University administration has announced plans for a "phased reopening" of campus on Aug. 24, 2020. The decision came as a result of Northampton County's transition to the yellow phase of reopening under Gov. Tom Wolf. (Sara Boyd/B&W Staff)

BREAKING: Lehigh announces initial plans for fall 2020 ‘phased return’ to campus

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Lehigh has announced plans to bring students, staff and faculty back to campus for the fall semester since its closure in March due to COVID-19. 

The academic year will start as scheduled on Aug. 24, and in-person instruction will “likely” shift to completely remote after Thanksgiving break, for the rest of the fall semester.

The Brown and White obtained a copy of the email signed by President John Simon, Provost Pat Farrell and Incoming Provost Nathan Urban. The email will be sent to the campus as a whole at 2 p.m. on June 10.

The email said Northampton County’s move to Gov. Tom Wolf’s yellow stage of reopening has allowed for the university to better plan for a reopening of campus, “starting with the resumption of faculty and graduate student research.”

Social distancing and health and safety guidelines will be the hallmark of the fall semester, the email said. Large lectures will “almost certainly be conducted online” and grab-and-go dining options will be expanded. Libraries, recreational facilities and residence common areas will have restrictions in place to comply with social distancing. 

The email said the university understands not everyone will be able to physically return to campus for part of or the entire semester. 

“For our international students, visa processing and travel delays could create barriers to coming to campus, and for those who live in other parts of the United States, a resurgence of the virus at home could prevent a safe return to campus,” the email said. “It is also certain that individual medical or other extenuating circumstances will impact some students, faculty and staff, requiring them to learn or work remotely.”

For this reason, much of the fall curriculum will be offered in ways that work “both for those who are on campus and also for those who are unable to be present in our classrooms.”

Cleaning and sanitation procedures will be increased. Testing for COVID-19 and tracing those who may have been exposed will play an important role in keeping campus safe. The university is working to identify residential areas that can be used to isolate infected students if necessary.

“Self-monitoring and temperature checks of all campus community members will be used to identify symptomatic individuals who should stay home,” the email said. “We are working to provide rapid access to COVID-19 testing for symptomatic students, faculty and staff.”

Classrooms and lab spaces will be “modified” to allow for social distancing. Large facilities, like the Zoellner Arts Center, the Rauch Fieldhouse and Stabler Arena, will be repurposed for academic use. 

In terms of living on campus, the second-year housing lottery will resume after it was originally paused, and first-year housing will still be guaranteed. Greek life homes and themed homes will also continue to be occupied. Lehigh is working with local hotels to provide additional living accommodations if necessary. 

“Housing Services will be sending a survey to all students to collect additional information and to determine the best path forward for meeting individual housing needs,” the email said. 

Trembley Park will no longer be demolished as originally planned, and the Singleton, Hitch and Maida new residences will not be ready for August as scheduled, but they will be completed later in the fall. 

“Once we determine the number of students who wish to return and live on campus, there may be a reduction in the number of beds available in residence halls due to COVID-19 restrictions,” the email said.

Move-in will also look different and will be structured to “minimize close contact” among people arriving at the residence halls at the same time. 

Social gatherings will be limited, with “many traditional events that unify our campus” not able to occur “in their usual form or at all.”

The email said this semester will involve “four pillars”: social distancing, cloth face coverings, personal hygiene and self-monitoring of symptoms. A strict stay-at-home policy will be in place for those who are sick.

“Returning and new students, as well as all faculty and staff, will be required to complete training and acknowledge that they agree to uphold these community standards before returning to campus,” the email said. “These processes will feel different, and perhaps uncomfortable, but are necessary to protect our community.”

The email said the university will share additional information in the coming weeks about how the semester will look. 

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1 Comment

  1. If I were a student right now or a new first year, I’d seriously consider a gap year. Just the fact that social gatherings and things that unify our campus won’t take place will seriously damper the atmosphere and the quality of education that happens outside the classroom. Seems like the administration wants to be able to collect room and board fees while still providing the zoom university experience. For this transfer to your local state school for the tuition rates or get a COOP job.

    I love Lehigh, it’s 100% worth the wait to come back when its actually running at full tilt.

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