President's Message Regarding the Spring 2021 Semester

December 14, 2020
Aerial view of campus

Dear SUA Community,

This has been an extremely difficult year especially since we moved to deliver education remotely in March. I know that some of us have lost loved ones and friends or are experiencing great challenges due to the coronavirus. With the current surge of COVID-19 cases in the United States, many institutions have been left to make difficult decisions regarding opening their campuses for spring.

For the current semester, we decided to close the campus and provide our education completely remotely for the safety of all campus community members. However, throughout the semester, many students shared some very challenging circumstances they were facing having to navigate their education remotely. Therefore, we decided if we could do it safely, to open the campus for the spring semester for those students who may not have other options for a suitable learning environment.

Although COVID-19 cases are currently at their highest, we also have had time since the beginning of this pandemic to learn from other universities experiences, prepare, and implement safety measures to open the campus. Based on this preparation, we are confident that we can safely reopen the university for the spring semester welcoming back some of our students to campus, while making every effort to ensure a safe and supportive environment for all members of the SUA community. We will also continue to provide the best support available to those of you who will be working or learning from home.

We are now in earnest preparation to welcome a portion of our student body back to campus for Spring 2021 if conditions allow. In November, students received information via e-mail, video presentations and Zoom Q&A sessions with various offices such as Financial Aid, Office of the Dean of Faculty, Residential Life, Student Services, Office of the Registrar, and International Student Services regarding what it means for students to continue their remote learning versus residing on campus.

We wanted to ensure that students had as much information as possible that would aid them in making a decision that would be best for their circumstances for Spring, including understanding the strict conditions of life on campus that each student must agree and adhere to. Students were then given the opportunity to apply to reside on campus, and we anticipate that 174 students will return to campus in the spring.

The COVID-19 campus committees, which include Return to Campus Planning Committee, In-person Education Committee, and Liberal Arts in a Pandemic Committee, and individual areas have been working tirelessly to ensure that protocols and safety measures are being put in place to open the campus safely. As you may be aware, we have contracted with the American College Health Association (ACHA) through which we consulted with a Clinical Professor of Medicine and former chair of the ACHA Task Force on COVID-19 as well as a student health center director who prepared a report advising how we can open the campus in the safest manner possible.

We are also learning from other universities that have been able to open safely and limit the number of cases on their campus. We have hired a COVID project manager and created a COVID Prevention Plan. It is evident that one of the most important steps that we need to take is rigorous COVID-19 surveillance testing. Therefore, we will be implementing a coronavirus antigen testing protocol of twice a week for students and once a week for faculty, staff, and contractor employees coming to campus.

All students will be tested as soon as they arrive on campus before moving into their residential hall and will spend up to 14 days quarantined. Students will need to clear two negative COVID-19 test results without any symptoms before they will be released from quarantine. Various procedures for surveillance testing, contact tracing, and additional safety measures are being put together to ensure we have a safe and smooth return to campus.

We also meet regularly with representatives from the Orange County Health Agency to ensure that the university is up-to-date on any changes to county regulations that may impact the re-opening of the campus for the spring semester. All individuals on campus will be required to wear masks and maintain physical distancing. Students and employees will be held to high standards of conduct. I encourage all community members to visit our Coronavirus webpage periodically to be familiar with current policies and other steps to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and for students returning to campus to refer to the Brightspace course.

Faculty and staff will continue to telework at this time. Only those employees who have essential functions should be coming to campus while following the safety protocols such as daily symptom checking, mandatory facial coverings, and social distancing. Only essential visitors continue to be allowed on campus. With a community-wide commitment to keeping each other healthy and safe, I am confident we can open for our students in Spring 2021 as planned.

I know this past year has been one of the most challenging for all of us.

I would like to thank:

  • Our incredible students from all over the world who have had to adapt through difficult and challenging circumstances to remote learning while navigating different time zones and fulfilling other responsibilities.
  • Our committed faculty members who have not only had to move to remote learning platforms but also support students from many different time zones and have ensured our students continue to receive the best education possible.
  • Our dedicated staff who continue to provide services and support to our students, faculty, and staff while adapting to the challenges of teleworking.
  • Our facilities, custodial, and landscaping staff who have continued to provide maintenance and have made upgrades to our facilities for safety by adding hospital-grade air filtration and 100% exterior air exchange.
  • Our critical essential employees who have remained on campus to provide the services needed to maintain the university operations running and the campus safe.

In closing, I want to ask our students to please take care as you complete your final exams and final papers.

I wish all of you and your loved ones a safe and happy holidays.

Ed Feasel

Note: This message was delivered to the Soka community via email on Monday, Dec. 14, 2020.