduct
As previously announced, we will begin the fall semester two weeks early, on August 24, and end on Friday, November 20, prior to Thanksgiving week. Students will finish exams and final projects remotely. We will not have any break during the fall term. All major public events that would bring large numbers of visitors to campus, such as Celebration Weekend, Homecoming and the Presidential Inauguration, will be shifted to virtual experiences. Our focus will be on bringing our student body back to campus, providing as much instruction in person as we can, and completing the semester with the quality expected of a Skidmore education intact and fulfilled.
The primary steps we will be taking are enumerated below. This plan will continue to be a work-in-progress, as several key details remain to be worked out, and health guidelines will continue to be refined and will further inform our planning. But these main steps are now clear. As we have been emphasizing for many weeks, our primary commitment in all of these efforts is the health and safety of our entire community — students, staff, faculty and the surrounding Saratoga Springs community of which we are a part. Our second commitment is to make possible the Skidmore education as we all value it: high-quality, fully engaged teaching and learning, performed with creativity and skill by superb faculty and staff.
As at other colleges in the country, some faculty will be unable to engage in in-person instruction, in some cases due to health concerns or risks, and in some cases because their courses cannot be accommodated by the safety guidelines we are implementing. Consequently, we know that a certain percentage of our fall courses will be offered in a remote mode. We have asked our faculty to determine, based on their own assessment of their health needs, their pedagogical needs and their disciplinary requirements, whether their classes will be taught remotely, in person or through some combination thereof. Our initial polling of the faculty indicates that something like a third of the fall courses will be taught in a remote mode, a figure that is very much in line with what our peer schools are planning. This will also help us reduce density in academic buildings and make safe in-person engagement more possible overall. The exact mode for each class will be determined in the coming weeks and this information will be made available to students by late July.
We acknowledge that some students will be unable or unwilling to come to campus for a range of reasons, and we will work equally hard to provide a high-quality educational experience for those students through remote avenues.
Currently, our faculty are engaged in workshops on online teaching, remote instruction, classroom technology, course and instructional design and other topics to help them deliver superb course material through multiple modes. I cannot emphasize enough how much I appreciate the significant work our faculty are putting in this summer on developing their courses, at significant cost to the research and creative work that fills a typical faculty summer. Again, most of our classes — something like two thirds — will likely be some form of in-person instruction. Skidmore will feature some of the best teachers in the nation instructing their students in both remote and in-person modes, and we expect that the academic rigor and content will be equal to what we deliver in a regular semester.
In addition, we will be reconfiguring our academic spaces, classrooms, labs and performance spaces so they can accommodate the health guidelines we are implementing. Classrooms will include social distancing spacing, personal protective equipment, including plexiglass where appropriate, enhanced cleaning protocols and more. In addition, we are pursuing outdoor classroom options and longer passing times between classes to help de-densify the social presence in our buildings.
In order to meet or exceed state health guidelines, we are setting up residential space for students that will allow for appropriate social distancing, maintain standards of health and safety, and prevent too much social density in residential spaces. We have enlisted the support of Envision Architects and their partners, including two epidemiologists, to make recommendations regarding our residential spaces. They will provide guidance regarding recommended bed counts and traffic patterns in each building, among other things.
No more than two students will be housed per room for the academic year. There will be no triple-occupancy rooms. In our apartment spaces, which consist of single rooms only, we will be operating at full occupancy. In order to bring all, or nearly all, of our student body to Skidmore, we are arranging for housing in local hotels, consisting of both double and single rooms, comparable to a residence hall living arrangement. All rooms in the hotels have a private bathroom and additional amenities. Shuttle buses and parking will be available to students living in these hotels. Buses will provide regular access to campus. We anticipate being able to meet the need for all our students to be on or in the vicinity of campus in the fall.
Housing selection will begin with apartment selection for Northwoods and Sussman Villages, followed by residence hall selection, including special interest housing. Students will maintain the same lottery number that was issued this past spring semester. Information about housing selection will be available on the housing selection website beginning Tuesday, July 7.
The Dining Services team is working on plans to provide the high-quality food that our students appreciate while maintaining a safe environment. To ensure safety, self-service meals will be replaced with food that is served by our dining staff. The seating, layout and foot-traffic flow in Murray-Aikins Dining Hall will be modified to provide for necessary social distancing. We plan to increase seating outside using tents. In addition, a new dining location will be added to the second floor of Murray-Aikins Dining Hall where students may get take-out meals that include hot items. Students who are housed at hotels will be able to participate in the dining program. Hours for all dining locations will be slightly modified to allow for cleaning between meals.
The student experience at Skidmore College is more than just academics. For many students, a wide range of events, including artistic and cultural programs, student club activity, religious and spiritual life, community service and social interactions all constitute some of the most important experiences of their college years. Without question, life outside the classroom will look and feel different this fall. Our campus life professionals are working diligently with students to prepare and support a wide range of student programming for the fall, all within the guidelines and best practices of health and safety.
Given these considerations and to reduce personal contact and limit large group gatherings, students should expect an increased offering of online events, virtual community-building and outdoor activities. Our goal is to provide as close to an equivalent student experience as we can, while understanding that the virus limits some of our options and available ideas. More information will be forthcoming, and we will continue to involve students in these decisions and plans.
The Liberty League is meeting regularly to determine a plan in which varsity athletic competition can take place. We are hopeful we can provide such an experience for our student-athletes, and our staff is coming up with creative ways to continue our commitment to the Division III athletic experience. The schedule will be modified, and fan attendance will either be significantly reduced or eliminated as an in-person experience. Similarly, we are pursuing ways to provide both club and intramural sports experiences and individual and group fitness classes, again, with all the health and safety modifications necessary. Our goal continues to be to provide the best equivalent experience whenever possible within health and safety guidelines.
Our entire approach to managing life alongside the virus is to mitigate risk in every way possible, following the best guidance from health agencies. Consequently, facemasks will always be required in all public settings, regardless of distancing or room capacity. There will be different requirements for residential spaces. Each student, upon arrival, will receive a starter kit of personal protective equipment (PPE) consisting of two Skidmore reusable facemasks and a bottle of hand sanitizer. Similarly, each employee will receive the PPE starter kit upon returning to campus. Hand sanitizer stations will be set up throughout campus. Safe passage routes, signage and directions will be created to minimize density. Daily and deep-cleaning protocols will be established throughout campus.
Gatherings on campus will be limited to no more than what health officials’ safety guidelines recommend, always with appropriate distancing and masking. The guidelines are likely to change during the semester. Close crowding is the most significant way the virus is spread. Many of the events of typical college social life simply cannot occur this fall. That must be understood by all of us. We will employ technology to make possible group events such as speakers, performances and other programs and events so we can still have communal events, even if they are not in person in the same way. We will put in place rigorous safety protocols so that admissions tours may still continue — for these are future members of our Skidmore community — and we will work with key units that also serve the local community, such as Scribner Library and the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, to find ways to continue our important connections with Saratoga Springs, understanding that such connections may be highly limited this fall.
We will implement testing requirements in correspondence with CDC and New York state guidelines and are considering several testing timelines, which could include requiring testing prior to arrival for students, testing on arrival to campus and subsequent surveillance testing. All students will be required to self-monitor, and students with symptoms suggestive of COVID-19 will be tested at Skidmore Health Services.
Skidmore will be working with a nonprofit agency, The Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to conduct initial and ongoing testing for COVID-19. This partnership will enable us to test all students upon arrival if necessary. It will also give us the ability to provide surveillance testing based on community and campus trends. We will furnish more details on the testing protocols in the weeks to come as more information becomes available.
Isolation and Quarantine: Some residential spaces will be reserved for on-campus students who require quarantine
and isolation. Any student who is placed under quarantine and isolation for COVID-19
and resides in Skidmore housing, including hotels, will have daily contact with Student
Health Services. Provisions including laundry, meals, psychological care, medication
and supplies will be coordinated based on student need. Students living in off-campus
housing who are in isolation or quarantine will have daily contact with Saratoga County
Public Health to assess their needs. Skidmore staff will provide assistance to students
to help them keep up with their coursework, and faculty will help students continue
to meet course requirements while in isolation or quarantine.
Contact Tracing: Skidmore will work in partnership with Saratoga County Public Health for rapid COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing when cases are identified. To assist with contact tracing, we will be asking community members to track their movements and close contacts on campus.
Note: All health information will be kept strictly confidential.
Symptom Screen: Students and employees will be expected to complete a daily symptom screen that will ask them questions regarding COVID-19 symptoms. Health Services will respond to any student who screens positive for concerning symptoms, and employees are expected to contact their primary care provider. Individuals will be evaluated and tested if they experience symptoms, and positive tests will require isolation and contact tracing to identify potential exposures.
Return to Campus: All students must complete a daily symptom check for seven days prior to their return to campus. Students who screen positive for any symptoms (answer yes to any symptoms on the screen) must be tested prior to coming to campus. It is also our recommendation that students self-quarantine for the same seven-day period to limit potential exposure to COVID-19. A student who is in isolation or quarantine prior to their arrival on campus needs to postpone travel until cleared to return by a medical professional. We are also planning to have all employees undergo a COVID-19 test prior to returning to work once we are in Phase 4 of New York’s reopening plan.
We are keenly aware of the financial implications of all these choices, and we seek to safeguard the full range of needs of our entire community — staff, faculty and, of course, students. Our financial projections will continue to evolve as many factors become clearer. For example, the cost of testing and contact tracing remains a major unknown. The cost of personal protective equipment is an ongoing question, as is the total cost of the additional residential spaces we are making available along with transportation. We will need to determine the appropriate incremental expense budget and continue to evolve our financial modeling throughout the summer. Skidmore will not pass any additional cost along to our students and families. We will not exceed the planned tuition and fees for this academic year, and our financial aid commitments will not decrease.
The essential thing we all must realize is that we are in this effort together — we will rise or fall depending on each person’s commitment to the community’s mutual
safety. We each have a part to play in keeping one another safe, and it is imperative
that all members of our community understand and fulfill their role to help mitigate
the spread of this virus. With participation by students, faculty and staff, we will
prepare a Statement of Community Expectations, which will outline principles that
all members of our community will be asked to agree to as a condition of returning
to and remaining on campus.
We presume a collective commitment to this plan and effort. Our assumption is that everyone in our community will readily enlist in this plan. If students or employees are not willing to adhere to the plan and to renew their commitment to it every day in every way we ask, then there will be consequences in order to safeguard the health of everyone at Skidmore and to adhere to our two core principles for the fall semester. It is vital for everyone to realize that this is not a matter of preference, it is a matter of mutual commitment to everyone’s health and safety.
A working group of staff and students has been formed to work on establishing a culture of safety and respect related to COVID-19 mitigation behaviors. In addition to the Code of Social Conduct, students should know there are additional policies and sanctions for violations related to COVID-specific restrictions. Depending on the nature of the alleged violation, the case will be adjudicated using charges of Failure to Comply, Health & Safety and any other relevant Code of Social Conduct items. Students should be aware that sanctioning will consider the student’s complete student conduct record. Sanctions could include a warning, probation and suspension.
In sum, it is abundantly clear that this will be a fall semester unlike any other. There are deep disappointments in this, of course, as we will all miss some of the treasured events and practices to which we have long been accustomed. But the heart and soul of the Skidmore College experience will remain intact, and in many ways, our creative approach to the semester will provide experiences that will be equally, if not more, fulfilling. This is a special time of challenge, and I am confident that our entire Skidmore community is equal to this challenge. Together we will get to the other side of this challenge, and we will look back with pride on how we conducted ourselves as a dedicated community.
With immense gratitude for all each of you does for Skidmore,
Marc C. Conner