President Washington gives update on spring semester

Dear Mason Nation,

We are halfway through the fall semester, and by all accounts, we have passed one of the biggest hurdles facing universities: George Mason University has successfully reopened our campuses, kept our community safe, and delivered on our educational mission despite the pandemic. This has been challenging work for everyone in our community, and I want to applaud the efforts to make Mason a model for success.

Today, we are functioning capably in emergency conditions with our mix of on-campus and remote operations. We have just 14 confirmed active cases of COVID-19 amid our community. While other universities of our size have experienced thousands of COVID-19 cases since reopening for the fall, we have not yet experienced our 100th case.

Our challenge now is to continue to expand our on-campus operations so that we can function as fully as possible while keeping our students, faculty, and staff safe.

Having demonstrated that we can continue to function even under such extremes, it is time to plan for Spring 2021 and the safe and gradual increase of some on-campus functions, with the goal of an eventual return of Mason to full viability.

We must recognize what our community is telling us: Students and their families have said they want more from their experience on campus – as they should. That means more on-campus engagement with faculty and fellow students, more student life activities, and more dining options.

We hear students when they tell us they came to Mason not just to learn from our exceptional faculty and participate in groundbreaking research, but also to develop deep and lasting relationships with their fellow students. Those relationships are the foundation of the college experience, and we are committed to making sure they have as many opportunities to build these while ensuring our campus stays safe.

I have also met with faculty and staff in recent weeks to hear their perspectives on the semester ahead. It is an understatement to say that they have done a remarkable job executing classes (both online and in-person) and providing important services for our students during this stressful time. Most are adapting to carrying out their work in this radically altered environment, many are challenged to balance work and home life with children who need childcare or supervision for online schooling, and some remain concerned for their own health if they resume working on campus. I want to again thank our faculty and staff for their commitment and work during this time. 

Some faculty have also expressed the need to resume research and experiential teaching in a fully functioning campus environment, particularly in laboratory environments, performing arts, and other disciplines that thrive with in-person engagement. And many staff members need to be on campus to help us provide the extraordinary service on which our students depend.

Therefore, our goal for the spring is to strike the right balance for our community. We need to bring as many on-campus functions back on line, and as many employees back to campus, as we can – safely. We should not, and will not, fully open the campus all at once, nor will we operate outside the guidance of prevailing public health conditions and guidance from health professionals. In the days and weeks to come, you will receive more information from my leadership team on our plans for spring – starting with a message later today from Provost Mark Ginsberg on the Spring schedule. But first, I want to give you a sense of the direction we are headed.

It includes:

  • Increasing in-person classes by at least 10 percent for the spring, including a significant increase in introductory level classes.
  • Expanding occupancy of residence halls and on-campus dining options, while maintaining safety requirements.
  • Expanding on-campus activities in support of students, consistent with public health guidelines.
  • Carefully bringing more employees back to campus and setting a goal to have employees on campus up to 50 percent of the time.
  • Increasing capacity and frequency of testing for students, faculty and staff to identify asymptomatic cases sooner.
  • Continuing to work with our partners in the school systems on solutions.
  • Requiring flu shots for all residential students by close of business on Dec. 11, and strongly encouraging flu shots for faculty, staff and commuter students.

Many things will not change in the spring. For example, limitations for classroom occupancy will remain the same, including six feet spacing between students and 10 feet spacing between instructors and students. Move-in procedures for residence halls will remain the same from the fall. Residential students who leave campus for winter break will be required to take a COVID test before moving back into on-campus housing. Physical distancing requirements for dining will remain in place, while we continue to offer takeout, delivery and robotic delivery options.

As always, I will continue to work with the faculty, staff, and student leaders to incorporate their input into our plans. We are stronger when we work together.

Finally, I want to reinforce the need to stay vigilant. We have been successful because everyone has done their part to keep Mason safe. Continue to wear your face coverings. Complete the Mason COVID Health Check each day if you plan to be on campus sometime this semester. Participate in surveillance testing when selected. And follow our public health and safety precautions.

Thank you.

Gregory Washington

Posted in Coronavirus Communications.