Preparation is underway for what may be the greatest campus-wide challenge the George Mason University community has ever taken on – our safe return to campus.
We have no playbook – none exists to navigate any modern university through a global pandemic, much less the worst economic conditions since the Great Depression.
So, like every university, we are in the process of writing our new playbook, observing the best public health expertise that exists – often from the Mason community itself – to address the unknowns that await in months ahead.
The quality of education you can expect to receive will not change. We will not retreat from our mission to provide the very best, most inclusive education possible, to create a more free, just, and prosperous world. And we will support the health and safety of our community in pursuit of that goal.
To stay focused on our mission, we just have to think like Patriots. That means bridging often-competing interests to find our own way forward, like insisting on both excellence and inclusion as a core value of who we are.
For this challenge, it means both committing ourselves to the health, safety, and well-being of everyone in our community and maintaining the most complete university experience possible, as circumstances allow.
It means finding excellence through online instruction and through in-person coursework – and knowing when it’s best to use which technique.
And it means having the discipline to act in ways that protect our own health and look out for the health and safety of our fellow Patriots.
We will offer the same robust academic plan for this fall that we always do, in a mix of in-person instruction and online classes. We will start and end the semester classes on time, beginning August 24 and ending December 19.
Drawing on our knowledge that in-person instruction makes a difference, particularly in smaller learning environments, we will preserve this environment where we are able to. Students learn best through dialogue and experience, when they can interact directly with other students and have more direct access to faculty. At the same time, larger classes can be just as effective online, and for some the convenience makes a difference. We’ll develop excellence in blending both forms of instruction.
When in-person classes are best, we will observe public health best practices including social distancing in classrooms, enhanced cleaning procedures, and the requirement that everyone wear masks.
Coming back to campus
We know that bringing people back to campus is a major effort, and we will be conducting this effort in stages. Students who are living on campus will begin to come back in phases. Student staff will move in on August 8. Upper class students will move in between August 15 and 18. Freshmen will move in between August 19 and 21. Students will receive time slots from University Housing and Residence Life, and will need to follow those instructions closely.
Reducing campus density
The university you return to won’t look like the university you left. Everyone must wear face coverings in public places. Physical distancing will be required. We are reducing density in classrooms, residence halls and administrative offices. Supervisors will create safety plans and telework will remain an important component of work plans. Our goal is to greatly reduce the density on campus while providing outstanding service to our students.
A lot can change in the next six weeks. We will be working closely with the local health department, Virginia Health Department and through Centers for Disease Control guidelines to put the safest environment in place. We will also continue to work with renowned experts in public health who work right here at Mason to guide the way.
Public health and safety
The university will not reopen until public health officials deem it safe for us to return. We also will remain agile. Should circumstances change, we are prepared to pivot back to full online instruction.
Shared commitment to each other
Each of us will need to do our part. We must complete online training to understand the new environment on campus. Anyone coming to campus is required to conduct a daily self-health check.
And, I cannot emphasize this enough: If you feel sick or are symptomatic, stay home.
It is not possible to make our university 100 percent risk-free. But we can greatly minimize risk, and our new playbook has been written so that we can make that happen, even without knowing exactly how this year will play out.
Each of us should review the university’s Safe Return to Campus website. For those who want to go even deeper, feel free to read our Safe Return to Campus Plan.
Above all, get ready for an academic year like none other. We will move through this year together, stronger and wiser for our efforts.
Alright, Patriots. Let’s get to work!
President, George Mason University