Neumann will welcome students, faculty, and staff back to campus this fall.
In an email to the university community last week, Dr. Chris Domes wrote: “Monday, August 30, will be the first day of classes for the Fall 2021 semester. With wide distribution of vaccines and progress toward achieving herd immunity, we are planning for a fully in-person semester this fall. The University will remain vigilant and cautious as always, follow all the best public health guidance, and continue to take care of those who remain at risk.”
He tempered his optimism with a note of caution. “The pandemic isn’t over,” he reminded everyone. “While our numbers remain very low compared to other universities, we know how quickly things can change.”
Faculty, many of whom have been in hybrid or online classes for more than a year, expressed enthusiasm at the announcement.
“I've been teaching from home for a year,” said Dr. Tammy Feil, professor of Education. “I can't wait to get back into the classroom with my students. I miss seeing and interacting with them face to face.”
“Our students deserve a huge pat on the back for their resilience and perseverance,” stated Leanne Havis, professor of Criminal Justice. “Many of them have been forced to take on extra jobs or extra hours at their current job to help out at home if their parents or other caregivers found themselves furloughed or laid off, and as a result, they have found themselves juggling multiple commitments in unprecedented ways.”
“We will harness the best of what we have learned and make some NU MAGIC,” wrote Dr. Marisa Rauscher, professor of Educational Psychology. “In an informal and excited way, I say LET’S GET AFTER IT.”
Dr. Joe Glass, associate professor of Communication and Digital Media, mused about the spiritual impact. “What makes NU unique is our excellence in both education and formation. Through hard work and our investment in technology, we continued to deliver excellent education but, even in the 21st century, formation is still better served in person.”
“I am looking forward to being with the students in person, rather than virtually,” confessed Sr. Linda Sariego, associate professor of Spanish. “It's been a long time coming, and I believe that we appreciate each other's presence.”
“I've missed being among students so much,” admitted Jim Kain, assistant professor of English. “They bring energy and a positive vibe to the classroom. I'm looking forward to seeing the campus buzzing with life again. I hope we can make it work.”
The plan does not signal a magical return to March 11, 2020, the day before Dr. Domes announced that the campus would begin remote operation because of COVID-19.
According to Dr. Larry DiPaolo, vice president for academic affairs, “The goal, and it is a somewhat lofty one, is that we return to as much of a normal fall semester as we possibly can under the circumstances ... In terms of the delivery of academic content, normal for the fall of 2021 means we are going to attempt to offer in-person lecture classes wherever possible and in accord with whatever social distancing guidelines (yet to be established) are promulgated by Harrisburg for higher education classrooms come the fall.”
In his March 25 email to faculty, Dr. DiPaolo noted that plans are “tentative pending the trajectory of the virus” and that there will always be exceptions and special circumstances. Faculty and deans, in consultation with accrediting agencies, will determine which courses are offered in person and which online.
Decisions regarding masks and social distancing will be made much closer to the first day of classes, still five months away.
“We will be bringing some of the technological advancements of the past year forward, regardless of instructional mode,” Dr. DiPaolo added. “All courses (LECTURE, HYBRID, ONLINE) will continue to be recorded via MS Teams in Blackboard or Panopto.”
Residential life will adapt to “new normal occupancy levels,” according to Dr. Chris Haug, vice president for student affairs. “Double-occupancy suites (a departure from our historical triple-occupancy levels) will be more likely the experience for the majority of on-campus students.”
In addition, he anticipates maintaining a small inventory of isolation spaces for students who may need to quarantine.
“On-campus student club/organization meetings, events, and programming will likely resume an in-person format,” explained Dr. Haug, but some offerings will maintain a hybrid format to welcome students who may not be able to join in person.
In-person student counseling will return, and the new 24/7 telehealth platform will continue.
Francesca Reed, vice president for enrollment management and marketing, is eager to welcome more families to campus. “The Enrollment team has continued to hold not only a variety of virtual events but small, in-person opportunities all year. We are optimistic about fall recruitment and our ability to host more students and their families on campus this upcoming year,” she said.
According to Chuck Sack, director of athletics and recreation, the Atlantic East Conference has made no formal announcement about fall sports at this time. The department's focus, he said, will continue to be on safety and protecting the larger community.
“There is much optimism among federal, state, and local officials,” Dr. Domes concluded. “With expectations of COVID reducing its impact, Neumann University is planning for a return to more normal operations this fall.”
CDC data from March 18, 2021, indicate that 33 percent of the U.S. population (18 or older) has received at least one dose of a COVID vaccine with a seven-day average of 2.27 million vaccinations per day being administered. At Neumann, 23 percent of people who came to campus from March 22 to March 25 indicated on the Health Check form that they had received a vaccination.
Dr. Domes commended the entire university community for its determination and dedication to make the past year productive and engaging despite many hurdles. “Since our return to campus in August of 2020, our Neumann family has responded with compassion, strength, and resilience,” he wrote in his email. “That is why we have had a successful year and we can now look to the future with confidence.”