From the President - Planning for the Fall Semester

From the President - Planning for the Fall Semester

Dear Rice Community,

Two months ago, we announced we expect a mostly normal fall semester. That’s still our plan and we’re writing today with more important updates about vaccines and return to campus expectations.

Since the pandemic began, we have shown that we are able to operate our university safely. Various outcomes bear that out, including a cumulative COVID-19 positivity rate of 0.24%, a total community prevalence of about 5%, no large outbreaks, and about 1% of the total number of infected people who contracted the virus from an on-campus transmission. We are grateful to all of you who worked hard to keep our campus both safe and productive.

We also know the additional steps we must take that will allow us to hold all classes in-person (for courses that normally take place on the campus), to remove size limits on gatherings, drop our face mask requirements, and fully utilize our residential colleges and graduate apartments. The single most important step towards those goals is for everyone in the Rice community to be vaccinated.

We realize that for a variety of reasons – including medical, religious, and logistical challenges – a 100% vaccination rate may not be possible. Our previous survey of the Rice community showed a vaccination rate of approximately 80%, and we continue to encourage all members of our community — students, faculty, and staff — to get vaccinated. Our goal is to get to at least 90%.

We can achieve this only if the largest constituency on our campus, our students, are almost all vaccinated for the next academic year. So, we are announcing today that we expect all students who come to campus, except those with an approved waiver for medical or religious reasons, to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to start the fall 2021 semester. We know this will pose problems for some of our international students, but we will work with them to ensure that they get the vaccine upon arrival and to avoid delays in their academic program. The small number of students who obtain an approved waiver from vaccination must continue to be tested for the virus at least weekly, whether they are living on or off-campus, and wear a mask indoors at all times while on the campus. Additional information on vaccination is forthcoming and will be provided to students by June 15.

For employees who choose not to be vaccinated, we are instituting two requirements: weekly testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and wearing a mask indoors at all times while on campus.

In addition to focusing on campus safety, it is important that we reflect on the ways in which our university is different than it was prior to the pandemic. We’ve expanded digital education into every part of the curriculum, developed a more robust and significantly online summer academic program, instituted technology-enabled ways for much of our staff to work in alternative arrangements, improved our focus on community health and healthy buildings, and enhanced the use of the outdoor campus. Going forward, incorporating what we have learned into our new normal will be an important task. We want your thoughts on how we can apply the experiences and the lessons we’ve learned during this unique time, and we’ll create forums to discuss them in the fall.

But before we incorporate any substantial changes, we need to reconvene, refamiliarize and reestablish our community on campus, because that’s central to who we are. We expect all members of our community to return in person for the start of the fall semester (except those with special and approved circumstances such as sabbaticals or vacations). Some units have fully returned to campus already, and others will do so at some point over the summer. Supervisors will determine the return date for all members in their units to prepare for the fall semester, but no later than July 19. Then, over the course of the fall semester, we can collectively discuss changes we might make for a new policy on alternative work arrangements that would go into effect starting with the spring semester.

We plan to celebrate our collective return to campus in the fall and look forward to renewing our missions of education and research. This has been a challenging year, but working together we have come through it well. We hope you all have a wonderful summer as we prepare for an exciting and reinvigorating year ahead.

David W. Leebron, President

Reggie DesRoches, Provost

Bridget Gorman, Dean of Undergraduates

Seiichi Matsuda, Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies

Kevin Kirby, Chair of the Crisis Management Advisory Committee