UMass to invite first-year and transfer students to campus, mostly remote classes for spring semester in newly released plan

There are 6,115 first-year and transfer students

By Cassie McGrath, News Editor

The University of Massachusetts Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy announced the operating plan for the Spring 2021 semester via email Friday afternoon. All first-year students and entering transfer students enrolled in Fall 2020 and Spring 2021, will be invited back to campus for the Spring 2021 semester.

“Our strategic focus is on advancing students’ academic progress toward degree completion while providing a campus environment that meets federal and state health and safety protocols for mitigating COVID-19,” the announcement read. 

In addition, students with mandatory in-person classes and “students depended on the university for housing and dining, including international students, as well as students requiring specific academic accommodations or those participating in athletics,” will have access to on campus housing. These students make up about 60 percent of the campus’s usual residential population. 

“At 60% capacity, we are confident we can provide all of these vital services to our campus community while fulfilling our educational mission,” the chancellor said.

Students who do not accept the offer to return to campus will continue with remote learning. The University added that it is “also exploring alternative residential options beyond the Amherst area, including increasing the housing capacity on the Mount Ida Campus in Newton.”

“While I am pleased that a larger percentage of our students will be afforded the opportunity to return to campus and take part in the immersive residential experience, my heart goes out to students to whom we are not able to extend this invitation,” the chancellor wrote. 

UMass decided that in-person classes for undergraduate and graduate students will only be offered for certain classes including labs, studios or others which require face-to-face instruction.  “First-year students may also be provided with a face-to-face instructional opportunity, although the majority of the teaching in the Spring Semester will be fully remote,” the letter read. 

The University said that its confidence for their spring plan is “bolstered in part due to the success of our campus symptomatic and asymptomatic testing and contact tracing program.” UMass has contacted over 100,000 tests since August which “has revealed a cumulative positivity rate of 0.15%, well below most peer institutions as well as the state rate of 1.4%.”

The chancellor wrote that the partial repopulation of campus next spring will “require strict adherence to updated and expanded protocols,” which he listed out in detail. Protocols include many which are already in place, such as twice weekly testing and daily self-monitoring and reporting and cooperation with contact tracing. In addition, UMass will enforce the prohibition of guests in residence halls, dining commons, and in other campus buildings and encourage limited travel from the immediate campus unless necessary. 

The chancellor reminded students of the requirements that the “Code of Student Conduct applies both on- and off-campus and that compliance with campus directives, including public health protocols.”

“While we do not expect the partial repopulation of the campus’s residential community to have a discernible impact on the size of the off-campus student population in Amherst and the surrounding area, we recognize that local residents are important stakeholders in this process,” Subbaswamy wrote. “We are committed to our ongoing collaboration with town leaders, through our town-gown working group and our regular meetings with town administrators and first responders, to ensure that this expansion of campus operations is conducted in a manner that is mindful of the health and wellbeing of the broader community.”

According to the University, operational plan for the spring was was based on what it has learned from this past semester, in addition to the guidance from “a Strategy Group made up of senior campus administrators and co-chaired by the Provost and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs and Campus Life, the group included the chairs of seven function-specific Working Groups, as well as the President of the Student Government Association, the President of the Graduate Student Senate and the Secretary of the Faculty Senate.”

Additionally, the chancellor credited the recommendations from the working groups: Teaching, Learning Technology and Student Success, Residence Life, Off-Campus, Dining and Student Engagement, Public Health and Safety, Facilities, Finances and Human Resources, Research and Libraries, Athletics and Communication.

The chancellor finished the announcement writing that the University still has much work to do before Feb. 1, the start of the spring semester under the revised calendar.

The chancellor concluded writing, “While today’s announcement will undoubtedly be welcome news to many members of our campus community and disappointing to others, it is a step, albeit an incremental one, toward a time when our UMass family is fully together again.” 

More information regarding the spring plan can be found on the University’s website

Cassie McGrath can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @cassiemcgrath_.