Message from the Graduate Student Dean (July 2): Fall 2020 Updates

Message from the Graduate Student Dean (July 2): Fall 2020 Updates

July 2, 2020 5:59 pm

To our graduate student community:

I write today to provide some key updates on the university’s plans for the fall semester. Please read this message carefully, as well as the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) that I reference throughout this email. Together, they provide answers to many questions that you probably have about the upcoming year at Rice. Some decisions (such as how to appropriately handle research and safety) are governed centrally. Because of the broad variation in approaches, requirements, and constraints across the spectrum of graduate education, many decisions will be made at the level of the department or the degree program, guided by general principles established at the university level. Should you have additional questions or need support, we encourage you to consult with your graduate program administrator or director of graduate study.

The health and wellbeing of our community is at the forefront of the university’s decision making. Rice is committed to providing a positive academic and campus experience as well as productive research and online learning. While we expect that many of you will be able to join us on campus this fall, we recognize that the pandemic has caused obstacles for others. Know that we look forward to welcoming you to campus whenever you are able to arrive. Again, please consult with your degree program for guidance.

Next week, GPS will send graduate students a survey to facilitate central decisions for the fall semester. Your response is requested within one week of the survey launch. You may also get other questions from your degree program.

Campus Health and Safety: A Layered Protection Plan

Our planning for fall prioritizes public health and safety, and we are implementing a layered approach as we prepare for our fall semester. We will not rely on a single approach, but rather multiple tactics to limit the transmission of COVID-19 and promote a healthy campus. Because of this, our campus will look and operate differently than it has in the past.

  • As Vice President of Administration Kevin Kirby has outlined in messages to our campus, everyone on the Rice campus must wear a face covering that covers their mouth and nose as a precaution to protect others. This includes when you are inside all indoor spaces on campus. When outdoors, you must have a face covering with you at all times, and you must wear it if you come in close proximity to others (within six feet).
  • We have established rules for physical distancing, including limits on the size of gatherings. As much as possible, everyone is expected to stay six feet away from other people, whether indoors or outdoors. We are also limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people, whether inside or outside. Classroom meetings and some other indoor events will be further limited to 25, as described below. To help facilitate limits on gathering sizes and physical distancing, we will be posting “COVID Occupancy” signs on the entrances to every room on campus, and furniture in rooms will be reconfigured to promote physical distancing.
  • We are modifying our buildings to reduce the possibility of COVID-19 transmission on surfaces and high-touch points, in addition to enhancing our cleaning and disinfecting procedures across campus.
  • We are enhancing our ability to learn, socialize, and relax outside, since research shows that transmission of COVID is reduced in outdoor spaces. We are building temporary structures and erecting tents for use as classroom space, study space, and locations for social gatherings. We are suggesting that each of you obtain a small, collapsible chair to help facilitate your ability to be outside more frequently.
  • All members of the Rice community will be required to actively monitor their health for signs of COVID-19 on a daily basis. This includes taking your temperature when you get up each morning, and staying home or in your room if you feel unwell. To do so, please bring with you to Houston a thermometer to check your temperature before coming to campus each morning. We are also requiring all students to get a flu shot by October 30. There will be multiple opportunities to do so on campus; details are forthcoming. Our Student Health Services department will operate with both in-person and tele-visit options, and our Rice Emergency Medical Service (REMS) service will be continually available, as usual.
  • Testing. Rice will soon begin to offer on-campus testing (free of charge) for students currently on campus. Throughout the semester, we will also provide polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for COVID-19 on demand for those who are symptomatic or exposed to COVID-19, and we will test an additional portion of our asymptomatic population on an ongoing weekly basis. Information on where to report for initial testing and additional details on PCR screening during the semester, will be provided later this month. If possible, we ask that all new and returning students get tested for COVID-19 before their departure for Rice, to stay home if they test positive, and contact your graduate program administrator so that we can help you work through your options. On arrival to Rice, all students will be given a test for COVID-19. All graduate students living in university housing who test positive will be provided isolation housing. Grad students who live in non-university housing and test positive should recover at home as long as possible, as would staff and faculty.
  • Contact tracing. We will identify persons who may need to be tested and quarantine through a blended approach that combines a digital platform through smartphones to identify those who may have had significant contact with a COVID-positive person, along with interviews by trained personnel. Any members of the Rice community, including students, who have significant exposure to a COVID-positive person will be required to quarantine for up to 14 days.
  • All students will be required to review and sign a Culture of Care Agreement, which outlines specific behaviors expected of those who are on campus (including regular and thorough hand washing, consistent use of face masks in required indoor and outdoor areas, adherence to rules on physical distancing and size of gatherings, cleaning protocols, etc.). We are developing materials to increase awareness of the risks than can spread the disease, and awareness of indicators of illness. It is important to remember that we are all in this together—no member of our community may opt-out of our expectations for health and safety.
  • Please know that if you need health or wellbeing support, there are a number of campus resources that are here to help you: your program administrator, Rice Student Health Services, the Wellbeing and Counseling Center, SAFE Office, or the GPS office are just a few places to start. These services are accessible to all students, both new and returning, remote and on campus. Appointments are available (modified to follow CDC recommendations). Please see information on these and after-hours resources here, or call 713-348-3311 to reach Wellbeing directly. In case of emergency, call 713-348-6000. Student Support Specialist Pia Byrd is also available to talk with students and provide support in a safe, caring environment, and appointments can be set up via email here.

Please visitcoronavirus.rice.edu for additional details on our health and safety procedures.

Graduate Housing, Off-Campus Living, and Transportation

Everyone must actively engage in taking care of their living environment, especially around schedules for cleaning and use of shared spaces. If you live in university-owned housing, please follow the guidelines prescribed by the apartment managers and watch for announcements related to their cleaning schedules.

Later this summer, future residents of Rice Graduate and Rice Village Apartments will be sent comprehensive move-in instructions. For students seeking off-campus housing, Housing and Dining has a searchable tool for off-campus housing availablehere.

Shuttle services will also be modified to facilitate physical distancing and cleaning protocols.

Dining

This summer,Curbside at the Club is offering grab-and-go options for all members of the Rice community. Additional dining options will become available as more community members return to campus. There will be more grab-and-go options at several locations around campus. Spaces will be reconfigured to ensure physical distancing with clear signage to manage flow and seating. Facial coverings are required while not eating. Dining staff and vendors will all be wearing PPE, and additional cleaning protocols will be implemented in the facilities.

Academic Calendar, Classes, and Tuition

In preparation for the fall semester, Rice has been engaged in a collaborative effort led by the Faculty Senate and the Academic Restart Committee, Rice Online Learning, and the Center for Teaching Excellence to enhance online course delivery and teaching support for fall.

  • Academic Calendar. As was recently communicated, we have changed our fall 2020 academic calendar. Classes will start as originally scheduled on Monday, August 24, and will end on November 20 (the Friday before Thanksgiving). Final exams will be in a remote format, allowing students engaged only in coursework to return home, if they wish, for the Thanksgiving holiday without having to return to campus for exams.
  • Format of classroom learning. We are reconfiguring classrooms and room assignments to facilitate physical distancing between students, and to reduce the number of persons in a classroom at a single time. And while we very much hope that circumstances allow you to be on campus in August, remote options are available, though international students should be mindful of current visa restrictions that require a minimum number of hours to be in-person.
  • Most classes will be available in a dual delivery format, although a few that do not translate well to an online format may be canceled or offered in-person only. Dual format consists of classes being taught simultaneously in the classroom and online. A dual delivery model of instruction allows students maximum flexibility in meeting academic requirements, and enables students who enroll remotely to access the same high-quality education from our faculty. However, please note that to facilitate physical distancing, classes with enrollments greater than 25 will be offered only online, although an instructor can ask for an exception and teach a larger class in a dual delivery format utilizing an appropriate plan (which may include having different groups of students attend alternate class meetings). The in-person class size limit of 25 is a change from previous announcements and reflects our ongoing re-evaluation of our fall plans. Given the uncertainties of COVID-19, the university may choose to do all instruction remotely at some point in the semester if circumstances warrant it. Whether a course is taught in dual delivery or online, it is expected that students will have opportunities for individual and small group interactions with faculty and teaching assistants throughout the semester.
  • Tuition and Fees. The tuition and fees rates for fall semester will remain unchanged. Regardless of the mode of instruction, all Rice students will have access to faculty, student services and academic facilities.

Please visit ourFAQ for updates.

Research

On June 27, Provost Reggie DesRoches and Vice-Provost for Research Yousif Shamoo wrote to faculty and graduate students engaged in the restart of research under Research Phase 1. They announced that we do not foresee moving to the next stage of restarting research (Research Stage 2) until local outbreaks have been stabilized and mitigation strategies show clear evidence of flattening the curve back towards reasonable containment. Furthermore, they added that it is possible that the return to research plans may be rolled back, depending on how the pandemic progresses. The full message is available here. Additional updates will be posted on theResearch Reactivation blog.

I’d also like to reiterate what Vice Provost Shamoo and I wrote inMarch. Mentors and peer researchers must respect and have empathy for their co-workers. Rice University will not tolerate the use of pressure or any form of coercion to compel postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, undergraduates or research scientists to be endangered. We expect all of our faculty, students and staff to display the highest levels of professional behavior throughout this crisis. Failure to respect the legitimate concerns of our students and staff will be subject to university measures that may include sanctions of individuals involved and/or require the Office of Research to close a laboratory. Graduate students, postdocs and staff who feel inappropriate pressure to work in these circumstances should record their concerns at the EthicsPoint site: https://rucompliance.rice.edu/reporting-concerns. Please note that information provided at the EthicsPoint site can be submitted in a confidential way.

Teaching Assignments

Departments are optimizing arrangements for the delivery of courses. While the university is primarily engaging undergraduates to provide technical assistance for online and dual-mode classes, there are some opportunities for graduate students to obtain more teaching experience than they might have in a typical semester. Students interested in such opportunities are encouraged to alert their department leadership.

Graduate students should not be put under undue pressure to take on additional face-to-face teaching responsibilities or to place themselves at inappropriate risk. Any students at severe risk for complications from COVID-19 (as defined by the CDC) or who have or anticipate COVID-related obstacles that they cannot reasonably resolve should make these known to their department chair to seek accommodations or modification of work assignments by July 8, 2020. Graduate students unable to make arrangements locally may contact ourStudent Support Specialist, Pia Byrd to arrange third-party review.

Office and Lab Spaces

All faculty, staff, and students must practice physical distancing in all shared spaces on campus. Departments and schools are authoring and implementing local plans to implement and communicate the University practices this distancing within their spaces. This may include arranging for alternating scheduled use of the space, cleaning the space between users, and other health and safety measures. Every Rice community member is expected to follow all building, school, and departmental guidelines for physical distancing and cleaning. Students are furthermore encouraged to proactively discuss physical distancing plans with their office and lab mates.

Incoming Students and Orientation

Your graduate program administrator will be your partner as you arrive at Rice and should be your first point of contact in all matters related to your arrival. A list of frequently asked questions concerning fall 2020 incoming students can be foundhere, and some key details are outlined below.

Rice staff and the Graduate Student Association are designing orientation opportunities to be delivered in a hybrid mode, so that every member of our incoming cohorts, whether on campus or remote, can learn about academics and campus-wide programs at Rice, register for fall classes, and make meaningful connections with faculty, staff, and peers who will help prepare them for a successful tenure at Rice.

The plenary Graduate Student Orientation session originally scheduled for the morning of August 19 will be delivered in an online format. The modules will be available via canvas.rice.edu in early August, and must be completed by August 19. Incoming students should watch for upcoming announcements regarding other relevant orientations and required trainings.

Graduate students in most programs are required to have health insurance while enrolled at Rice. From those in the Rice plan, open enrollment began July 1 and continues to August 28. There is some flexibility to this with regards to the ongoing pandemic, and more information can be found on our FAQ here, or at the Student Health Insurance website.

International Students

Please know we recognize the unique set of challenges that international students are facing. We are so glad you are a member of our Rice community and we look forward to welcoming you to campus whenever you are able to arrive and to support you in your endeavors. You are welcome here!

Every student’s situation is unique. Please pay close attention to all Office of International Students and Scholars (OISS) announcements, review their resource websites, and consult with your OISS advisers if you have any questions regarding your visa.

For incoming international students, OISS is hard at work on I-20 processing, and began working on immigration documents as soon as your student record was created. For more information, please see theOISS portal page.

International students are expected to arrive as soon as their visa allows. Immigration laws allow us to extend the I-20 up until October 22, 2020, for the fall 2020 semester. Students with additional questions may refer to theOISS FAQ or set up an appointment with an OISS advisor.

Graduate International Orientation (GIO) is a mandatory orientation program for all new international graduate and graduate exchange students. Students will review immigration regulations, graduate specific policies, and programs geared specifically to support the international graduate population. OISS will send notifications throughout the summer; more information can be foundhere.

Student Activities & Events

Our interactions with others are integral to the graduate academic experience, strengthening our intellectual engagement and establishing the community that is essential for human existence. We remain committed to maintaining the vibrancy of the Rice community. For this reason, we are shifting away from saying “social distancing” and replacing it with “physical distancing.” This more accurately reflects how the campus will be different during the fall semester. We can meaningfully socialize and engage with others, even if we are six feet apart or meeting in a virtual format.

Our Graduate Student Association, campus clubs, cultural organizations and affinity groups will continue to hold events. You will have plenty of opportunities to engage in social and professional development activities and programs through our many campus organizations and offices. Please watch for the GSA Newsletter, GPS’ Grad Digest, and graduate program communications for these opportunities.

Deferrals and Leaves of Absence

The university will continually re-evaluate plans for the fall semester based on the evolving COVID situation in Houston, and will inform you of changes as we approach August. Some of you may decide that you wish to defer or to take a leave of absence, rather than enrolling at Rice in the fall. Students who wish to seek a deferral or a leave of absence should contact their graduate administrator as soon as is practical. International students should also consult with the OISS prior to finalizing changes in plans, as a deferral or leave of absence can affect visa status and/or immigration benefits.

Next Steps and Resources for More Information

Despite the length of this message, as I noted above, some decisions have yet to happen, and additional details will be communicated regarding the fall semester. The success of the fall semester will require collaborative effort and our united strength as a resourceful, caring and resilient community. All of us at Rice remain committed to pursuing our academic mission as best as we are able given the circumstances. We will be continually re-evaluating the plans I’ve just described based on the evolving COVID situation in Houston, and will inform you of any significant changes in our plans if and when that happens.

If you have additional questions not covered in this letter, linked resources, or our FAQ, please send us a message at graduate@rice.edu and we will respond in as timely a manner as possible. Also, I would encourage you to visit https://coronavirus.rice.edu and check for university updates on a regular basis.

Please know that we are truly honored to have you as members of our Rice family, and we look forward to meeting you this fall, be it virtually or on-campus. The success of the fall semester will require collaborative effort and our united strength as a resourceful and resilient community. All of us at Rice remain committed to supporting your academic journey, regardless of these circumstances.

With high hopes for a positive and engaging fall semester!

Best regards,

Seiichi

Seiichi P. T. Matsuda
Dean, Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies
E. Dell Butcher Professor of Chemistry
Professor of BioSciences