Message to Undergraduate Students – Classes Moving Online, Criteria for Remaining on Campus, IT Needs Assessment


Thursday, March 12, 2020 - 4:02pm

Dear Rice Undergraduate Students,

It has been an extremely trying and stressful week for all as the developments around COVID-19 have accelerated and intensified in the United States. Just yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a pandemic, the City of Houston and Harris County declared a health emergency and canceled the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the NBA suspended the remainder of their season, and President Trump restricted travel from nearly all of Europe to the United States. It is clear that yesterday marked a widespread tipping point in the thinking about how fast the situation is escalating and will continue to do so. This unprecedented and quickly changing situation has necessitated a number of difficult decisions affecting the Rice community.

I am writing today to announce additional decisions specific to all Rice undergraduates. I ask that you read this letter carefully and that you follow the guidelines outlined in this letter. Specifically, effective March 23rd, all classes will shift to a remote learning format. Classes will be delivered by remote delivery at the same day and time of the week that they currently meet. Starting tomorrow, please check with your instructor of record for information about how to be ready to attend class remotely on March 23.

Equally important, all students who have left campus for break are strongly encouraged not to return, and all who live on campus and remain in Houston are encouraged to return home or remain in Houston in their off campus location for the duration of the semester. Only those students who meet select criteria (outlined below) and petition to do so will be allowed to continue living on campus for the remainder of this semester.

In addition, we are cancelling all university-sponsored spring break student trips including Alternative Spring Break (ASB), ROPE program trips, and all other service and non-service student organization trips. We do this in the interest of public health, and so that students scheduled to go on these trips will have more time to prepare to leave campus and return home in a timely fashion.

Over this last week I have heard your concerns and understand the disappointment you must feel in how your semester is unfolding, especially for our seniors. I share these feelings and am deeply saddened that the spread of COVID-19 has led to such disruption and so swiftly altered plans. But, what is important now is that we all come together and work to safeguard your health and the health of our community. I hope that each of you will recognize that the decisions made reflect this crucial priority.

We are taking these quite serious steps -- based on the best public health guidance we have today -- in order to mitigate the spread and health impact of the coronavirus. Epidemiologic studies have shown that residential university settings, like at Rice, are some of the most challenging contexts for preventing the spread of disease, due to the density of students living in close quarters. Our residential college system is one of the defining and most appealing features of student life at Rice, but in this instance their size and the concentrated number of students who closely live and dine together increases the chance of transmission of the coronavirus.

It is for this reason that we must greatly reduce the number of undergraduate students residing in our colleges, with the goal of reducing this to as small a number as possible. The fewer students living in the colleges, the more we can decrease the potential health risk to the greater Rice community, including students. This will also facilitate our ability to manage the impact of the virus on our campus, including among our dedicated staff and faculty.

Accordingly, by the end of day on Wednesday, March 25th, all undergraduate students who live on campus and are able to do so must leave campus and return home for the remainder of the semester. We are giving all undergraduate students until March 25th to leave campus because we recognize that many of you have already left early on spring break, with some not returning to campus until just before classes resume on the 23rd. However, for those who are still on campus, or who live in Houston or surrounding areas, we expect you to move out more quickly. We are not closing campus, but after March 25 we are restricting access to our residential colleges only to those students who have explicit permission to be there.

Guidelines for Remaining on Campus:

We know that some students, for a variety of reasons, cannot return home. We will work with these students to ensure they can remain on campus with our support. All students must leave campus as soon as possible and remain living off campus for the remainder of the semester -- unless you meet one of the following criteria:

  • An international student who: has immigration, travel, or visa restrictions; whose home is in a country currently designed as Level 3 on the CDC’s warning list for COVID-19; or whose home country has extremely limited internet connectivity.
  • Students who face housing insecurity or a precarious living situation that would make remote completion of the semester unduly difficult.

If you meet one of these criteria, you may petition to live on campus by filling out the Petition to Live on Campus. If you do not meet any of the above criteria but have special circumstances you would like us to consider, you may also petition to stay on campus - but recognize that we will be very restrictive in granting exceptions to the criteria listed above. All undergraduate students who petition to remain in their residential college for the remainder of the spring semester will be notified of a decision within 24 hours of petition receipt.

Only students who petition to remain on campus, and receive notification that their petition is granted, may continue to live on campus after March 25.

Departing from Campus:

We know that the coming days will be challenging and stressful, especially for students who are making arrangements to leave campus. Our recommendation is that you try to pack in ways that will allow you to leave campus yourself, without family assistance, in order to limit the number of people on campus and thus the potential for transmission of illness. To assist with this goal, we are arranging for PODS to be delivered near each residential college for storage of a limited amount of personal belongings. This process will be managed by your residential college core teams (college coordinators, magisters, and RA’s) so please communicate with them in a timely manner with your plans going forward, and with any questions you may have about this process.

Please check out and return your keys to your college coordinator. If you departed campus prior to spring break and do not intend to return, that is fine. Just make sure to contact your college coordinator or magister and let them know that your personal belongings will remain in your room. Please do not worry that you will be required to make a special trip to campus to remove your belongings in the near future - you do not need to do this. We realize you may have logistical questions about packing, retrieving, or storing your belongings; we will provide updated information as soon as possible, and ask for your understanding as we figure out these details in the days ahead.

Completing Classes Remotely:

Rice will ensure that every student can meet their academic requirements remotely. Please note: Students who are granted permission to remain living in the residential colleges will also receive all course instruction remotely.

To help us ensure equitable and effective access to and participation in classes delivered remotely and other academic activities, we ask that you complete the technology needs assessment. The university will use the information provided to understand and help bridge any gaps in individual student’s access to learning technologies, through provision of university resources, for the duration of the spring semester. Please fill out the IT needs assessment as soon as possible.

Accommodations and assistance:

Accessibility: Students facing financial barriers to leaving campus, to remaining on campus, or in staying in your off-campus residence should complete this form so that we can assess and support your needs.

International students: Please reach out to OISS with any questions and concerns.

Residential Campus Life after March 25th:

Residential College Dining: Meal service will be available to students that remain on campus after March 25th. Once the students remaining on campus have been identified, Housing and Dining will make a determination on the dining model. Details will be communicated to those remaining on campus at that time.

Scheduled Student Events and Campus Services: All scheduled student events will be canceled or postponed, or held remotely. This includes all IM and club sports events.

At this time, no final decisions have been made about commencement. We will communicate plans for commencement in as timely a manner as possible.

Student Health Services, Fondren Library, and the Gibbs Recreation Center will be open with revised schedules and social distancing protocols in place. More information on these and other services will be provided prior to March 25.

Your Wellbeing:

We understand that this can be distressing and that many of you may need to utilize services at the Rice Wellbeing, Counseling, and SAFE Offices. We urge you to connect via phone with your therapist, a Wellbeing advisor, and/or navigator to discuss next steps.

For those students who will remain on campus, health and wellbeing services may be provided temporarily through a telehealth platform or telephone call. In addition, and in accordance with state licensing laws, students who are returning home may request assistance from the Counseling Center in locating appropriate services in their home communities, and counseling center staff will provide temporary support via telehealth or telephone calls during the transition to local services.

To connect with your therapist, a wellbeing advisor, or navigator, please call 713-348-3311.

Also remember that your residential college core teams remain available and are a key resource to help you at this time, especially around packing/moving and check out logistics. Please reach out to your college magisters, RA’s, and college coordinators as needed.

In closing:

I want each of you to know how much we value you as members of our community. Nothing makes me prouder than seeing, time and again, how much you show your connection and commitment to our community, and the kind ways that so many of you look out for the well-being of others. I know this news must be jarring to read, and the days ahead will undoubtedly feel uncertain and stressful.

For our seniors, this situation must seem especially unfair. Your final semester was supposed to be filled with celebration, a joyous time marking the conclusion of your Rice experience as you prepare to launch on your next life journey. I do not have words to express my sadness in how this has all unfolded. It is my sincere hope that we will see you back for commencement in May.

Whatever the time ahead may hold for all of us, I want to end by wishing you all the best. Take care of yourselves, and be well.

Bridget K. Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates