Published: July 2, 2020

On July 1, residents of Boulder and Broomfield counties, community leaders and government officials were invited to join a virtual town hall to learn more about CU Boulder’s comprehensive strategy to safely welcome back students, faculty and staff to campus this fall. 

Led by Chancellor Philip DiStefano, Interim Chief Operating Officer Patrick O’Rourke and Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Akirah Bradley, the event outlined CU Boulder’s Road Map to Fall 2020.

The plan was developed in consultation with CU Boulder faculty and community epidemiology and public health experts. It was informed by more than 1,500 points of input from students, faculty, staff, parents and community leaders, said DiStefano. “As a tier-one research university, we were able to utilize the wealth of resources we have on campus to formulate the plan and mitigate risk for our campus and our community.”

Much of the event was focused on the university and its relationship to the Boulder community. 

“The plan prioritizes health and safety considerations required to minimize risk to the campus and surrounding Boulder community,” said DiStefano.

Bradley shared many of the steps the university is taking, including those related to setting expectations for student behavior on campus and in the community. 

“Our work to inform students and families about the fall has already begun, and we will continue to educate them about new expectations and guidelines for a safe and productive fall semester,” said Bradley. “We will also educate on potential consequences for violating the expectations in our student code of conduct.”

Bradley outlined several key strategies for health and safety:

  • Implementing a required COVID-19 online training for all students prior to starting or returning to classes.
  • Revising the Student Code of Conduct expectations and interventions to include public health guidelines.
  • Changing the housing assignment process to mitigate health risks for students living on campus.
  • Working closely with the city and county of Boulder and local health agencies.
  • Making health and safety adjustments to campus facilities and dining operations.

O’Rourke also reiterated a familiar theme throughout the evening’s discussion, emphasizing that protecting the health and safety of our campus helps us protect the health and safety of the broader Boulder community.

He began by addressing a question that has been top of mind for many, “What’s different between March, when CU decided to send students home and move to remote learning, and Aug. 24, when we hope to return students to campus for the fall semester?”

“We’ve learned a lot during the past several months,” said O’Rourke. “And our fall 2020 plan is built around the concept that we need to reduce the number of potentially infectious contacts on campus by at least 55 percent.”

Like Bradley, O’Rourke shared a list of key strategies:

  • Reducing the number of people who are on campus every day. Many of our faculty and staff are able to work productively at home to support learning and research, and we’re supporting their ability to do so.
  • CU Boulder Chief of Police Doreen Jokerst is collaborating with the city of Boulder’s chief, Maris Harold, to coordinate policing and information exchange with our Office of Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution, when they know the identity of one of our students who is not complying with health ordinances.
  • Providing mandatory safety training for faculty, staff and students on required public health protocols and personal responsibility.
  • Reducing in-person class sizes, and ensuring that when in-person classes occur, they will be done with appropriate social distancing to minimize the risk of transmission.
  • Using space on campus differently and having classes in places where we never thought we’d be having classes: Outdoor spaces, climate-controlled tents, and some of our athletics facilities are being examined for use as academic spaces.
  • Requiring people to wear masks.
  • Purchasing more than 80,000 reusable masks and 100,000 disposable masks that we’ll provide to all students, faculty and staff.
  • Ensuring that our physical environment is safe: More hand sanitizer, new cleaning protocols, HEPA and MERV-13 air filters for buildings and Plexiglas to provide physical barriers. 

The session then opened to questions from the attendees, many of whom were looking for more information as to what the fall semester might be like. Jokerst, Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jennifer McDuffie, Assistant Dean of Students Devin Cramer and Associate Vice Chancellor of Integrity, Safety and Compliance Dan Jones joined the panel to help address the specific inquiries.

Many were interested in what the campus might do if there were a spike in cases this fall and if there were a specific threshold that would trigger a campus closure.

“We are going to have a multifactorial approach that considers disease presence in the campus, the local community and healthcare resources,” said O’Rourke, “We will also be assessing our ability to respond effectively and make sure the curve moves in the right direction.”

He added that all decisions are also made in the context of local and statewide public health orders.

Students and parents in the event audience also were curious what dorm life would be like this fall.

“We are changing our dorm visiting policies and encouraging students to stay within their own cohort,” said Bradley, also adding that this policy would affect how families can move their students into residence halls. “When they're getting together with their friends who are not in their cohort, we're asking them to follow public health orders and engage in appropriate social distancing.”

Questions around campus life—events, family weekend, performances and sports—were also brought up. In all cases, the prevailing sentiment was that it is too early for these decisions to be made, but that the coming weeks would provide guidance and additional data to inform the decision-making process.

The panel closed with an invite for the audience to follow campus updates on the Road Map to Fall 2020 webpage and to submit questions and ideas through the form on the site.

Additional information sessions for new students and families, colleges and schools and campus affiliates are slated for the coming months.